Strength can be a tricky thing. To some people strength seems to come more naturally, while others have to work hard all five training days per week in order to see strength increases. No matter which category you are in, there are a few things you can do outside of the gym to increase strength.
Eat Usable Food Sources
This is an area in which a large majority of people struggle. Strength is increased when the body’s limits are increased, and one of the greatest ways to increase your body’s work capacity is to give it fuel. Normally when people hear that “food is fuel” they instantly think of calories, so they find calorie dense foods and make them staples in their diet. This kind of thinking has some merit, but if you switch your mentality to food that digests well, you will see major strength increases.
For example, the calories in a fast food cheeseburger may add up to the same amount as you would find in a meal of grilled chicken, some white rice and veggies, but your body is going to more easily digest the chicken, rice and veggies, which means the calories in this meal are much more “usable” for the body than the cheeseburger.
Quick Tip: If you are wondering which foods digest better and you want an easy reference point, stay on the outside ring of a grocery store (meats, veggies, fruits, seeds/nuts, etc.) for most of your shopping, and that will help you get a great baseline for foods to fuel your strength.
Everyone knows the “eight hours of sleep” rule, so we won’t be diving into that. Instead we want to focus on the quality of sleep you get. Eight hours in bed isn’t eight hours of sleep, just like sitting in a parked car for eight hours doesn’t mean you drove eight hours to your destination.
A few simple ways to increase your sleep quality is by making your room as dark as possible, keeping the temperature in your room cool and by keeping your phone/tv off thirty minutes before bed every night.
The last thing you can do to improve your sleep that has major strength benefits is to fall asleep and wake up at the exact same time every day. Getting your body on a consistent schedule will help raise the quality of your recovery, which in turn will help you train harder more often.
Quick Tip: Limit caffeine intake after 2 pm for deeper sleep.
Journal/Track Your Training
At South Landing CrossFit, we use Wodify to help us track our progress and make sure we are heading in the right direction. Consistently inputting your scores will help you visualize both your progress and your areas of weakness, which in turn will allow you to see if the things you are doing outside of the gym are helping you toward your goals.
Taking it one step further and keeping a personal training log of how your energy was, how your mood was and how well you slept will help you start to see why you are either making progress, staying the same or struggling to maintain strength. If you come in for a heavy squat day and struggle to even hit 85% of your one-rep max then you can go back to your training log and look at the last two weeks and see how your sleep, mood and energy have been impacting your training.
Knowing how your life outside of the gym is impacting you is a huge advantage in gaining strength because you have the ability to either dial back or train harder based on the metrics you have been keeping.
Quick Tip: Journal as soon as you can after training. Write down your thoughts on training and why you think you are progressing or not, and then start using that information to make changes that will get you closer to your goals.
These three things are things that most people do in one way or another, but doing them for quality is where you can start making big increases in the gym. When your life is full of quality then you will see that reflected in your training. Set a high standard for yourself and for your goals, and you will notice progress very soon.