Strength VS Size

If you want significant improvements in strength, it’s time to train like a power lifter. Strength is the base for which size is built. The stronger you are, the more weight you can lift. The more you can lift, the bigger you get. You may think they’re fairly similar but strength & size don’t always coincide. In fact, training for each can be quite different and often the two goals will compete with each other if you try to train for them simultaneously.

The Science: A muscle fibre or cell has a solid structure (protein filaments) surrounded by a bag of water and other cell parts. You trigger muscle hypertrophy, commonly called ‘getting big, basically muscle size or gains by breaking the muscle tissue down in such a way that when it repairs itself, it increases the overall size of the muscle. Both protein filament and total fibre size increase.

Improving muscle strength on the other hand is due to the strengthening and thickening of the protein strands of the muscle fibre itself without the swelling effect on the rest of the muscle cell. While both sound the same, they are actually different and unfortunately require different stimuli to trigger the specific repair process.

For Example: It’s like building a stronger house Vs a bigger house. Would you rather have a 400m² house made of 4 x 2 wood (hypertrophy) or a 150m² house made of concrete (Strength)?

At first you might think bigger is better, but it all comes down to the application and specific needs of the athlete or individual (as you all know power to weight ratio is a personal gold nugget of mine), but at the moment we are talking about strength and size, so of course both bigger and stronger would be ideal, but that goal comes at quite a high cost, one that the human body can afford for only a limited time. So most of you must decide whether size or strength is your main objective and that depends on function and need e.g. my heavy weight Judoka (Judo Player) weighs in @ 124 – 130kg at any given time. He is on the lighter side of the heavyweight division, but has great speed and agility. I am more than happy for Nazario to get a little heavier, but we can definitely not sacrifice any of his speed for this extra weight. The key to Nazario’s training is the emphasis on muscle density and power to weight ratios. In Naz’s main phases of training we work 2-3 sets of maximum weight over 10-12 Reps with 2-3 minute rest between, then jump to 2-5 sets at 50-75% of max weight for 15-25 Reps at speed or partial range of movement with 45-90 seconds rest between. This is a great way to keep Naz explosive whilst maintaining and/or increasing size/weight.

The mechanics: Choosing the right exercises is only half the challenge and truth be told, your problem likely isn’t exercise selection but how you select your set, rep and rest ratios. For maximal strength, train like a power lifter by performing 4-5 sets of 5-6 reps, taking 3 minutes or more rest between sets and choosing multi-joint mainstay exercises such as bench press, rows and squats. Hypertrophy training requires increased volume, decreased rest and more precise splitting of muscle groups to effectively get every body part trained thoroughly. You create maximal size by selecting exercises that target specific body parts and meshing those together with multi-joint exercises needing at last 8 reps and isolation (single joint) exercises require 12 reps. Since volume is the key, 18-24 total sets per body part will help your plight in your battle for larger body parts such as legs, back and chest.

The process: At the root of all training is the concept of muscle recruitment that is, the ability of the brain to process information like how many reps and how much weight and then determine how many fibres and which kind should do the work. Slow-switch fibres perform endurance like tasks while fast twitch fibres perform explosive, short duration, high powered activities. If you still believe the outdated literature that suggests you’re stuck with what you are born with, you need to take another look. Consistently training over long periods of time (plus the not very often mentioned intermediate twitch fibres) will cause muscle fibre’s to shift properties and given enough stimuli, they will indeed undergo changes. That means both fibre size and strength will improve with the right kind of training. Since the neural process of recruitment drives this training, choosing how you want to work your muscles will prove to be the defining characteristic.

Can you achieve both goals in a single workout? You are unlikely to be able to maximise each simultaneously, but there is some crossover. However lower rep training does build size and training to maximise muscle growth will stimulate strength gains. The problem is just that you can’t maximise both at the same time.

This is why many bodybuilders and power lifters, each of whom have a different goal, cycle their training by alternating periods of high and low reps in an effort to continuously produce gains. Cycle periods in which you train like a power lifter for a few weeks with your usual bodybuilding programs.


The Basics:




# of Sets Per Exercise



# of Reps Per Set



Rest Time (Seconds)



Type of Exercise


Multi-joint & Isolation

Sets per Workout

20 for Complete Movement

18-24 per Body Part

Fibre type Target

Fast Twitch

Fast & Slow Twitch

Neutral Basis

Rapid Recruitment

Prolonged Stimulus


Get Big, get strong, get both... it’s your choice

PowerHouse Performance



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