How to get stronger (and how I’ve increased my strength)

This post about how to get stronger is sponsored by NOW®. I’ve been a customer and fan of the brand for many years, and I’m happy to be a partner again this year.

How to get stronger! This is a topic I know the answer to. Why? Not only because I’m a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and working group fitness instructor, as well as a currently certified Precision Nutrition coach, but mostly, because I’ve gotten stronger myself, over the last two years, using these tips I’m about to share.

This is not going to be a super-scientific post with a prescriptive plan, because I can’t give that to you. But what this post will feature are general best practices that you can adopt to your own life if getting stronger is your goal. 

So what does getting stronger mean? It means everything. It means you feel better and you improve your posture and mobility. It means you can lift heavier things and move your body more efficiently throughout your daily life and in your workouts. And of course, it also means your muscles get bigger too.

For many years, women have been constantly told to slim down and shrink, but these days, it’s about getting stronger and taking up more space — and I’m here for it. Let’s get to the tips on how to get stronger … (these tips aren’t just for women, by the way).

How to get stronger (and how I’ve increased my strength)

How to get stronger (and how I've increased my strength) by A Lady Goes West

You need to eat enough calories and protein every single day to fuel your growth.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I see a lot of women who are chronically under-eating, and then they wonder why they can’t grow muscles. Muscles are expensive. Muscles need calories. You cannot grow your muscles or make big strength gains if you’re subsisting on coffee and salads every day. You need to eat. You need carbs, fat and protein, and unless you have food allergies, you don’t need to cut out any food groups. 

I’ve been a pretty good eater for the last eight years or so (I made some big changes back when I was fixing my fertility and trying to get pregnant and many of them have stuck). But I didn’t see a difference in my muscle growth or visible definition until I started eating more protein over the last two years. I’ve significantly increased my protein, and it’s definitely helping me make changes to my body composition and strength. (Super slowly, but surely. No quick fixes here.)

If you want to get stronger and grow your muscles, you need to eat protein at every meal. And you need to be consuming protein at regular intervals throughout the day, not just at once. I recommend eating about a gram of protein, per pound of your bodyweight, each day. 

How to get stronger by A Lady Goes West

For example: I weigh about 145 pounds (although I only weigh myself every couple of months, so I don’t have a daily measurement for you), and that means I try to eat 145 grams of protein every single day. That’s a lot of protein, and it’s way more than the 60 or so grams I used to eat daily about two years ago.

If you have no idea how much protein you’re having right now, you may want to start with using an app-based tracker to get that number locked in over the course of a few weeks. You don’t have to track everything you eat every single day, but you should know how much protein is in what you eat. I do this loosely and have learned how much protein is in most of my foods, which helps me mentally calculate without any official tracking.

But back to the under-eating. If you’ve always tried your best to stay skinny and small by eating small amounts of food, you have to truly shift your thinking if you want to get strong. It can’t always be about eating as little as possible. You need to actively fuel yourself. Eating enough is an amazing feeling and it’s one that I would never give up now that I do it. (Because yes, I had years of under-eating, and although I was skinny, I was not super strong.)

In order to get enough protein each day in my diet, I always include a protein powder, and I usually consume it as a shake right after my workout. Currently, I’m using NOW® Sports Whey Protein Isolate daily, and this gives me a dose of 25 grams of protein in one shot. I used to stick to plant-based proteins, but I recently switched to whey to see how it performs for me, and so far it’s going well. I have this protein shake, in addition to three solid meals and a snack, and that gets me to my 145 grams of protein a day. What I like about this particular protein powder from NOW is that it has 25 grams of protein, it mixes up well with water and it tastes good. And whey isolate has the highest percentage of protein content, so that’s why I chose this one.

How to get stronger by A Lady Goes West-8

You need to do progressive strength training. (But it doesn’t have to be perfectly planned.)

If you want to get stronger, you need to do resistance/strength training, and it needs to be progressive. 

So what is progressive strength training? A very simplified answer is this: Progressive strength training means that you repeat the same moves for a little while, and you start to add load or volume to those same moves over time to make them more difficult and challenging. Then, you move on to a new set of moves and do the same process. The term “progressive” is important because it means you continually build on what you’re doing, smartly. And that style of resistance training is different than just lifting the same set of weights every day and thinking that will make you strong. If you do the exact same thing with the same load and same volume all the time, your body will adapt to the challenges you’re placing on it and you’ll plateau. That’s why the progressive part matters. Now, of course, this is an incredibly simplified answer, but it’s the gist that you need to know as someone with general fitness knowledge wanting to get stronger.

It’s important to be said that most fitness professionals will say you need to be following a strict written periodized strength training plan to make improvements, but I don’t think you do. I haven’t followed one, and I’ve made improvements. Don’t get me wrong: Plans are amazing. Working with a fitness trainer is even more amazing (and I highly recommend meeting with a trainer at least once to get help with your form). But if you don’t have access to a trainer or a plan regularly, you can still make progress, as long as you do basic progressive strength training, and you try to lift more and better as you go. (By the way, I would shoot for three full-body strength training sessions a week at a minimum. But there are many ways to structure your workout week.)

