Increase Muscular Strength: 6 Russian Methods
Having lived in Russia for several years, the renown of Russian strength athletes have always fascinated me. If you’re wanting to increase muscular strength, you should try implementing some of the things Russians do into your training. Many years ago I read an article by C. S. Sloan, which covered the six primary training methods utilized by Russian strength athletes. It proved to be the turning point in my training. If you’re wanting to increase muscular strength, then you need to know these six points and play around with them in your training.
#1: Synaptic Facilitation
Повторение – мать учения (povtereniya mat ucheniya), or “Repetition is the mother of all learning”. This principle doesn’t only concern academia, but applies when wanting to increase muscular development. To make performing a lift more efficient and natural, you have to perform it more often. Western strength athletes commonly make the mistake of only training major compound lifts and large muscle groups for only one session per week. This is insufficient for maximal synaptic facilitation. If you want to specialize and increase muscular strength in the core lifts, you need to preform them more often.
#2: Train More Than 1 Major Lift Per Session
Russian strength athletes train major compound movement (deadlift, squat, bench press) at least 2 to 3 sessions per week. The increased frequency of training the larger compound movements causes nueromuscular cross-section adaptions to become more efficient in performing the movement and handling progressively heavier weights.
The increased frequency means there is an overlap of major lifts, which flies in the face of Western traditional training: 1 major lift / muscle group and then supplemental work. They do this so that the body can adequately recover. Training 2 major, compound lifts in the same session (i.e. squat and bench press) is hard, but the body can adapt to it.
Russians strength athletes perform squats and deadlifts in 2 to 3 sessions per week. This means there is overlap of major lifts each session. Training the major lifts for 2 to 3 sessions per week means they increase muscular strength 2 to 3 times faster than Westerners in traditional training.
#3: Train Small Muscle Groups With Greater Frequency and Volume</3>
The bench press can be performed more frequently than the other two core lifts (squat and deadlift). The reason being it handles a lighter load (relatively speaking) for a shorter range of motion. In a physics sense, you are doing much less work. Thus all the smaller muscles involved (pecs, triceps, biceps, etc.) don’t need as much recovery time. Many Russian strength athletes perform bench press daily in every session.
So squats and deadlifts 2 to 3 sessions per week with bench press (regular, incline, close-grip, etc.) in its various forms is performed during nearly every session. This method of increased frequency of smaller muscle groups will, again, reinforce the synaptic facilitation of the movements, making them more efficient.
#4: Don’t Need A Lot Of Exercises To Increase Muscular Development
Russian strength athletes rarely do much more than the core lifts and varied derivatives of them (i.e. squats, good mornings, box squts, etc.) Due to the high frequency of sessions and high loads needed in training to increase muscular development, too much extraneous ‘fluff’ may lead to overtraining, which can lead to injury or stagnation in progress.
If your primary goal is to increase muscular strength, then you need to focus on the core lifts and their derivatives. Dumbbell curls, flyes, and cable cross-overs and other irrelevant exercises, in the long run, will not do anything to help you increase muscular strength, and may even detract due to possible overtraining.
#5: Low Reps To Increase Muscular Strength
You will rarely see Russian strength athletes perform sets beyond 5 reps. Maximal exertion utilizes the phosphagen metabolic pathway for energy needs, and can only be sustained for ~10 seconds. After that points it is depleted and the body switches to glycolysis (the breaking down of glycogen for fuel) which contains less energy and thus cannot sustain maximal exertion.
Training the core lifts in the 1 to 5 rep range will ensure you’re handling weights 75 to 100% of your 1 rep max. This target zone must be achieved in order to adaquately tax the central nervous system and improve neuromuscular cross-section, causing you to increase muscular strength over time.
#6: Increase Sets When Increasing Weight and Decreasing Reps
As explained in step 5, maximal force production relies on skeletal creatine phosphate stored in skeletal muscle. It is depleted within the first ~10 seconds of maximal effort exercise (heavy set of deadlifts, squats, etc.) However, it will replete, or regenerate, in roughly 4 to 5 minutes of rest.
Russians increase the amount of sets performed for sub-maximal or maximal lifts. As long as the central nervous system can recover and handle the heavy load, the fuel needed to lift the heavy load will return and it can be performed several times. Russians warm-up by doing no more than five reps. The warm-up should be as specific as possible, mirroring the intended goal of the lifting session. When Russians are intending to perform a one rep max in a session, they do not perform 10 reps for warm up.
Westerners typically use a pyramid training method to work up to heavy loads, but by the time they reach that point, their nervous systems and stored fuel substrates are diminished, meaning they can’t handle as much heavy load-volume as Russians do in their system. Again, traditional Western training does not increase muscular strength as efficiently as the Russian method.
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