T Nation

Strength vs. Size


Anyways, can someone please explain to what extent (scientifically) are strength (powerlifting) and size (bodybuilding) corrolated and NOT corrolated? After hearing so many use phrases such as "functional strenght" (as opposed to strength you can't use?) and "strength with mass" (can you get stronger WITHOUT putting on mass, and vice versa?), I'm just plain confused as to how the two can't go hand in hand. And it's just not like me to take for granted that "8-12 = hypertrophy and 4-6 = strength" without some scientific proof. The first articles I read on T-Nation were CW's rants (and I say that in a good way) about how hypertrophy and strenght DO go hand in hand, but since then I've read a lot that contradicted that, to different degrees.

Thanks a ton.


Less thinking, more training!

"With great power comes great responsibility."


You can get stronger without adding much size by improving neural factors like motor unit recruitment, intermuscular coordination, synchronization etc. You can get bigger (hypertrophy) but not become much stronger in lower rep ranges. The relationship between strenght and size can be illustrated by comparing it to hardware (mass) and software (neural factors).

Strenght is functional by definition since testing strength involves performing some action. People often mix that up with functional hypertrophy, which is another thing.

Lots of it is explained in Thib's stuff

Some valuable stuff about strength in interviews with Pavel

The rest you have to find on your own.


You can get stronger without gaining much mass and you can gain mass without gaining much strength.

You can train for "strength with hypertrophy" and gain both, but you will not be as strong or as big as if you've trained specifically for those goals.

When people talk about strength, 95% percent of the time they mean maximal or limit strength which is how much weight you can lift. There are also endurance strength, dynamic strength and all kinds of strengths.

In general, you'll get big regardles what you train for as long as you train alot, eat alot and get a good night's sleep.


Here's my answer. The strength of a muscle is related to the cross section of the muscle fiber. The larger the cross section, the stronger the muscle fiber (and others like it), will be, making a stronger muscle. That goes into myofibrilar hypertrophy, stuff you primarily see on powerlifters. Now, you can increase strength through something called synapatic facilitation. Basically, the more efficient your nervous system is, the more muscle fibers that can be recruited, thus giving you more strength. Think of the analogy "more hands make less work". Now if a muscle is primarly sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, you probably won't experience the type of strength gains myofibrilar hypertrophy yield, simply because sarcoplasmic is the growth of the fluids the cells are suspended in or something, and myofibrilar is the growth of the actual fibers (the things that do the work). Hope this helps.


CW often talks about "bodybuilding of the past," referring to the builds of Franco and Arnold as those with both strength and looks. Would that be what training for both hypertrophy and strength induce (maybe not Arnold-level, but you get the point).


the phrase 'functional strength' needs to be put to rest...there really is no such thing as a non-functional strength gain...

non-functional hypertrophy is another thing all together...although I have yet to meet someone that gained lean body mass without gains in strength...


They do go hand and hand. this is the exact reason I hate the fact that so many on this board throw "functional strength" around as if there are people walking around with 20" muscular arms who can only curl a 35lb dumbbell. It is bullshit for the most part unless someone's entire progress was based only on drug use. Getting bigger involves getting stronger. Some kid who is 150lbs but gains over 50lbs of muscle is not going to be anywhere near the same level of strength.

I truly believe most of the BS you hear on this issue is the result of guys who aren't gaining much size trying to justify it by claiming, "But I'm super strong!".

My rep ranges are usually between 6-10 reps per set. I very often go for only 4 reps on the last set because this helps me increase strength...which produces more size if I eat enough.


Agreed. It is a bullshit term overall. I have never met someone who gained a ton of muscle mass without getting significantly stronger. I think smaller guys tell themselves this when they see someone bigger. Maybe they actually believe that big muscles equal weakness.


I'm all for it. How do we get rid of this stupid term?


simply astounding that somebody fabricated the idea that when they see a rather muscular individual they think "whoa, he's hyoooj! i bet he's weak."


it would probably be easier to cure cancer than to get this nonsence out of some peoples heads...


people will believe almost anything that includes inflating their ego's...


