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Size and Strength

By Don Matesz

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the relationship between strength and size, with many including myself saying that they have on some workouts gained strength but not size.

Recently, I have been again examining the success stories of some individuals, and one thing has come clear to me: one must have a very large increase in strength to obtain a relatively small increase in mass. From analysis of such stories that I have read, it appears that one must at least double one's strength in major compound movements to achieve a 20 pound mass gain--assuming that one has the genetics to gain appreciable mass.

Previous to examining such details, I thought otherwise, that rather small increases in strength should result in marked increases in mass. Consequently, I have made the mistake of improperly evaluating some of my past routines. I think others may be doing the same.

For example, Andrew Shortt (a member of IART) noted that he increased his dips from bodyweight plus 35 pounds to bodyweight plus 85 pounds with no noticeable increase in mass. Some may think, "wow, he more than doubled his strenth but had no mass increase...that proves that training for strength will not produce mass increases." However, there are at least two problems with making such a conclusion.

First, nothing was said about repetition range, TUL (IART designation for rep speed), or for that matter, and perhaps most importantly, strictness of exercise form. I'm not saying that this is necessarily the case with Andrew, just this: If you add 50 pounds to your dips but perform one-third as many reps, or perform the reps twice as fast, or use half the range of motion, you aren't manifesting a true strength increase. In haste to increase strength, many will pile on the plates, but simlutaneously increase the speed or movement and/or reduce the range of motion, and and this creates the illusion of increased strength. But of course mass does not follow, since the "gain" is simply due to reducing the TUL and/or the range of motion.

Secondly, this increase is not as great as it seems (i.e. it does not represent a doubling of strength). Dips are a bodyweight + plates exercise. Thus, if Joe Trainee weighs the average 155 pounds and starts doing dips with 35 pounds, i.e. 190 total pounds resistance, and then works up to using 85 pounds for the same TUL and with the same range of motion, but with no change in body weight, i.e. 240 total pounds resistance, the actual % increase in resistance used is only 26% (i.e. 240 is only 126% of 190). Thus his increase in strength is not so great after all. This would be like increasing your bench press from 100 pounds to 126 pounds.

The body is fundmentally economical and resistant to adding lean mass. If called on to increase strength, it will always try to get the most strength increase possible from as little lean mass increase as possible. If it can increase strength without adding mass, it will. Thus, one must produce quite large percentage increases in strength to increase mass.

Previously I have stated that I have been on programs that resulted in strength increases, but no mass increases. However, with my new perspective, I have re-evaluated those experiences. In every case, the noted strength gain was rather small, on the order of 15%. I gave up on some good productive programs prematurely, because I had the unreasonable expectation that those small gains in strength should have resulted in marked lean mass gains. In fact, such gains probably were not significant enough to make a demand for the increased size I am after.

My point: If you are after size, you must train for strength, and you must be patient--you are going to have to get awfully strong to achieve a 20 pound increase in lean mass. I mean, you probably have to double or triple your current strength to realize a 10 to 20 pound lean mass gain.

This is one place where I think Stuart McRobert has some valuable input. He suggests as a guideline that a genetically average 5'9" guy must work up to squatting 300 x 15, benching 260 x 6, deadlifting 380 x 15, and doing pulldowns with 260 for 6, all using a 3/3 cadence, to produce a 190 pound, 90% lean physique (again, assuming that the genes for some lean mass accrual are there). I'm not saying these figures are written in stone, but I do think that these are reasonable. If you achieve these goals and you don't get bigger than 90% of the trainees in most gyms, you probably aren't genetically capable of gaining much mass. On the other hand, if you aren't anywhere near these goals, it may very well be innappropriate and too early to conclude that increasing your strength won't/doesn't produce the size gains you are after.

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