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The strength versus size discussion has been relevant since powerlifting juxtaposed itself to bodybuilding. In the early days, however, powerlifters and bodybuilders trained similarly. The true juxtaposition was their dietary differences.
Today an onlooker with an untrained eye notices powerlifting and bodybuilding training differences. While they share the common ground of barbells, dumbbells and the like, the utilization is often diametrically different.
But what are the differences, why do they exist and how do optimize our training to gain either size or strength?
The Main Difference
Strength is a primarily neurological adaptation. Progressively increased mechanical muscle tension sends a message to the brain that the peripheral nerves require more juice. The brain and the peripheral nerves adapt to heavy loading by increasing the amount of tension muscles create, while also reinforcing muscular structure by making it more resilient.
Hypertrophy, in contrast, is a primarily cellular adaptation. Training stress causes muscle cells to either become denser (myofibrillar hypertrophy) or increase fluid volume (sarcoplasmic hypertrophy). Myofibrillar hypertrophy is associated with heavier strength training; sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is the outcome of traditional, high-volume bodybuilding.
The Strength and Size How-to
Newbies gain strength
and size easily without regard for set and rep schemes. This honeymoon, however, is brief. Its end point is often the end point of many fair-weather folks' gym careers.
Intermediates, in contrast, must make their training stress more specific to obtain their desired outcome. While size and strength share training commonalities: a haphazard, 'hope for the best' approach yields marginal results. The land beyond newbie gains requires navigation with a detailed plan. Decide which you'd like and map a direct route.
Training for Strength
The body learns strength from exercises that require high neural output. These are movements done with violent intent, heavy and fast.
Heavy weights are abused as if they are light and light weights are attacked as if they were loads nearly superior to our capabilities. This ensures that our nervous system is exploited to the fullest extent.
Force is always exerted with rapid execution in mind, No matter if the weight is heavy or light, it's this intent that tells the nervous system to
let loose the beast
. This creates monumental mechanical tension -- strength in action. The more mechanical tension you're able to create, the stronger you are
Training for strength, then, is a continual cycle of creating incredible mechanical tension with the inner-desire of moving weights as fast as possible.
For your main exercises, push, pull and press compound lifts between eighty and ninety percent of your one rep max. Do this using sets of one to five reps. Follow these up with assistance exercises, done in the five to eight rep range, that address your weaknesses. Let's use the deadlift lockout as an example.
Hypothetically you've completed four sets of three conventional deadlifts at eight-five percent of your one-rep max and you're ready to start your assistance training. You're good at breaking the plate's marriage with the floor, but when the loads get challenging your body fails you as the bar breaches your knee caps. Rack pull sets of five or six reps, done at your weak point, help remedy your malady by training good positioning and middle range of motion strength.
The dynamic athleticism required of jumping and throwing also bolster strength's neurological connection. Since each are executed explosively, nerve-muscle connections are reinforced. The adaptation is a more quickly recruited muscle, which is hyper-important for overcoming gravity's authority over the barbell. Before your main lift, do three to five sets of three to five reps of jumping and throwing exercises to prime your nervous system for the day's training.
Training for Size
The musculoskeletal system needs stress to grow. Hypertrophy, then, requires an aggressive blend of load and volume.
Cluster sets and heavy eccentrics are effective main-lift hypertrophy builders. These means are great for strategically increasing muscle growth
because they either increase the amount of volume used with a heavy weight or keep the body under tension for a long time with an increased load.
Cluster sets are brilliant size builders because they allow a lifter to use more load while completing more reps than normally possible with straight sets. For example, let's propose that 225 is 85 percent of your bench press max and that you can press it for a set of 5. By using cluster sets of two reps we can extend that set of five to a set of eight. To do this you'll complete two reps then rest for ten to twenty seconds then complete two more reps before resting again. You'll repeat that process four times to achieve eight reps. Rest two minutes and repeat the cluster set process three or four more times and you've gifted your body a powerful growth stimulus.
The cluster set strategy discussed above is by no means exhaustive. Construct clusters sets however you like. You're limited only by your creativity and recovery
. Be sure, however, not to push to failure.
Heavy eccentrics stimulate growth by keeping the muscle under high-intensity tension. Keeping the weight between seventy-five and eighty-five percent of one-rep max, and using bench presses, squats, Romanian deadlifts and rows, lower the weight for four to six seconds and complete three to five reps. As you increase weight, decrease reps and the eccentric time.
The above heavy hypertrophy strategies are accompanied by higher-rep assistance training. Compound exercises done in the six to twelve rep range are great for expounding upon cluster sets and eccentrics size-building stress.
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Unilateral exercises -- lunges, single-arm dumbbell rows, etc. -- are also great additions to hypertrophy programs because they increase the total work volume. Employ them after your first assistance exercises.
A Long-term Vision
These strategies offer a short-term training snapshot
lending us a brief glimpse of how to get bigger and stronger. But real-world action requires a long-term vision that employs our means via an intelligent, progressive plan.
Intelligent doesn't mean complex. It's simple, spend the first few training years focused on getting as strong as possible; you'll build a foundation that a sizeable house may rest on. Then, if you so choose, vary your training means to gain size. Don't, however, abandon your quest for strength. Continually gaining strength means improved ability to stress the body and demand muscular growth. While they are obtained by slightly different means, strength and size are symbiotic, each promotes the development of the other. Continue to cycle strength and hypertrophy phases throughout your training years.
[Editor's Note: Of course, whether you're training for size or strength, recovery is key. You won't achieve get anywhere if you're leaving your gans on the gym floor behind you, due to poor post-workout nutrition. BCAAs are crucial for workout warriors looking to shut down catabolism and spur protein synthesis and growth. ProSource Mega BCAA offers the highest quality L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine, and L-Valine, provided in a clinically indicated dosage and in the preferred 2:1:1 ratio.
Another supplement valuable for recovery is L-Glutamine. ProSource makes it easy to support recovery and growth by providing top-quality glutamine in both capsule format and powder.
The size versus strength discussion continues to evolve and will do so well into the future. Talk, however, doesn't build muscle. Use the clarity this article provides and lift your way into a bigger, stronger frame.