Getting stronger (increasing your ceiling) usually means you’re going to gain muscle. Especially as a noob.
Please note: getting stronger and increasing maxiamal strength is NOT the same as maximal-effort training.
I’m going to use designations from Westside to help explain this:
1. Maximal effort method: lifting a maximal load against a maximal resistance.
2. Repetition method: lifting a nonmaximal load to failure; during the final repetitions, the muscles develop the maximum force possible in a fatigued state.
3. Dynamic effort: lifting a nonmaximal load with maximal speed.
(For reference, the Westside max-effort method usually uses weights 90% 1RM and above.)
But there’s also something known as the submaximal effort method. Zatsiorsky, in Science and Practice of Strength Training, describes it as lifting a load lighter than a maximum for submaximal number of repetitions.
“About 70% of strength work should be in the 70-85% range, which actually allows you to develop greater strength than when you lift only in the 90-100% zone.”
You don’t have to max out or train at your real maximum every day in order to increase max strength.
If all this technical jargon is offsetting, don’t worry. All I’m saying is that if your 1 rep max is 200 pounds, you don’t have to go into the gym and (try to) lift 200 pounds every week.
You can lift 150-185 pounds and, over time, still see max strength improvements.
Back to the main point:
In general, getting stronger means you’re going to gain muscle. In general.
Because, remember, muscle mass is a function of moving through gravity. By getting stronger, you’re moving through gravity+, meaning you’ll have muscle+.
But getting stronger doesn’t always make for more muscle mass.
Consider rowers in a boat, and the oars connecting with the water. Water is a sticky medium, so the oars encounter friction, which helps move the boat.
When you get stronger, the rowers are doing their job better. Somehow.
One way to get stronger is to get more out of what’s already there.
When you’re a noob, it’s like having a brand new crew. No one knows anyone else in the boat. They get in the water and row. Billy is rowing at his leisure and Bobby is rowing to the tune of Disarmonia Mundi and Ben is rowing to Macklemore. No one is in sync. The boat goes nowhere.
But the rowers practice. And practice. And practice. Suddenly, they’re rowing more efficiently. Everyone is working as a team. Your output increases.
When your rowers get better at rowing (firing in sync, etc.), you get stronger. This skill-learning mechanism behind strength happens via neural improvements. Your inter-muscular and intra-muscular coordination improves. Rate coding improves. More things happen that I’m sure a physiology book would do a better job explaining.
This happens quickly when you’re a noob and can continue as you grow…
Another way to increase output?
Continue working at a reduced (inefficient) capacity, but make the rowers beefier. Meaning they take more water with them. You replace 100-pound pipsqueak rowers with 200-pound muscular brick houses.
So there’s a connecting loop between muscle size and muscle strength.
bigger muscles theoretically allow more strength. but just because the mass of material is there for more horsepower doesn’t mean it’s used.
And, on the flip side, more strength allows for bigger muscles because you’re able to use a greater portion of your muscle fibers and deliver a bigger stressor.
So STRENGTH and SIZE are battles of POTENTIAL.
Someone STRONGER, if not already BIGGER, will have greater POTENTIAL to be BIGGER.
Someone BIGGER, if not already STRONGER, will have greater POTENTIAL to be STRONGER.
Most bodybuilders are strong.
Some aren’t comparatively strong to strength athletes of equivalent bodyweights, but they’re still strong.
And, it seems, bodybuilders were stronger before the excessive use of steroids.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was a competitive powerlifter before turning bodybuilder. In 1966, he put up the following numbers:
- Squat: 440-pounds
- Bench: 374-pounds
- Deadlift: 616-pounds
In the majority of situations, you’re going to get a mix of both SIZE and STRENGTH unless you’re consciously training the extremes.
If you train on the near maximal side of the spectrum (think 3RM and below), you aren’t going to accumulate a lot of volume, which is (sets x reps x weight). You can only do so many heavy rep sets before you get bored and/or fatigued. So the bottleneck is sets. Sure, if you do 20 sets with your 3RM, you can accumulate a ton of volume. But it’s not practical.
I generally don’t recommend this max-effort kind of training, unless you’re building fuck you capacity.
If you train on the nowhere near maximal (think being able to sustain an exercise for 60+ seconds), you probably aren’t going to accumulate much volume either because the bottleneck is weight.
For instance, 3 sets of 3 reps at 200 pounds on a squat is 1800 “volume”. But 3 sets of 50 reps at bodyweight is only 150 “volume.”
I generally don’t recommend this kind of training unless you’re building a preparation foundation for some higher intensity exercises in the future.
This why there’s the following typical breakdown between size, strength, and number of reps.
- 1-3RM more max strength, less muscle
- 4-7RM combo of strength and muscle
- 8-15RM more muscle, less max strength
- 15-20RM more muscle of some selected body parts
You can use these rep numbers and the idea of “volume” to think of how training correlates to muscle growth, but I don’t like doing this.
Because you never really train for muscle growth. Muscle growth is a byproduct of training.
And this byproduct comes about when you consider two things…
- Level of gravity
The higher level of gravity, the better. The longer spent in that higher level, the better.
That’s the simplest way to see things.
If you’re struggling to gain muscle, it’s probably because of one (or both) of those things.
Meaning if you’re strong and not as muscular as you want to be, you might want to consider doing some volume and time under tension work.
Likewise, if you’ve been doing a lot of time under tension work and you’re not as muscular as you want to be, maybe you need to get stronger.
…assuming you’re also accounting for food.
You need to support muscle growth with enough food and protein.
Doesn’t matter if you’re training for strength or size. You can be on the best muscle building program on Earth, but if you aren’t eating for big time muscle growth, your body will shy away from building muscle and let the nervous system handle strength improvements.
It’s useful to see “volume” as a weekly phenomenon to accommodate for fuck you capacity.
For instance, if you do 30 chin-ups every day in 5 rep increments, that’s 210 chin-ups every week.
Compare that to doing 100 chin-ups in one training session (which is a lot in one session), one day per week.
You can train frequently without doing highish reps (or terribly fatiguing reps) and accumulate a lot of volume, which can also help muscle growth.