5 Ways to Build Strength Unconventionally

Redefine strength by maxing out on these less-common activities.
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Strength training has a few accurate stereotypes. Many people might agree that it’s challenging, or often painfully monotonous. And if you’ve trained as a strength athlete for any considerable length of time, you can surely recall idle breaks between sets and constant weekly efforts revisiting the same movements. One inaccurate notion is that building strength performance at the highest level requires methods that are unconventional. When you begin to recognize how widely these techniques are used by serious athletes, the truth is they’re anything but.

Here’s the take-home: Few things are certain in performance training, but one certainty is that routine isn’t good for much except accommodation and plateau. Use these five not-so-atypical strategies to build strength and size while adding novelty to your workouts.

1. Heavy Carries

Heavy carries including, but not limited to, the yoke, sandbags, kegs, farmer’s walk, frames and other creative (read: awkward) objects are potent builders of allover strength but especially in the glutes, hams, erectors and upper back. The cherry on top? They’re low-tech and easy to master.

2. Sled Drags

Chalk up another victory to simplicity. Sled drags take virtually no skill or athleticism and provide numerous benefits including building and strengthening the posterior chain, active recovery, improved knee health and growing general work capacity. Drag a sled twice a week, once heavy and short (hundreds of pounds for hundreds of feet at a time) and once light and long (about 100 pounds for a mile or more). Stand up tall, walk, reach and pull from heel to toe and think about your glutes with each step.

3. Treat Your Hamstrings Like Biceps

You never need to twist a gym rat’s arm to do more biceps work. Creating that same enthusiasm with hamstring work is arguably the quickest way to develop incredible strength. We have a satirical mission at Deuce Gym in Southern California (deucegym.com) to “end quad dominance” because of the prevalence of weak hamstrings we see in the general population. In that way, the low-hanging fruit of strength gains for most is to improve your numbers by developing those underused, potentially nonexistent hamstrings.

4. Creative One-Rep Maxes

Variety is key in any smart performance program. Why? We can’t train the same lifts at or above 90 percent for more than three weeks without seeing diminishing returns. Being creative with your heavy days can allow you to train above 90 percent to continue strength progress (without deloading) every week. How? Use different bars, add or subtract gear, change your stance, vary the range of motion, and add bands and/or chains to inject enough variety to go heavy until the end of time.

5. “Speed Kills!”

We often forget that there are two main variables in strength performance: how much force we create and how fast we create it. Of course, to get stronger we need to push the boundaries of maximal force, but to get stronger we also need to get faster. Each lift has a built-in shot clock (as you can grind with a weight for only so long). Getting faster means finishing more lifts. Don’t neglect plyometric jumps and throws and sprint work when working to increase your rate of force generation.