T Nation

Max Strength Gains with Limited Hypertrophy

So this is relatively unique in that I know most people are not training for this. Basically, I’m a competitive endurance athlete but enjoy getting after it in the gym. I want to get as strong as I can without putting on much-if any- muscle mass. I know the basics of mostly keeping volume low and rest high, focusing on nutrition, not hitting max efforts too too often, but what are people’s thoughts? Do you agree with these basics? Any other theories/ideas?

I know that avoiding hypertrophy will mean I’m not gonna approach my true potential, but while I’m still competing at a high level in endurance events, that okay with me

Aight I’ll humor you.

Volume (e.g. sets/week) determines the magnitude of the training effect.

Keep volume low?

How much volume tho? Too high (for your goals at least) and you make excessive muscle gains, too low and you are leaving potential training stimulus on the table. While maintenance volume is a range its still a small enough range that it’d be worth experimenting, finding your maintenance volume and hitting it every week.

Refer to Renaissance Periodization’s blog posts: “Training Volume Landmarks for Muscle Growth” and "The Hypertrophy Training Guide Central Hub"

Rep Range/Percentage determines the predominant training effect e.g. high reps make you better at high reps and slightly better for hypertrophy and low reps make you better at high percentages and slightly worse for hypertrophy. Keep rep range low maybe <8 reps or even lower

Rest… however much you want. Just control what you in the actual set/workout/week. The research that shows longer rest periods = more gains is due to them being able to go ham with the extra rest.



Nutrition is probably the most important factor here. Eat around maintenance calories and adjust accordingly. Protein intake needs to be controlled also. Enough to maintain or even less to discourage growth. Dunno the exact number so I’ma pull one out my arse: 1.5g/ kg bodyweight.

Max Efforts… do whatever the program tells you. Dafuq do max efforts have to do with anything.

Recompositioning Is it added body weight or lean body mass you’re worried about? In the off season you can add a bit of mass get stronger then recomp and maintain in season. You end up the same bodyweight just sexier/stronger.

it’s actually a pretty common scenario; people often want to stay in weight classes or whatever so they don’t want to get heavier.

I would imagine there’s been whole books written on the subject but the short answer is keep your reps low and explosive, and get as lean as you can (as an endurance athlete I’d assume this is probably already taken care of).

1 Like

Fixed that for you. You want muscle, because muscle drives performance. Like Yogi said, you should be fairly lean already. So if you don’t have reasonably defined abs and lowish bodyfat already, you’ve got room to play around with recomping.

What’s your current height, weight, and general fat level? (Not a percentage, just a description along the lines of “chubby”, “skinny fat”, “ripped”, etc. is fine)

Also, for context, what are your best PRs on the big lifts (squat, deadlift, bench, row, overhead press)? Knowing how strong you currently are will give some indication of how to program things.

Size basically comes from training volume and calories. Keep a lid on both of those and you should be fine. Don’t try restricting calories, because that’ll tank your recovery ability and running times, but do monitor your nutrition with weekly weigh-ins (while reviewing the week’s performances) and adjust as needed.

As far as training programs, Dan John’s 40-day approach would be pretty spot-on. Or I don’t see why you couldn’t do 5/3/1 with bare minimum assistance work.

I don’t know what you’re referring to with the “not hitting max efforts too often”, but you pretty much never have to hit a max effort (one-rep max) unless you’re a competitive powerlifter.

This might come as a shock, but not every dude on the site here wants to be a ripped 270 pounds. You’re totally allowed to have your own goals and train for them intelligently. “Approaching your true potential” is case specific for everyone.

I did 531 for years, got pretty strong (500 squat) but muscle mass never really followed. Gained some, just not what I would have liked - and that was including the various strategies Wendler includes in the books to increase volume.

If you are looking for strength without an appreciable increase in muscle mass, try 531 (or something similar) with either very little or even no assistance work - just follow the basic template. Probably want to add in SOME accessory work to make it a more rounded program, but you can probably use it to get where you want to go.

This subject is pretty well within my wheelhouse, as I have continually gotten stronger without gaining bodyweight. I’m the strongest I’ve ever been right now, and I’m at about 10-13 lbs less than the heaviest I ever was. And at my heaviest I was still vascular with defined abs.

The answer just amounts to diet, and neurological efficiency. You have to develop excellent motor patterns in whatever you’re doing, whether it’s lifting or competing in a sport or whatever, to be able to be both strong and lightweight.

But the biggest factor in whether you gain weight (add size) amounts to diet. If you’re at a favorable bodyweight right now, you simply want to figure out a diet that allows you to recomp for a prolonged period of time. For me, that involves a lot of protein, and keeping my carbs as high as I can handle while still moving in the right direction, so that when I REALLY want to lean out, there’s room to manipulate my macros.

Depending on your specific goals in the gym, I sorta kinda disagree with khangles suggestion that you need to keep volume low. Volume is pretty important to gaining strength. It’s really easy to plateau if you’re constantly working in the <5 rep range. I think at the very least, assistance work should be done at a relatively high volume no matter what.


Ditto what’s been said already. I would reccommend you try the Dan John program linked below. I ran it myself and it won’t give you any size gains, but really works to ‘grease the groove’ of your lifts, and get many guys a hell of a lot stronger.