Does Strength Always Equal Size? Is gaining strength the key to muscle size?

A long time ago I read an article entitled “Bodybuilding Has Lied To You” {you bet!} in which was stated that “Strength ALWAYS Equals Size”. The idea was that the only way to get bigger was to get stronger and that with strength will come muscle mass. It turned out that this is correct and wrong at the same time.


Getting Stronger Will Make You Bigger

There is no doubt that getting your lifts up will make you bigger. If today you can squat 150 lbs and after a while you can do 350 lbs, you will probably be bigger too. The body responds to stress by building more muscle needed to complete the imposed demands.

In order to go forward you must progress by lifting heavier weights and/or doing more advanced versions of bodyweight exercises. That’s why all successful routines are built around continuous progression achieved through scheduled overload. The goal is always to improve in the fastest most efficient way possible without getting injured. If your routine does that for you, you have a decent plan, at least for now.


The Land Of Diminishing Returns

At one point, however, the lifter has no choice but to arrive in the Land Of Diminishing Returns. This is when things get complicated.

Who will have bigger legs? The guy squatting 100 lbs or the one squatting 350 lbs? Most likely the second one. However, who do you think will have bigger legs? The guy squatting 350 lbs or the one squatting 450 lbs? It depends on genetics and other factors.

After a certain point adding weight to the bar does not necessarily make you bigger – it just makes you stronger at a given exercise. That’s why if your goal is size, you are in the Land Of Diminishing Returns, and killing yourself to add a few more pounds to the bar may be a poor recipe as far as muscle production is concerned.

At one point becoming stronger is like upgrading your computer with better components in order to play old games. In other words, no matter how good your computer system is the game will still look the same. You don’t need the latest processor to run Solitaire efficiently.

Below are a few arbitrary numbers beyond which I believe is the Land Of Diminishing Returns as far as natural bodybuilders are concerned:

Bench press – 275 lbs;
Squat – 405 lbs;
Deadlift – 500 lbs;


The Illusion Of Strength

The fact that you are lifting more weight does not mean that more growth will be stimulated. There are many different ways that can help you move more weight without actually being stronger.

Powerlifters, for example, use a lot of techniques in order to lift heavier weights in competition. The most popular example would be the usage of excessive arching during bench pressing. Similar cheat moves may allow you to lift more weight but if your goal is to simply build more muscle, it seems more logical to use less weight while keeping proper form.

High Rep Work Is Underrated 

In the conquest for strength many become completely absorbed in the 5×5 madness and high rep work is considered evil. It’s not.

High rep work can develop everything – strength, size and endurance. A person doing high rep squats, for example, is actually under even more stress that a 5 rep monkey. Hard and dedicated training in the higher rep range is a tool that needs to be used too.

Let’s Not Forget About Nutrition

You can get stronger, but without adequate nutrition muscle mass cannot be built. You don’t need a ton of food to gain weight, but eating like a bird and starving will never get you there either.

Do you know what powerlifters do remain in a certain weight class? They limit their food intake and diet. They don’t, however, limit their strength development. Therefore, their strength grows while the bodyweight is kept the same. Of course, similar strategy will only get you so far. At one point you will need to gain weight in order to acquire more strength.

Hormones Are More Important Than Strength

There are girls who train hard and are much stronger than many untrained males. However, there are also weak males who are way bigger than those very same girls without even training. Why? Hormones.

People with naturally high testosterone will be bigger than those with lower amounts almost regardless of training. Everybody has a father or grandfather who “has big muscles without even training”. How is it possible? Well, back in the day the average testosterone levels of men were a lot higher. {more}

To summarize:

– Building muscle requires strength increase but only up to a certain point.

– High rep work is not evil.

– Testosterone levels determine muscle growth limits.

– Cheating on exercises to lift more weight is not beneficial when the goal is to simply build more muscle.

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