To an outsider or to someone who is not that knowledgeable about lifting weights, bodybuilding and strength training, sometimes even powerlifting might look like the same thing. They might even think that all three sports bring out the same results: creating huge muscular people. However, for those of us who know better, we know that they are gravely mistaken.
Each of the three disciplines has entirely different goals and unique methods to achieve those goals. There is some overlap, of course, but it is nowhere near as other people are led to believe.
That is why even people who are recreational trainees in each of the three disciplines sometimes start training using the methods of the other training styles without being aware of it. That’s because they haven’t fully grasped where their methods begin and the other ends. This typically goes for bodybuilders. They are the most common victims of this phenomenon.
The easiest way for them to fix this is to answer a simple question: Are you training for strength or training for size? Again, there is a big overlap for both goals and they are not mutually exclusive. If you want size, you will inevitably become stronger in the process of adding size.
Now, before delving into the methods to increase size, it’s worth pointing out that purpose of this article is to help you increase your muscular size, not your strength. This goes for both a bodybuilding competition or walking down the beach, impressing the ladies. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dig deeper into what you need to do in order to optimize muscle building.
How do you know when you train for size and when for strength?
If you’ve paid attention to physics class, you’d probably remember that force is equal to mass multiplied by acceleration. Building strength is basically increasing the production of force. However, building size consists of creating a pump in your muscles, when the muscle is flooded by incoming blood carrying nutrients and causing microscopic damage to muscle fibers, which in turn causes the muscle tissue to repair itself and become bigger in order to handle the increasingly heavier load.
This is the simplest explanation of hypertrophy. The general recommendation when trying to increase strength is that the number of repetitions should be in the 1-5 range and the load should be near your one-rep max. Plus, real low-repetition strength training is mainly neuromuscular in nature.
If we imagine our body as a computer, then strength training can be thought of as upgrading the software, which is represented by the CNS (Central Nervous System), instead of inserting new hardware, which is the muscles. Strength training basically teaches the CNS on how to engage more muscle fibers when lifting the load, otherwise known as increasing the motor unit recruitment.
Increasing muscle size, on the other hand, is more physiological in nature, than neurological. It consists of inserting new hardware, like building new bone tissue, muscle tissue, and connective tissues. You are quite literally building the body, stimulating the various tissues to develop further and become stronger.
What is the exact rep range for training for size?
Having mentioned that the low-rep range is characteristic for strength training, it might come a bit confusing saying that low-rep training can be incorporated into a well-structured bodybuilding training program. Fitness physique athletes can experience multiple benefits from low-rep work, just as any other athlete.
So adding some kind of low-rep work with high loads can be very beneficial in the range of 4-5 sets of 1-5 reps. The majority of the time in a bodybuilding program needs to be spent on training in the range of 4-5 sets with 8-12 reps, which has been proven endlessly to be superior in eliciting structural sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
Just because you are training for size doesn’t mean you are neglecting or reversing your strength development. Any type of exercising or training can have an impact on increasing neuromuscular adaptations. But the goal of a bodybuilding program, however, is to cause a maximal structural change in your muscles, not a neurological one.
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