So I have been doing weight training for a couple of months now. Using the idea of progressive overloading I have been increasing the weight by about 5kg every week or 2 or 3. Since I'm working out at home without a spotter I make sure I'm safely below my max.

My problem is that, with my deadlift, I can now do all the weight I can fit on the bar. My biggest plates are 7.5kg of which I only have 2 and 2x5kg and the rest are 2.5kg. So they are not very tall and thus take a lot of horizontal space on the bar and I can no longer fit any more weight onto the bar. I imagine that I will be having the same problem with my bench press soon as I am only 5kg the bar's maximum.

I am currently looking to buy/make some larger weights but won't be able to do this for a while. In the meantime I would still like to be increasing my strength.

So my question is:

How can I continue to increase my strength without increasing the weight on the bar? Should I do more reps per set? More sets of the same reps? Repeat the exercise daily or twice a day?

Will these alternatives cause me to increase muscle size? I've been doing 5 reps as I've read that this or even less is optimal for training strength without increasing muscle size.

My goal is to increase strength without gaining too much muscle size.

  • How much do you weigh? It sounds like you have a maximum of ~50kg to lift, which is just not going to be sufficient for most people to sustain a challenge. Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 15:54
  • @DaveLiepmann I weigh 80 and 65 is the most I can fit onto the bar. Note that 5x5 of this is still quite a challenge for me. Hopefully it won't matter too much and I'll be able to get some more weights next month. In the meantime I'll follow the advice of the answers here
    – Aequitas
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 18:41

5 Answers 5


If you can't increase the weight on the bar, then you have to settle for moving the bar faster (good for strength and power), reducing rest periods between sets (good for conditioning, hypertrophy (sometimes), and endurance), increasing the number of reps per set (good for endurance, conditioning, and hypertrophy), increasing the number of sets (good for hypertrophy, conditioning, and a little bit of strength), or doing different exercises that challenge some of the same muscles and movement patterns as the exercise you're trying to get stronger in.

Exercises to supplement the deadlift in this way include Romanian deadlifts, single-leg deadlifts, power cleans, power snatches, paused deadlifts, deficit deadlifts, and snatch-grip deadlifts.

Since you are 15kg more than the maximum amount of weight that you can fit onto your bar, you should probably focus on getting good at high-rep deep squats (e.g. multiple sets of 20 with 65kg on the bar), power cleans, and Romanian deadlifts. Those are still useful at less-than-bodyweight amounts.

  • I'd recommend against power snatches if the OP is working out alone. They are very technical and rather difficult to teach yourself (as I'm learning the hard way). Otherwise good advice.
    – Alex L
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 4:53

First we need to understand what strength is and what types of strength there are (Ross Enamait describes it nicely on this page http://rosstraining.com/blog/strength-training-for-fighters/): However, he is talking about fighters and their need for strength but the concept is the same.

Maximal Strength – Maximal strength is defined as the amount of force that one can exert under voluntary effort. Max-strength is developed by lifting heavy loads, or through body weight methods such as isometrics and the use of strenuous rep-for-rep movements. Obviously there will be a time where you can´t progress if not adding weight to the bar or body.

Explosive Strength – Explosive strength is defined as the ability to express significant tension in minimal time. You can increase explosive strength by executing the movements faster from a dead stop for example or using resistance bands with a moderate to light weight.

Speed Strength – Speed strength is defined as the ability to quickly execute an unloaded movement or a movement against a relatively small external resistance.

Strength Endurance – Strength endurance is defined as the ability to effectively maintain muscular functioning under work conditions of long duration.

So, to answer your question now that we know how strength is defined, we can work on the things we have to our disposal. The best thing would be to work on all four types of strength for a well rounded program but in your case, as you are limited with adding weights, we can use a concept that is called contrast training. https://www.t-nation.com/training/contrast-training-for-strength-size-and-power

Note that the title is strength size and power, YOU will no add significant amount of size if not adding more weight to the bar.

