4 Ways To Get Stronger Without Increasing Weight on the Bar

John Rusin
Written By: John Rusin
December 28th, 2016
Updated: June 13th, 2020
Categories: Articles Training
17.8K Reads
4 Ways To Get Stronger Without Increasing Weight on the Bar
The obvious progression is adding weight to the barbell, but doing so often leads to a mindset that encourages injury. Try out these 4 safer progressions.

It’s been ingrained in our psyches for ages.

The thought that if you aren’t adding weight to the bar, you are NOT getting stronger.

But unless you are stepping onto the platform with competition goals any time soon, absolute strength should only be a small portion of your overall “strength” goals in training.

Real lifters who are in it for the long haul know that there are countless ways to get progressively stronger without ever adding another pound to the bar.

It’s time we stop being so dogmatic when it comes to strength development and start using smart training strategies that produce world-class results.

Results without the inherent injuries that come along with trying to achieve the mythical beast which is long term linear progressive overload.

1. MULTIPLE REP Personal Records

If the first and only thing that comes to mind when you hear the words personal record are a max effort single rep effort, your pain-free training career is going to be short lived. As many veteran lifters know, the continual achievement of heavier single rep PR’s in the big lifts come with inherent risk.

But here’s the real question, what’s the reward and does it match up with your goals?

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Every time you get under a maximal or supra-maximal load, one of two things is going to happen. First, your calculated approach to hitting a new PR pays off leading to a sound lift. This is the best feeling in the world.

But if the “feeling” is the only reason for chasing numbers, you better start intelligently prioritizing your training as the second more common happening under heavy weight is a missed lift, or even worse, an ugly grinding rep that incorporates every single contractile compensation pattern available to move the load from point A to point B.

This my friends, is what leads to injuries. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone here.

Related: Am I Strong? Lee Boyce's Real World Strength Standards

But we so often forget about multiple rep PR’s that are not only more transferable to strength development and muscle hypertrophy, but also help to optimize that risk to reward ratio we were talking about. Having a holistic view of “strength” and progressing your big lifts over time through a host of multiple rep schemes is a move of smart lifters.

Setting a standard for multiple repetition strength doesn’t have to be complicated. If you are continuously chasing single rep maxes, start with shifting gears to a 3RM or 5RM and dominating those schemes over time.

And lets be honest, moving past pure strength ranges and up into muscular hypertrophy and challenge set ranges can be even more challenging, both physically and mentally.

For those of you that want to continue to move heavy weights, here’s another option. Move that same weight for more reps over time. This thinking is the backbone of some of the most basic, yet effective programming schemes in the industry. But guess what? They simply work.

Give them a try, and as you progressively get stronger through multiple rep ranges, it will make that well calculated 1RM effort every now and then feel that much better.

M&S Male Athlete Performing Dumbbell Rows

2. ESCALATING DENSITY

Density can be defined as the amount of work you are able to complete in a certain metric of time. If you are able to complete more reps in a shorter time, your density of training will be greater, hence the positive correlation with strength development.

Even if you don’t end up training against the clock, there is an easy way to increase a training effect while lifting the same relative weights in the big movements. Simply decrease the rest periods between sets. If you are thinking that sounds too basic to work, it’s not.

By decreasing rest periods, the cumulative training fatigue for a movement sets in along with a systemic metabolic stress effect that heightens the relative training intensity of each bout.

If you think you are strong hitting a few sets with multiple minutes between, try decreasing that time significantly and maintain your loads, tempo of movement, and technique. That’s the true test of resilient strength and movement mastery.

The manipulation of rest periods doesn’t have to be drastic, but if you are a lifter who has goals of sound orthopedic health along with continuous progression in the weight room, cutting down 5-10 seconds between sets each training session will add up quickly, and will enhance your resiliency.

Just be ready for a blood bath as your efficiency increases, as you’ll be doing “cardio” along with your strength work. The best of both worlds in my book.

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3. IMPROVED RECOVERY FOR INCREASED FREQUENCY

While there are many training variables that will optimize strength and muscle mass, one of the most overlooked variables is training frequency.

Many times, lifters get stuck in their comfortable groove and automated weekly schedule and never think to manipulate the number of days they are training per week, the volume of each session and the way in which they are breaking down the emphasis of their training days.

Having success with the manipulation of all the variables above are dependent on an even more pivotal aspect of strength development, the ability to recover between training bouts.

Related: 6 Strength Training Tips for the Average Lifter

Simply put, the more expedited the recovery process becomes, the higher the quality frequency of training will be. And with higher training frequencies come higher training volumes and frequencies that lead to increased strength and muscular development over time.

Improving the ability to recover and regenerate muscular tissues and systemic function between heavy training days is largely dependent on the three non-negotiables of performance; quality sleep, smart nutrition and managing stress.

The reason many athletes struggle with recovery has nothing to do with their programming or training execution, but rather non-gym factors like the big three mentioned above.

If your goal is sustainable long term strength development predicated on sound recovery, stop majoring in the minors like foam rolling and stretching and instead get a solid night’s sleep, some calculated nutrition and try not being stressed out all the time. Trust me, it will do wonders.

M&S Female Athlete Performing Leg Presses

4. BODY RECOMPOSITION FOR BETTER RELATIVE STRENGTH

I left this strategy for last as many of you will most likely want to tell me to get out of here after reading, but here’s the cold hard truth. For long-term strength development, physical resiliency and general health and wellness, relative strength, or ones strength relative to their bodyweight, is far more important than absolute strength.

That was a little too nice, so here’s the reality. If you are trying to justify your fat gut and lifetime membership at the local buffet line with absolute strength goals, lets just say you aren’t looking at the big picture.

We all know the health risks associated with increased body fat percentages including diabetes, heart disease, and getting winded walking up a flight of stairs, but it’s important to break down the risk reward of every action and training goal.

If you’re having a hard time justifying your letting go of the absolutist strength mindset, lets review some anatomy and biomechanics, shall we? Fat consists of adipose tissue, and has zero contractile properties meaning that is plays no role in developing force for strength potential.

By reducing the amount of fat on the body while maintaining current strength metrics, one's absolute strength will stay the same while the relative strength will improve. So why are you carrying that extra 25 pounds of flab on your belly again?

It comes down to facing the fact that being strong, healthy and looking the part is far tougher than eating away at absolute strength goals.

Get your mindset right and your body will follow. You’re welcome.

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