If you’re someone who goes to group fitness classes and you want to get stronger, I’d make sure you’re lifting weights three times a week in your classes and working on increasing the amount of weight you lift every few weeks. In most class settings, you will max out, so you can then start working on extra range of motion, extra repetitions or extra difficulty. 

If you’re someone who works out at home, I would find a few follow-along resistance workouts that you enjoy, do them regularly for a month, and try to lift heavier weights as the month goes on, then move to a new set. Les Mills+ has an excellent Strength Development program, and Peloton also has some progressive strength plans, and both of those are great options.

How to get stronger by A Lady Goes West-6

For me, I’ve increased the weights I use in the classes I teach over the last couple of years. (In most of my classes, I model the exercises for/with my participants, so it is a lot of exercise for me to teach.) And I’ve also been doing one solo workout on the fitness floor a week, in which I focus on fairly basic foundational movements. I’ve worked to improve those foundational movements slowly but surely, and I keep it very simple. My typical fitness floor workout right now includes negative chin-ups, hip thrusts, back extensions, lunges and push-ups.

Moral of the story with this one: You need to lift weights (which can also include using machines, bodyweight training, incorporating resistance bands and more), and you need to consistently increase your training stimulus with a progressive approach.

You could consider supplementing smartly with creatine and/or amino acids.

Creatine is such a hot topic, I probably need to devote a whole blog post to it. But I will say that I’ve seen even more strength gains since I started taking both creatine and amino acids regularly.

Now supplements are just that — supplemental. What’s most important is what you’re eating and what you’re doing. But I’ve reached a point that I knew I needed an extra push to help me make some improvements, so that’s why I added in both creatine and amino acids. I already exercise a lot as a group fitness instructor, and preserving muscle mass while I teach is a big concern for me. Everyone does not need to take these two supplements, but if you’re really serious about getting strong, I’d look into both.

First up, creatine. Here’s what you should know about creatine, from the Mayo Clinic:

Creatine is a compound that comes from three amino acids. Creatine is found mostly in your body’s muscles as well as in the brain. Most people get creatine through seafood and red meat — though at levels far below those found in synthetically made creatine supplements. The body’s liver, pancreas and kidneys also can make about one gram of creatine per day.

Your body stores creatine as phosphocreatine primarily in your muscles, where it’s used for energy. As a result, people take creatine orally to improve athletic performance and increase muscle mass.*

How to get stronger by A Lady Goes West-10

I put a tablespoon of creatine in my protein shake and consume it daily after my workout. Since taking creatine, I’ve felt a little bit more power in my workouts and in my classes, and I’ve also felt a little bit more muscle definition too.* Studies have shown that creatine is said to support maintaining muscle mass, in addition to the physical performance benefits.* And I’m seeing more and more people taking creatine and loving creatine. It’s not just for athletes too, the everyday person can enjoy the support of creatine, when used as directed.

I’ve been using this NOW® Sports Creatine Monohydrate Micronized Powder for about four months now. This is the only creatine I’ve ever tried and used, and I like it a lot. I get the micronized powder version, because it’s very small particles of powder that dissolve easily. This particular creatine has even won an award from “Vitamin Retailer” Magazine, so it’s an excellent choice. 

Next up, amino acids. Here’s what you should know about amino acids, from the sports experts at NOW:

Your body cannot directly use proteins obtained from the diet to build new muscle tissue. It needs to break them down to individual building blocks – called amino acids – for countless purposes and functions.

As you exercise, your body burns mostly carbohydrates for energy. Once you’ve used your limited carbohydrate stores, what’s next on the energy menu? Muscle tissue. Your body will begin to break it down to utilize the amino acids contained within as an alternative energy source.

If you’re not providing your body with the raw materials it needs during exercise, your body will break down its own muscle tissue to produce energy. The result is that you’re actually losing muscle instead of gaining it.

The key is to ensure that your body is synthesizing more protein than it’s taking from your muscles, and then, you’ll gain lean muscle mass instead of losing it.

How to get stronger by A Lady Goes West-9

On days that I exercise, I put a scoop of amino acids in my water cup, and I sip on them after my workout. I don’t love the taste of amino acids when the flavor is strong, so I do a small scoop with a lot of water to dilute it. I’ve been using the NOW® Sports BCAA Big 6 Powder lately. BCAAs are branched-chain amino acids, and taking them in this form is shown to support muscle retention and recovery.*

These two supplements are designed to support performance and preserve muscle mass, so I think they’re great options for anyone looking to get strong.*

You need to have built-in rest days to let your body recover. And you need to sleep well every night.

Did you know your muscles grow overnight when you sleep and when you’re not at the gym? It’s true!