You simply execute a movement with a relatively heavy load for 1-5 reps, and immediately following a reactive or explosive movement. An example for Bench-Pressing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zd7TI4vMRFA

For more information I can recommend: http://www.jtsstrength.com/articles/2014/11/29/get-stronger-faster-french-contrast-method/ and https://www.t-nation.com/training/contrast-training-for-strength-size-and-power

hope that helps.


mitro's answer is really good, but I'd like to add on it. It's going to be hard to really build strength without weight, but there are a few things you can consider in the meantime:

  • Volume progression - good strength/powerlifting programs (Sheiko, Juggernaut, etc.) use volume as a main training stimulus rather than intensity. By increasing your training volume you can drive progress without having to touch a weight over 70-80% of your max. The fatigue you accumulate by doing a lot of submaximal volume, added to the extensive practice offered by doing thousands of repetitions, will give you tremendous strength gains. It's one of the rare things both the S&C literature and the world-class strength coaches agree on.
  • Underloading - the principle of underloading is to use a harder variation of the lift in order to provide mechanical stress without using very heavy weights. In powerlifting we often do this with for example paused bench press, spoto press (paused bench without touching the chest), paused squat, paused/double-paused deadlift, deficit deadlift, and all kinds of tempo variations of the big lifts.
  • Speed - speed days are a favorite of the conjugate system, even if they are quite controversial outside of it. It's basically form practice, where you do a lot of sets of very few reps, with very low weight, focusing on perfect form and maximal speed. For example, 10 sets of 3 with 60% (week 1), 65% (week 2), 70% (week 3), increase max and repeat. The Westside Barbell Book of Methods has a lot of information on the topic, along with traditional soviet training books.

Using these 3 principles you can easily work for a couple of months with whatever weight you have.


Although strength and muscle size is tied, its not the same thing completely. Queastion is what you want more? For size, do hypertrophy exercises, for strength you want to do less reps and sets with bigger windows of rest, with more explosive power and speed. Example: squatting 100 kg slowly, and doing jumping squats with 100 kg, jumping squats require much much more strength.


If you're limited on equipment you still have some options to increase strength without adding more weight.

Some previous answers mentioned a few good methods but I don't believe anyone mentioned lifting slower. Sometimes called eccentric training is a simple method that can be started with no weight at all. The focus is on moving slowly during the eccentric (lowering) portion of the movement. It is very effective at not only improving strength but can also greatly improve your technique.

Eccentric Training Example:

Perform the eccentric phase of the movement for 30 seconds per repetition and perform a total of 8 repetitions to acquire 4 minutes of eccentric training.

  • Push Up- starting in the top position with arms extended, slowly lower your body to the bottom position of the push up for 30 seconds, when you reach the bottom push back up as fast as possible
    • make sure you are moving slow enough to make sure you hit the bottom of the movement exactly at the end of 30 seconds
    • this may seem easy for the first few reps but it can get extremely difficult, if it is easy for all of the reps increase the amount of time spent on the eccentric portion of the exercise

Other exercises that work well: sumo squat, inverted row, split squat

Ways to improve the strength of your deadlift with without adding additional weight

-Deadlift from A Deficit- you can use a plate to stand causing to start from a slightly higher position can help you learn how to create tension at the bottom of the lift.

-Perform Rack Pulls- placing the bar on the rack just below your knees or higher can really below improve to top portion of the deadlift, usually performed with a greater amount of weight then you can perform the full deadlift with, so may not be recommended if you don't have additional weight to add but can help you work on technique.

-Deadlift From A Standing Position- start at the top of the movement and work on the eccentric portion of the lift.

-Change Deadlift Stance- if you are performing the deadlift in a conventional stance try using a Sumo stance

-Deadlift With Chains or Bands- adding bands of chains can increase the resistance at the top of the lift as well as cause uneven resistance.

Good luck, reach out if you have any questions.

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