How long does it take to see strength gains?
If you are a beginner, then you will see big changes pretty quickly. This is because your body will not be used to lifting any weights and therefore will adapt quickly to new stimuli. The longer you are training with weights, the slower the progression will be. Therefore, after you are in a good routine and have been training for a while, it is important to think about your training program to ensure it is really focussing on building strength, as well as looking at other factors such as nutrition, sleep and stress.
Consistency is going to be so important. You can’t expect to see big improvements in strength if you are training once a week, every other week. You need to get yourself into a regular training routine, as well as keeping your diet consistent.
In order to make strength gains, not only do you need to be thinking about your training time but you also need to make sure your diet is going to compliment your hard work. Initially you want to take a look at your meal structure, frequency and timings. As well as this, you need to ensure you have enough fuel in the tank for the work you are doing. Majority of the time you are going to need to be in a calorie surplus, ie. consuming more energy (food) than you are expending.
Ensuring you are consuming adequate calories in accordance to the training you are doing, doesn’t mean you need to go for poor quality foods because they are calorie dense. Pro-inflammatory foods will hinder progress, and ultimately isn’t ideal for long term health; therefore, make sure you are basing your diet on whole foods and limiting processed foods as much as possible. Protein consistency, evenly distributed across the day, is going to be crucial for strength and muscle gains. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of your muscles. Carbs and fats are also going to play a role in strength gains. Carbs play a large role in the transport of protein to the muscle in order to aid muscle growth, as well as being muscle protein sparing, which means they will be used for the production of energy before your body turns to breaking down valuable proteins.
We want to be promoting muscle protein synthesis and reducing any possibility of muscle protein breakdown, hence why supplying the body with adequate fuel is vital. When the body is under fuelled, it will look to your stores for fuel, which is counterproductive to increasing strength. Finding the sweet spot of enough fuel to support strength gains but not too much to promote unnecessary fat gain, can be challenging but this is where I recommend reaching out to a nutritionist for personalised support and advice.
Meal structure is going to be key, limiting going large periods of time without eating and instead balancing intake evenly throughout the day. The body can only digest a certain amount of food in one go so to prevent gaining unnecessary fat, meal timings and structure is going to be important.
Rest Days and Sleep
Rest is another key factor to gaining strength, and often the one that is overlooked and forgotten about. Any successful strength program isn’t complete without rest days. Allowing your body to recover and repair is part of the strength gaining process. Therefore, make sure you are adding in at least one (ideally two), rest days a week where you aren’t heading to the gym and picking up weights. Use these days for extra mobility work and a good walk. Make sure you are still following your same meal structure on these days as your muscles and tissues need adequate nutrients to begin the repairing process.
Sleep is essential to recovery from both training and just from the strains of day to day life as this is the time for repair and regeneration. Adequate sleep raises our insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which allows us to better recruit satellite cells into the muscle fibres, ie. helping with those strength gains. Adequate sleep also helps to reduce chronic cortisol levels, helping to reduce muscle breakdown and increase growth. It is also vital for reducing chronic inflammation, which as we have already touched on, will hinder strength gains. Less inflammation can speed up the muscle repair process, as well as reducing the risk of injuries.
To start your journey to gaining strength, the key points to think about are having a well planned, consistent, training program, ensuring your diet is matching your training and making sure sleep and recovery is a high priority.