We can pound it out of their heads. How about that?


I think the term "functional strength" should be interpreted in a sports-specific fashion, i.e. you could gain strength that wasn't really "functional" for the sport you're involved in. Improving arm- and shoulder-strength would not be "functional" for a soccerplayer or speedskater, for example. But of course you're correct that all strength is by definition "functional" in some way, but perhaps not in a way that is "functional" in relation to your goals.

As for size vs strength, it is most definitely possible to improve strength while not improving size. It is even quite possible to improve (limit) strength while losing size, which I've experienced myself many times. The opposite is more rare though - a size increase is usually accompanied by a strength increase.


Sorry cant give you the scientific references you ask for (too lazy to search for them) but Ill give my 2c worth anyway (just regurgitating what I have read which may or may not be scientific - like most body building knowledge).

If your muscles experience an increase in the cross sectional area of their contractile elements then they will get stronger and they will of course get bigger too.

Your muscles can also experience an increase in their energy storing/producing units (by increasing number of mitochondria or something), that will make them bigger but not stronger (but able to last longer before tiring).

Your muscles can also experience an increase in their neuromuscular efficiency. That will make them stronger but not any bigger. (Your muscles have some fancy sounding nervous reflex which limits the maximum load you can lift to below the max they are capable of. Training can increase this self imposed limit of the nervous system.

For one thing at any one time only about a maximum of one third of your muscle fibers are contracting - as muscle fibers tire others take over. Presumably if you could get them all contracting at once you could experience quit a strength increase albeit probably at greatly reduced duration. So there is quit a bit of potential for increasing strength through increasing nervous system efficiency - which obviously doesnt increase size).

I too think that this functional and nonfunctional strength business is largely BS. Unless as the poster above says youre talking about building up to a Ronnie Coleman like 140kg then wanting to set records in long distance marathon running for example.

This business about you train your pecs to be strong at one type of exercises then get them to do a different exercise that involves pecs and suddenly theyre all weak at it because they havent seen that movement before is BS in my opinion (and personal experience).


By the way the scientific name for the contractile element hypertrophy I was talking about above is Myofibrillar hypertrophy and the other non-contractile element hypertrophy is called Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Just do a search of the web on these terms and youll probably come up with further descriptions of them.

Also whenever I read about these two types of hypertrophy they allways claim 80% of a muscle cells mass is the myofibrils - which increase in number when you exercise them and so only 20% of your potential hypertrophy comes from the sarcoplasmic muscle mass (or so most articles seem to claim).


By the way another name for myofibrillar hypertrophy is sarcomere hypertrophy.

Also a couple of sites ive read have this theory about "irrartional hypertrophy" which is apparently where you have emphasied one type of hypertrophy over the other which leads to limiting the potential for the other type of hypertrophy.

For example having not enough sarcomplasmic hypertrophy (i.e. increase in energy providing elements i.e. mitochondria) to support your increased myofibrills will limit their performance. So you may need to exercise to increase your sarcoplasmic hypertrophy so that you can provide sufficient energy for your myofibrills to work properly.

In other words even though your ultimate aim may be sacomere hypertrophy you still need some sarcoplasmic hypertrophy if you are not to limit how much sacomere hypertrophy you can experience. An analogy is like having fuel injectors not big enough for the engine (according one site I read).


rswa is right... mostly. If you want to know more, check out Supertraining by the late great Mel Siff and Science and Practice of Strength Training by Vladimir Zatsiorsky.

rswa is wrong, IMO, in suggesting that strength carries over from one exercise to another insofar as the muscle groups are similar. Zatsiorsky deals with this: Elite, non-superheavyweight weightlifters were unable to hold an iron cross. At this time, the press was part of Olympic weightlifting competition, so these guys were stronger, with regard to raw upper body strength as measured by the press, than even elite gymnasts - yet they were unable to hold a cross.


the iron cross and military press use mostly different muscles...not a very good example.