This is another oversimplification, but basically: When you lift weights, you create tiny tears in your muscles. When you’re away from your workout after it’s complete, your body works to fix those tears in the muscle tissue and grow back bigger and stronger. This takes place during a good night of sleep and during a rest or active recovery day. And this simple fact is incredibly important.

How to get stronger by A Lady Goes West-3

If you do the same workout every single day without rest, you will have trouble getting stronger, because you won’t have enough built-in recovery. And if you’re only sleeping a few hours a night, you’ll have trouble getting stronger. Recovery and sleep matter. The growth happens in the rest.

I have a special sleep tool that I employ sometimes, especially after big workouts, and it’s the NOW Sports Rest and Repair Capsules. This supplement supports restful sleep, helps preserve lean muscle mass and even helps reduce post-workout soreness.* I always take this after a big weightlifting day, and I think it helps me recover properly, in addition to my other recovery techniques, like foam rolling, massage chairs and percussive massage guns.

If you’re looking to get strong, you need to take a look at all the working out you’re doing each week and ensure you have rest days so your body can heal and grow. It’s ideal to take off at least one full day a week, but you could take off more than that if you want. I almost always take Sundays off, and then when I get back to working out on Monday, I feel excellent. Rest is everything!

How to get stronger by A Lady Goes West-7

Other things you need to know if you want to get stronger

You should be lifting weights with great form. If you’ve never worked with a personal trainer before and are doing your own thing for your workouts, I would highly recommend you book at least one session for some assistance with your form. Form really matters, especially when you start doing progressive strength training and adding volume and/or load. You want to do it right in order to avoid injuries and to properly engage the right muscles. And you don’t have to lift heavy weights to get strong, you just need to lift those weights well.

How to get stronger by A Lady Goes West-2

You need to warm up properly before lifting weights. We’re getting a little detailed with this one, but before you lift weights, you should warm up. It’s ideal to do moving/dynamic warm-up moves that mimic some of the exercises you plan to do in your workouts. For instance, if you plan to do heavy squats, you could add lighter bodyweight air squats to your warm up. Warming up also helps you find better range of motion. 

You’ll need to get good at fundamental movement patterns. There are fundamental movement patterns, and then there are fun accessory movements. If you want to get strong, you need to spend time getting better at the fundamentals, including: squat, hinge/deadlift, push/pull vertically/horizontally and rotation. While there are a million great machines and exercises out there, a good way to train is to hit the basics every week, with some extras thrown in. Typically, group fitness classes feature a lot of the basics, and I think that’s a great place to work on them and learn them. You can also take what you learn out onto the fitness floor to access heavier weights and move at a slower pace. 

And for the final and perhaps most important point: You’ll need to be consistent for a long time. Building strength takes time. If you really want to get stronger, you need to be ready to commit to the goal and stay consistent, even if you don’t see results right away. You may notice that you perform better in your workouts after sticking with them and following these tips, but you may not see visible changes in your body for quite some time — months even. Don’t give up! Gaining strength/muscle requires patience, and it’s a totally worthy endeavor.

And those are my general tips on how to get stronger!

How to get stronger by A Lady Goes West-4

More about NOW and a NOW discount code for you

Because you’re reading this post, I want to thank you for supporting NOW, which is a huge and well-respected natural foods and supplement company that I’ve been patronizing for many years. I trust the brand 100 percent, especially because I’ve even toured their real-life facilities and met the people in charge. (That was so cool, and you can read about that trip I took last summer here.)

You can find NOW products in major natural health food stores and grocers, you can find some of their products on Amazon. And you can access the full line-up online on the NOW site. My pantry is stocked with NOW products (many of which I’ve shared above), and our family loves NOW.

You can always use my personal discount code, ASHLEY, at NOWFoods.com for 20 percent off.

That’s it for today. Thank you for stopping by and now, go out there and get strong!

How to get stronger by A Lady Goes West-6

Other posts you may like

Questions of the day for you 

What’s one area of your life you need to upgrade to help you get stronger?

What’s your favorite strength training move?

Have you ever tried any NOW products? If so, which ones?

Disclaimer: Thanks again to NOW for sponsoring this post. While I was compensated, all of these opinions are totally my own. Thanks, NOW! #NOWWellness

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

,

2 Comments

  1. Hi Ashley! Great post around getting stronger! Just a question around creatine, did you notice any side effects from it? I’ve been on the fence around introducing it for ages (mainly due to the bloating, weight gain that people talk about) but also keen to try and increase muscle definition! Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Courtney! I have heard that some people have initial water weight gain and bloating with creatine, but I haven’t experienced that at all. I’ve had literally NO side effects that I know of, and it’s been a few months. I’m excited to see what consistent use for the next few months does for me. You probably should start with the suggested dosage once a day so you don’t take too much. I only take it once a day, but you can take it more than that if you want — I’m taking the minimum only. Let me know if you try it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.