Achieving a strong body takes more than just lifting a few free weights or taking a kettlebell class here and there. There are many factors that go into toning and building muscle, and we’re sharing our best tips on getting the strongest body of your life.
To learn more, we asked Travis Steffen, a certified strength and conditioning specialist with a master’s degree in exercise science, and creator of WorkoutBox.com, for his best advice on building a stronger body.
Benefits of strength training
You may jog every morning, you may have the best form in your cardio kickboxing class, but if you’re not including strength training in your workout routine, you’re never going to be as strong as you can be. “Regardless of your gender or your goal, strength training should never be absent from your routine,” says Steffen. “There are very few, if any, things that it won’t help you improve upon.”
Not only will you see an increased metabolic rate when you build a stronger body, which can help you burn more body fat at rest, there are a whole host of other benefits to regular strength training. “You’ll see increases in bone, joint and connective tissue strength and resistance to injury, you’ll be able to reduce lower back pain by strengthening your abdominals and hamstrings via resistance training, you’ll improve your quality and ease of sleep, and you’ll improve performance in nearly everything you do,” Steffen says.
Strong body essentials
When it comes to developing a strong, healthy body, many factors contribute to results, and having the right plan and being consistent are two of the most important, says Steffen. “The right plan is one that’s been scientifically designed by a highly qualified professional for your goal, ability level and the equipment you have available,” he explains. “This needs to factor in both your training plan and your nutrition plan. I’d say nutrition is arguably more effective than the training itself, and the two combined are extremely powerful.”
Consistency essentially means following that plan outlined for you on an ongoing basis. If you do, Steffen says that you can expect fairly rapid results. But be reasonable: “Don’t expect those results will be you looking like a cover model. That can take years of consistency, but you can start seeing results right away if you consistently do the right things.”
Mistakes to avoid
If you really want to see results and know your hard work is paying off, there are some mistakes you need to avoid and bad habits to steer clear of. One of the most common strength training mistakes is placing too much focus on single-joint upper-body movements like curls, explains Steffen. “If you want to get stronger in an overall sense, prioritize multi-joint weight bearing movements,” he advises. These include full barbell squats and deadlifts, which he refers to as “go-to movements.” With these exercises you get what Steffen describes as “maximal fiber recruitment and increased hormone release,” which will boost the effectiveness of all of the other movements you’re performing.
Another major mistake Steffen points out is trying to spot-target. “Many people want bigger arms or a bigger chest or a slimmer waist and decide to only focus their efforts on that one area, but this isn’t really how it works,” he explains. “You’ll get far better results in that one area by focusing on building a better physique overall. Spot-targeting is not only ineffective, but it can lead to muscular imbalances that can increase your risk of injury.”
Other factors to consider
Building the strongest body of your life isn’t just about pumping iron. There are other things that contribute to building strength. “Nutrition is definitely the major factor,” says Steffen. “You need to be eating the right things in the right amounts at the right times and with the right frequency, and you need to do this consistently.” Talk to a dietitian or nutritionist who can help you come up with a meal plan based on your training goals.
Incorporating different types of training is also important. Don’t just stick to the weight room. “Go do some yoga. Go do some body-weight training. Get out and play some organized sports and use your body in various other ways,” Steffen advises. “Not only will you work your muscles in a variety of different ways, but you’ll also increase your ability to stick to your plan, as the variety keeps things interesting for you.”
Cardio can also play a role when it comes to building a stronger body. “Decreasing your rest periods between sets, increasing your rep count and performing more sets per movement can help integrate a cardiovascular component into your resistance training,” Steffen explains. “Performing compound sets, super sets, drop sets and circuits can also help combine the two.”
Book a session or two with a personal trainer at your gym to get a better sense of what you need to improve overall strength and muscle tone.