The Difference Between Muscle Size and Muscle Strength
Bodybuilders and Powerlifters
There is a common belief that the bigger a muscle is, the stronger it is. When you see a bodybuilder with massive biceps, you assume they must be incredibly strong. But that's not necessarily the case. Muscle strength and muscle size are related, but it's not as clear cut as most people assume.
Workouts can be designed so that they're better at creating muscle size, or improving muscle strength. It's a simple case of changing how much weight you're moving, and how many reps you move it for. It's known as your training volume. Here's how it works.
Building Size (Bodybuilding) is all about higher volume and lighter weights.
Bodybuilders workout with a very particular goal in mind. They want bigger muscles. They aren't necessarily focused on getting stronger, increased strength is merely a side effect of the training. The term for this type of program is hypertrophy, or "excessive growth" of a body part.
A typical bodybuilding or size building program has you performing 20-40 total reps of an exercise at 70-85 percent of your one rep max. The way you break down those reps is in groups, or sets. The breakdowns may look like this; 4 sets of 8, 5 sets of 6 or other variations where you do at least 5 reps per set.
The amount of time you rest between sets is also important. If you're looking to build size, the ideal rest is between 90 seconds and two minutes. Shorter than that and you'll be too fatigued to finish the set. Longer than that and you won't be putting enough stress on the muscle for it to grow big.
Those reps create microscopic tears in the muscle. Your body then rushes blood to the area to repair and rebuild. All that blood in the muscle is the "pump" bodybuilders often refer to. Additional gains come from the increase in fluids in the muscle cells.
Building Strength (Powerlifting) is all about lower volume and heavier weights.
When strength is your primary concern, the total number of reps you perform drops significantly. You may only do 10 to 15 total. The number of reps you perform in each set drop as well. A typical program would have you do no more than 2-4 reps per set.
The weight you lift also changes. To build strength, the weight you move for each rep is between 85-90 percent of your one rep max. For weights heavier than 90 percent of your one rep max, you should attempt only one or two reps.
The rest periods between sets are also different when building strength. Lifting heavy is extremely neurologically demanding and it takes longer to recuperate. The suggested rest period between sets is 3-4 minutes. The goal is to have your body ready to give maximum effort on each lift and you'll need to be fully rested to do that.
For someone just starting, any program you attempt will build both size and strength. Just the act of moving your muscles in different ways is all it takes. That's also true of people who've taken a break and haven't worked out for two months or more.
That means you don't need to rush into either type of program. You should wait until you've grown reasonably strong, before you start trying to design things around specific size or strength goals. Lifting too heavy when you're just starting can lead to injury, just like performing too many reps is bad if your body isn't conditioned for it.
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