Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Point-Counterpoint: Does More Strength Equal More Size?

I liked this series that IronMan magazine ran, unfortunately, only for a short time. 

"Point-Counterpoint" - 
Does More Strength Equal More Size? 

Charlie West weighs in first,
on the side of building strength as THE WAY to build muscle. 

 - Getting stronger is the only way to get bigger. It's simple muscle physiology. To force a hypertrophic response in the fast-twitch fibers, you have to introduce an overload. You must do more work in the same amount of time, and that means adding poundage while trying to keep your reps in the 8-12 range, which studies conclude is best for stimulating the fast-twitch fibers that have the most potential for growth.

Take barbell curls as an example. If you curl 80 pounds for 3 sets of 10 at every workout and you continue to stop each set at 10 reps, your biceps aren't going to grow. If you add poundage as often as possible, forcing your biceps to continually cope with the new demand until eventually you're doing 120 for 3 sets of 10, your biceps will be much, much larger due to hypertrophy in the fast-twitch fibers. 

Some of the strength may come from developed nerve pathways, but that just helps you add more weight so you can increase the overload and continue the hypertrophic response. When you reach a plateau, it's time to change exercises.

Failing to change exercises is one of the big reasons that bodybuilders stop growing. When you shift from squats to leg presses, for instance, you stimulate a few different neuromuscular pathways, and you get stronger for a few weeks. The increase in strength isn't extraneous to growth, however. It actually adds to the size you've built with squats. When you come back to squats in a few months, you won't be able to use as much weight as before, but it's not due to atrophy, it's due to loss of technique and coordination on the particular movement. Your strength will come back rapidly and surpass your previous best; at least it will if you do everything right. That means you eat to build size and you don't overtrain.

If you're not getting stronger on a particular exercise, substitute another movement. When you plateau on the new exercise, don't start adding a lot of sets and exercises; simply go back to the first movement. Do that regularly, and you'll not only continue to get stronger, but you'll also surpass your old size limitations because you'll sidestep overtraining most of the time. 

Next, Butch Lebowitz lays down his reasons for believing it ain't necessarily so. 

Does More Strength Equal More Muscle Size? 

 - A few years ago my answer would have been, Of Course - with a man-are-you-a-moron look thrown in for good measure. Now I think the truth is, more strength doesn't always mean more size, and it can even be a barrier to getting bigger. 

Say What

More strength can lead to no size gains? 

Yes, and even worse, it can lead to size regression because getting stronger can cause some people to lose touch with the factors that cause muscles to become big/massive/huge - volume, supersets, tri-sets, giant sets and training each bodypart with many different exercises. 

That's my beef with strength coaches who try to retrofit their knowledge of gaining strength to bodybuilding. It's not the same thing and it can do more harm than good.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't add weight to the bar or that adding weight doesn't cause fiber hypertrophy, I'm just saying that strength is often just neuromuscular adaptation, not a muscle-size increase, so it doesn't equal size and you don't have to get stronger to get more size.

Look at it this way - if you superset two exercises for the same bodypart for four sets, you'll exhaust the muscle and stimulate growth, but you won't be able to add weight very often. Will that build size? 


Some people don't believe this, and their solution is to reduce volume. Okay, so now you do one warmup set and one all-out set to failure. Your total focus on one set produces a strength gain (hooray!) because you get better contractability of specific fibers. (Notice I said "specific fibers," because it takes a lot of different exercises to exhaust the entire muscle.) When the nervous system adaptation stops, you introduce something like static-contraction training, which overloads the neuromuscular pathways again and gets your strength moving, at least for a while. So maybe you get some growth in the few fibers a particular exercise lines up for best recruitment, but the rest will shrink and the muscle will get smaller as a whole.

Balls-to-the-wall multi-set, multi-exercise training is the only way to overload the majority of the fibers, stimulate growth-hormone surges, build the capillary network and goose muscle metabolism. Period. 

If all you want is to see a strength increase, go ahead and do your short neuromuscular training. In the meantime I'll keep pounding away with multiple sets, loots of exercises and supersets. You may get to add five pounds to the bar ever other workout for a while, but your medium-size T-shirt will start to get baggy. 

My XL is already feeling kind of tight.        


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