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Size and Strength

Size & Strength

There is a consensus that bigger muscles mean more strength. Although having more mass (hypertrophy) does bring about an increase in strength, size is not a true indicator of strength.

This can be seen in sports like powerlifting compared to bodybuilding. A bodybuilder boasts substantial muscle mass, but powerlifters would be substantially stronger. Subjectively speaking, muscle is good to improve the body aesthetically, making people look more toned, and stronger.

Objectively, increased muscle composition improves people’s daily lives; routine movements throughout the day are easier to execute, and it also aids the maintenance of a healthy metabolism and a whole host of other benefits. There are always exceptions to the rules, and other factors like genetics, age, hormones, and nutrition which we will not speak about here.

When people want to increase muscle mass considerably, it is considered hypertrophy training. There are 2 widely accepted forms of hypertrophy; Myofibrillar hypertrophy and Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. The difference in the two are loosely related to an increase in mainly sarcoplasmic fluid (Sarcoplasmic), and an increase in contractile proteins (Myofibrillar).

From these two, Myofibrillar hypertrophy is considered the more functional hypertrophy. People that train for hypertrophy seem to have vast amounts of collagen and other noncontractile tissue that influence muscle size. What this basically means is; it looks good, but don’t go down the local gym and start throwing that extra mass around in a lifting competition with a powerlifter!

When people look to increase their strength, the adaptations that occur are marginally different from hypertrophy. Although muscle size does increase to an extent, there are more biochemical changes that occur. These biochemical adaptations include the ability for the muscle to store more glycogen, adenosine triphosphate (the bodies energy currency) and creatine phosphate in the muscle tissue. Along with these, increased enzyme activity so the body can speed up the process of producing maximal energy production.

So, even though some strength athletes do not look as physically dominant compared to those who train solely for hypertrophy purposes. It is the underlying changes for strength training that is important. Many will argue that powerlifters demonstrate myofibrillar hypertrophy with dense muscle tissue; and bodybuilders exhibit sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, holding on to more fluid. 

So, the above is important things to consider when you are planning what you want from your resistance training. There are conflicting opinions out there as to what style of muscle types require more calories to maintain. Although, having any muscle will require more calories to maintain it.

Consult your coach or PT on best practices to train for your desired outcome but here are some general tips:

  • For strength training lower the reps to 3-5 and increase the rest periods, increase the load to around 85% of your 1 rep max
  • For hypertrophy training increase the reps in the range of 8-12 with shorter rest periods. Typically, you should aim for weight around 65-75% of your one rep max.

In strength based training, the decreased repetitions do not allow time to stimulate the growth process as in hypertrophy training with higher reps that produces high levels of phosphate and hydrogen ions, which increases the growth process. In multidisciplinary training, where more than one system is being utilised, adaptations may vary. Building muscle, and maintaining muscle is another post we’re working on at the minute, which will be up soon.


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