Most people tend to associate having larger muscles with being strong, which makes sense. Generally speaking the muscular guys we know also tend to be the strongest.
However, if you go to a powerlifting meet or strongman competition – the real strongest guys out there – you will notice that muscle size isn’t the only factor that determine how strong you are. In fact, it’s possible to significantly increase your strength without actually gaining much muscle mass at all!
Now, measuring the size of our muscles is actually not very easy. We can’t just rip the muscle off our body and put it on a scale to measure. One possibility is to use a tape measure to go around the muscle.
Generally speaking, people tend to measure the widest part of the muscle – which is a problem since there is a lot of other stuff in there like tissues, bones and fluids that distort the results.
Researchers have found a happy medium of measuring both the volume and the cross-section of the pec or chest muscles. While these aren’t exact indicators, using both helps give us a more accurate result. They looked at whether or not the size of the chest muscle influenced the strength of the lifter during the study.
They found that the relationship between muscle cross-section and strength was quite strong. What’s even more interesting is that strength was even more correlated to the actual volume of the muscle.
Based on this information we can help figure out just how we should be training if we are looking to develop strength vs size. If you are training for powerlifting, focus on practicing the main lifts and improving your explosive strength.
This will provide the best results for boosting explosive strength. However, additional training focused on building muscle size will also help as the study shows, adding muscle volume will boost your maximum lifting capacity.
Given that most people who read this blog are likely training for aesthetics and not powerlifting you should adjust your training accordingly. While doing olympic lifts will improve your physique it’s crucial that you still train many multi-joint exercises in the hypertrophy range.
Focus on lifting with intensity rather than explosiveness – that means emphasizing time under tension and not dropping the weight during the negative portion of the rep. That’s not to say you won’t benefit from improving your strength.
Remember that bodybuilding is all about progressive overload – that means you need to lift more in a year from now than you do now if you want to get bigger. Since powerlifters are focused on boosting their strength first and foremost it’s no surprise that many of them are also massive (even if they also tend to carry a lot of bodyfat).
Don’t hesitate to incorporate some powerlifting-style training into your routine if it helps you break through plateaus and set new PRs.