Strength training in the gym: how to do it, advice and details

Going to the gym is important, but lifting weights isn’t enough to improve muscle strength. Tips and things to pay attention to during the workout

Article by Antonio Squillante (PhD, RSCC, CSCS, University of Southern California professor and researcher)

Let’s get one thing straight: when we talk about muscle strength we are talking about anything but pure and simple muscle mass. At the three-year degree in motor sciences the old nursery rhyme is still used which reads: muscle strength is directly proportional to the cross section of the muscle. So the kids learn that a muscle with a larger diameter – a muscle that is said to be hypertrophic and therefore has a higher cross section, with a higher mass – is synonymous with muscle strength. Nothing more wrong. The so-called bodybuilding o bodybuilding has little to do with strength training. Let’s think about it for a moment.

matter of strength

Muscle strength is produced at the level of the so-called flowing filaments: actin and myosin. These are bundles of proteins which, flowing longitudinally to the muscle, cause it to shorten, producing tension. More filaments than actin and myosin are present at the level of each muscle fiber, the greater the level of force produced, at least on paper. A work in the weight room at high repetitions (10-12) and short recovery times between sets (1-2 minutes) tends to promote an increase in muscle mass due not to an increase in the number of actin and myosin filaments present in the muscle, but to a increase in intracellular fluid. In this case we speak of sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, the muscle swells and increases in volume because the water content inside the muscle cell. Let’s not forget that muscle is made up of 75% water.


To get stronger you need to increase your strength protein fraction at the muscle level. In this case we speak of myofibrillar hypertrophy or functional hypertrophy. This can be done very well, paradoxically, without significantly increasing muscle mass, which represents a huge advantage, especially for an athlete. Let’s think about it for a moment. What would happen if, out of the blue, an athlete could generate twice as many levels of force while lying the same body weight? Imagine putting the engine of a Formula One Ferrari on the chassis of a FIAT 500. It would fly! And that’s exactly what a sportsman wants. Higher strength levels with the same body weight means a greater power-to-weight ratio which inevitably translates into a performance gain. At the same body weight, a stronger athlete is an athlete who is able to run faster, jump higher, throw further… a stronger athlete is simply a better athlete.

the advices

As he said Stone coubertinfather of the Olympic Games modern: faster Higher Stronger! Literally: faster, higher, stronger! The motto of any Olympic athlete. And that goes for everyone from distance runners to sprinters, weightlifters to gymnasts. It applies to a soccer player, a basketball player, a triathlete. It applies to everyone! Strength training helps. Muscle strength is the foundation of an athlete’s development. So how to improve strength levels without gaining muscle mass? Nothing simpler. Enough train heavy, raise some good old cast iron. Training with important loads that allow you to do a maximum of 5 repetitions improves the neuromuscular recruitment factors, i.e. the ability with which our central nervous system is able to activate – or recruit, as they say in jargon – the highest number possible of muscle fibers in order to produce optimal strength levels. Put simply: training with heavy loads pushes the body to give the best with what you have available, without adding muscle mass. If we have a 3-litre engine we adjust the control unit, the gearbox, the turbine but the engine remains the same. The displacement remains the same, but the 10,000rpm engine now travels at 15,000-20,000rpm. Automotive metaphors aside, this is a very important concept to keep in mind when going to the gym.

3 things to do

How to do? Simple. Just follow three simple guidelines within everyone’s reach, even of a beginner. Remember: the concept of heavy training is very relative. Heavy for a beginner means lifting far less weight than a lifter with 2-3 years of weight room experience. It’s all very relative. That said, let’s just:

  1. Choose basic exercises, i.e. exercises that use a large number of muscle groups. There horizontal pressFor example, it uses the quads, hamstrings and glutes while the leg extension only uses the quads. Exercises such as the horizontal press, the flat bench pressesPull-ups are better than isolation or one-joint exercises, such as leg extensions, cable crosses or rowing, because they allow you to express higher levels of intensity, in greater safety.
  2. Choose a load that allows us to do a maximum of 8 repetitions, but just do 4-5 sets of 5 reps. During each repetition it is important to lower the load slowly and controlled and then raise it quickly and explosively, trying to accelerate as much as possible during the push and/or pull phase. The important thing is to try. If we get tired and the load starts to slow down a little that’s okay, as long as the intent is to move the weight as fast as possible.
  3. Take plenty of rest between sets. In order to be able to lift an important load safely and to be able to do it explosively, it is necessary to be fresh and rested. Training under fatigued conditions is not ideal. It is therefore sufficient to train in the weight room a maximum of 2-3 times a week. It is equally important to manage energy well during each session and to rest for a minimum of 3 to a maximum of 5 minutes between series. Weight lifters can rest up to 15 minutes between sets. This is an extreme case. The important thing is not to rush and focus on a little work done well.

time and consistency

A training session in the weight room should not last more than 60-90 minutes on average. AND more than enough to include a strength exercise for the lower limbs, a couple of strength exercises for the upper limbs and an exercise for the abdominal muscles. A good warm-up and some stretching – preferably dynamic – complete the session. It takes time and perseverance to become strong. Two sessions a week and a handful of exercises in total are more than enoughbut what little you do you have to do it well, and do it for a long time in order to allow the body to get used to it and progress with the loads slowly and gradually. How and when to increase loads? Simple. The 2×2 rule applies. When with the same load we can do 2 more repetitions for two successive sessions, it means that the time has come to lift the load. by how much? 5% is enough. That’s all. The rest is simple, just get down to business.

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