Size vs. Strength: How Different are They?

Should you work primarily for size or strength?

This straightforward question gives rise to other important questions about what your goals are, what motivates you, and if these desires are realistic or not. It also delves into a more philosophical realm that you may have never once thought about before.

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Is there a way to have both size and strength?

Of course the answer is yes, but the path to your goal may be different than someone else’s because the end goal may not necessarily be the same. There are ways to get bigger faster, and there are ways to get stronger faster.

Maximizing your size and strength, getting bigger and stronger, involves hard work, time, and dedication. Physiologically, the way our body functions, our bodies may appear big with the addition of new, pumped muscles, but this does not mean that the body is also really strong.

This is when hypertrophy becomes involved. Muscle hypertrophy is the increased size of cells that then increases the size of skeletal muscle, resulting in a physical growth. The process can be split into two types: sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and myofibrillar hypertrophy.

During sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, sarcoplasmic fluid in the muscle cell increases in volume, but there is no accompaniment in muscular strength. Whereas in myofibrillar hypertrophy, the number of proteins actin and myosin increase, causing an increase in the density and strength of a muscle.


What goals does a bodybuilder have?

Bodybuilding is often about size, but it is also about balance,


definition, presence, pose, and symmetry. However, none of this really matters unless the bodybuilder is really big, big enough to stand out.

Bodybuilding training is dedicated to exploring sarcoplasm and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. More specifically, sarcoplasm of a muscle fiber is comparable to the cytoplasm of other cells. It contains significant amounts of glycosomes and myoglobin, forming a fluid in the muscle cells that increases in volume once sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is triggered.

The volume makes muscles appear larger, but the muscle fiber that accounts for strength, goes relatively unchanged.


What goals does an athlete have?

Unlike the bodybuilder concentrating on size, an athlete is concerned with having a successful performance. Professional athletes are training to get the best out of the muscles that they do have and are developing, regardless of muscles size.

Myofibrils are key to attaining maximum force and contraction within a muscle. A muscle fibril is composed of a long string of proteins that hold the muscle together during movement. Once myofibrillar hypertophy is triggered, more myofibrils are synthesized and the entire muscle fiber gains strength in movement. While the immediate size of the muscle does get bigger, the impact is nowhere near the size produced through sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

Those working to achieve myofibrillar hypertrophy want strength and growth in the actual muscle fibers. Where sarcoplasm will give increased volume, myofibrils with give a growth in density.


Is it Possible to do Both?

What people really want to know is: Do you have to choose one or the other?

Even when you are predominantly training for one, the other is also being worked. Not only is it possible to do both, but it is inevitable. Of course if someone is gaining muscle volume in the gym, they are also gaining strength, and vice versa. Muscles can only get so dense before additional tissue is added to support the growth.

Many people choose to focus on a balance of each to gain overall health, but there will usually be a dominant one depending on your training.


What Should You Do?

With all the information in hand, choose what motivates you to workout in the first place.

If your reasons are purely aesthetic and you like the idea of big muscles, then the quickest way to achieve your goals will be to focus on exercises that emphasize sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. If you workout to stay fit, lean, and strong, then you should concentrate more on myofibrillar hypertrophy. Ask yourself if you care more about your physique or more about strength and power. If you want it all, that is okay, but prepared to put in the time and labor.

The most important thing to remember is that the effort you put into your training directly correlates to the results you will receive out of it.


Your personal goals will help you to decide if you want to dedicate time to training for size or strength. They are not opposite objectives, but targeting one means involving different approaches and techniques.

Remember, the size of a muscle is not always indicative of strength. When you look around yourself in the gym, accept that everyone trains differently and this will generate a myriad of growth responses in their muscles. Don’t compare yourself to anyone, concentrate on your own success.

Joseph G. Grossman

I train hard (lift weights + cardio) and try to eat right!

I enjoy reading about improving my physique and write about muscle building, shredding fat and supplements that give you that little edge over your competitors.

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