Hey Angels and Alphas,
Nowadays, it seems like every program is here to help you get bigger and stronger. Even though people are starting to realize that muscular hypertrophy doesn’t always mean strength gains, people are still unsure as to how the two differ.
In this article, we’re going to cover the differences between the training approaches when you’re focused on developing strength and when you’re purely determined to gain muscle size. Some of you might already know this, but there are massive differences to the two training methods.
The adaptations you’re focused on developing progressively are totally different, and with that, so should be your approach. Let’s get started.
THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SIZE AND STRENGTH
If you’re a male bodybuilder and you’re in the off-season, chances are you’re aiming at gaining muscle size. And after a few months of heavy lifting and heavy eating, you’ll most likely have increased your fat-free mass index by a few pounds. Hurray!
However, if you’re a powerlifter preparing for a meet, you’re on a different program, also lifting and eating heavy. This time, your purpose is to increase your 1 rep max.
However, something might happen at your meet – any slight discomfort or psyching out might mean that you don’t hit a new personal best at the competition. Or you might have become overly fatigued the last few days before your meet, causing you *not* to have a recorded increase in strength.
Does that mean your program failed you? No. Maybe a dozen years from now, we’ll have the ability to track more variables and detect hidden adaptations that will reveal how much strength you gained (adaptations such as more muscle size, greater tendon stiffness, and higher lateral force transmission inside the muscle).
Only then could we “technically” predict their “real strength” without actually testing it. All of this means that not only are strength and muscle size different when it comes to training approach; they’re also different when it comes to how we measure them.
If you’ve gained size, it’s obvious, regardless of external factors. While this is not applicable to most natural bodybuilders, size gains can happen regardless of the weight used since hypertrophy is all about creating consistent adaptations.
If you’ve gained strength, however, that’s a little bit harder to define. Strength is only displayed and measured on certain occasions and has many environmental and external variables affecting it. You might improve your ability to produce muscle force, but you might fail to display that during testing. Even then, you might get stronger at a specific exercise (say the bench press) and you’ll develop strength in some specific movement, but this doesn’t mean you’ll overall be stronger than someone.
Ultimately, if you’re a strength athlete, it will be way more difficult for you to assess the quality of your training program. Never get discouraged if your program seems to be missing the mark. Give it (and yourself) time.
Most traditional programs that focus on developing strength will have you focused on trying to push your one-rep-max as high as possible for specific movements. That’s why a lot of these programs separate sets into “sets designed to warm me up” and “sets designed to make me stronger” with the latter variation usually consisting of exercises done at a single repetition.
On the other hand, training for muscle size will often have you chasing hypertrophy, the enlargement of specific muscles by overloading them progressively. That’s why you’ll see most programs targeting exercises anywhere in the range of 6 to 12 reps, with the rep counts getting lower and lower after every set.
This is done to tire out the muscle as much as possible and create the adaptations necessary to enlarge the muscle. This is very different from the approach of becoming stronger at one specific movement, where the ultimate outcome is max force produced on a single rep.