Training for muscle strength vs muscle size

by Michael Davis in Education | Training | Uncategorised

A common misconception is that the biggest person in the gym is probably the strongest. It seems logical because we often associate muscle size to strength. Yes this may be true to some extent: larger muscles are able to produce more force, but what about powerlifters? Compared to bodybuilders, powerlifters aren’t carrying as much muscle mass but yet they are able to lift more weight. The reason why is because powerlifters train specifically for strength whereas bodybuilders train for muscle hypertrophy (= increase in size).

Training for strength is different from training for muscle size. However, this doesn’t mean that training for one will not result in the other. Focusing on improving one will result in the other improving in some way. The  key difference between the two is that strength is a performance outcome whereas size is a structural adaptation, so we must make considerations when training for one or the other:

Training for Strength:

  1. Longer rest periods (3 -6 minutes between sets). When training for strength, you want to let your muscles recover before moving to the next set.
  2. Rep ranges: 1-5
  3. Exercise selection. Train the specific exercises you want to get stronger at
    • Improves your technique or movement efficiency for that movement
  4. Effort: Heavier loads (85-95% of your 1 rep max)

What adaptations to expect from training for Strength:

  1. Muscle hypertrophy (increase in muscle fibre size). As mentioned above, training for one will result in the other
  2. Neural adaptations. The amount of force produced with the given amount of muscle mass available will increase. Your muscles work more efficiently (i.e. skill)

 

Training for Size (hypertrophy):

  1. Shorter rest periods (1-3 minutes between sets)
  2. Large spectrum of rep ranges, approximate 6 to 25 rep range
  3. No specific exercise selection needed. Any exercise that targets the muscle you want to build will work (assuming it is an effective exercise and that correct technique is used)
  4. Effort: Large spectrum of loads (50-85% of your 1 rep max)

What adaptations to expect from training for Size:

  1. Hypertrophy or increase in muscle size (muscle fibres become larger in diameter)
  2. Increase in muscle strength. As mentioned above, training for one will result in the other
  3. Muscle fibre hyperplasia (increase in number of muscle fibres)
  4. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. The sarcoplasm is the cytoplasm of the muscle cell, the gelatinous liquid that fills the inside of a cell