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Size vs Strength

Weight Training for Size vs Strength

When we start weight training or bodybuilding for the first time we usually gain size and strength at the same rate for the first 6 months. The problem starts when you have been training more than 6 months, your strength has increased but your muscle growth (hypertrophy) starts slowing down.

Strength is all about increasing the force production used to perform the movement. Unlike muscle development which is all about getting the pump, causing microscopic damage to muscle fibers that repair and get larger. This is called muscle hypertrophy.

The difference between training for size and training for strength is volume. Muscle hypertrophy needs sets and reps, but it also needs weight. Doing 3 X 10 with only a barbell is not gonna put on muscle because your body is built to survive, the adaptation phase of your body only kicks in when it is forced to adapt.

Blending the correct amount of volume together with a load creates stress, this translates into muscle growth. Research shows that 4 or 5 sets of 5 to 8 reps is one part of the recipe for building muscle. The second part is the rest time between sets.

Hypertrophy happens when the muscle cell is coerced into growing by the accumulation of stress, which can be managed by your rest time between sets. Obviously it depends on a lifters physical condition, but usually the sweet spot for muscle growth (75% 1RM) is around 2 minute's rest between sets for compound movements. The rest time would decrease doing more volume on isolated movements.

Below is a typical muscle building routine using the RM (rep maximum) to select the load. The rest time is the maximum, so any shortening of the rest time would increase the benefit of the movement, or increase the weight:

Barbell Squats
5 X 5 reps using 8RM with 120-sec. rest
Front Barbell Squats
4 X 10 reps using 10RM with 90-sec. rest
Hanging Leg Raises
3 X reps to failure (AMAP) with 90-sec. rest
Goblet Squats
3 X 10 reps using 10RM with 60-sec. rest
Floor Glute-Ham Raises 3 X 10 reps using 10RM with 60-sec. rest
Walking Lunges (bodyweight) 3 X 8 reps each side with 60-sec. rest

Strength training can be very specific and easy to measure. Total volume is reduced using sets of between 2 and 4 reps with 80-90% of 1RM. Heavy loads cause a lot of CNS stress so you need 5 minutes' rest between supersets to fully recuperate.

A typical strength building routine:

Superset A and B:
A. Barbell Bench-press (medium-grip) 6 X 3 reps using 5RM with 180-sec. rest
B. T-Bar rowing 3 X 12 reps using 5RM
Superset A and B and C:
A. Incline Bench-press (medium-grip) 3 X 5 reps using 8RM with120-sec. rest
B. Incline D/B Rowing 3 X 6 reps using 8RM with 120-sec. rest
D/B Bench-press 3 X 5 reps using 8RM with 120-sec. rest

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