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Size & Strength Myth?

  1. Aug 26, 2010 #1
    I'v got an interesting querstion to ask. Hopefully someone who's
    good in the fields of biology will reply.

    Most people often picture a person as big and bulky when they
    say he's strong.

    I always believed that size doesn't have to do anything with
    strength (take a look at powerlifters), and I decided to conduct
    a little experiment myself.

    I started bench pressing a few months ago and I went from
    lifting 70 kg to 120 kg. I didn't take any special supplements,
    I didn't do any changes to my diet, nothing, I just started lifting
    and adding weight little by little.

    So, I almost doubled my chest strength and did NOT even add
    a single kg to my weight. I was weighing 70kg and still am. My
    muscles are exactly the same size

    So my questions are:

    How am I getting stronger when my muscles are not getting
    bigger? What exactly is happening inside?

    Do the muscles have limits? Will I stop increasing in strength
    if I don't train to get bigger muscles. (training with supplements

    We always hear that the human body has limits, but I don't
    think that's true. I increased my strength a lot in a few months,
    and I think that I can increase it much more if I focus on it. But,
    I'm no biologist, that's why I'm asking here. ;)

    Looking forward for your answers.

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 26, 2010 #2
    If it's benchpressing from 154lbs to 265lbs in a few months then I find that hard to believe.
    How many reps? x 10? x 1?

    If you are not exaggerating and you are talking about a free-weight benchpress of a barbell then there is a good chance that you were stronger than you thought you were when you first started so the gains are not as extreme as you believe.

    I am not saying you did not get stronger only that you may have started out stronger than you thought you were.

    I say this because that is what happened to me.

    Also there is benchpress and then there is benchpress. I prefer to extend all the way down and then all the way up again and grip also matters, elbow positions and arching back etc. (form matters a lot because otherwise you are recruiting different muscle groups and it isn't quite a benchpress then.)

    When I first started squats within a few weeks I was adding on hundreds of pounds to the lift.. . This was not an increase in strength but mostly it was the confidence to cut it closer to the limit.

    You started off stronger than you thought you were and became more comfortable with pushing yourself harder with greater practice.
    That would be my guess, because that is my own case.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2010
  4. Aug 26, 2010 #3
    Hi Thomas,

    120 kg is the most weight I can lift, one rep. I don't think I was stronger
    because I could only lift 70kg 2 times when I started.

    Pls note that I'm training powerlifter style not bodybuilder style. Which means
    that I'm going for 1-3 reps and adding weight when I can. Bodybuilders tend
    to do lots of reps.
  5. Aug 27, 2010 #4
    Your actual weight can be irrevelent. Has your muscle development improved? Are they tighter or have a better form? It is very possible that if you already had sufficent muscle mass then what you have actually done is improved the coordination between your brain and muscles, and within your muscles. I remember from AnP 1 that a little used muscle will not "recruit" as many muscle fibers on demand. However with constant use it will learn to use more fibers with better coordination. The body will build up a muscle at a certain point when most of the fibers are being used frequently and some of them are getting damaged in the effort. Guess you just havnt hit that point yet.

  6. Aug 27, 2010 #5
    Well, one thing is that the group of muscles that's involved in bench press is relatively compact. You're basically using your tricepses and your pectoralis major. It's really hard to find data about weights of muscles, but I'd guess that, before you started exercising, your tricepses weighed 300 g each, and your pectorals weighed 1 kg each. So even a 50% mass gain in those four muscles would barely tip the scales, and could be offset by mild fat loss.

    You're more likely to see rapid weight gain if you start an exercise program that loads all major muscle groups: shoulder joints in all four directions, abdomen, back, leg contractions (hamstrings), leg extensions (quadriceps); or at least abdomen and quads, since those are two of the biggest muscle groups in the body.

    And your focus on low rep training style also inhibits mass gains. Since you're primarily training your fast twitch muscle fibers, and mass gains are limited by the share of those fibers in your muscles.
  7. Aug 27, 2010 #6
    Size and strength is not a myth. It is reality. Strength correlates with the muscle CSA (cross sectional area ). Higher the cross section, higher the *potential* for strength. This doesnt mean that a person with a higher
    CSA will be able to express his potential, lacking neural education. If you never snatched a fairly heavy weight, and you are just "big", chances are that you will fail miserably.

    This is the very reason why sports have weight classes. Take Olympic Weightlifting for example. Two elite athletes one competing at 60 and 110 will have very differente results,
    with the one in 110 class being necessarily higher.

    Muscles do have limits. The contractile proteins in a muscle fiber can only develop so much strength. Generally for a single joint system max strength is developed in a fused tetanus. (all fibers are contracted with maximal rate coding).

    However, most sports do not require maximal strength. Sport mastery consist usually in developing maximum *power*, in a technical competitive movement and in a specific bio-energetic regime. One immediate consequence of this is
    that in most sports optimal, not maximal hypertrophy is sought. What means optimal is highly different from sport to sport.

    Exception to this are combat sports, game sports, where technicality will be more important than developing max-poer in a certain movement, and power lifting, which is a max-strength sport, and not a power one.

    That being said, there are a multitude of factors which contribute to the expression of strength in humans. Some of those are :

    A. Structural factors:
    - muscle CSA
    - relative population of type I vs type II fibers
    - up / down regulation of certain anzymes

    B. Neural factors

    1. enhanced drive from supra-spinal centers
    2. inhibition of anatagonist contractions
    3. increase synchronization and activation of synergist muscles
    4. enhanced coupling between spinal interneurons (responsible for cross education phenomena)
    5. enhanced descending drive (reduces bilateral deficit)
    6. increases in motor unit synchronization
    7. greater activation in muscles (more intense EMG)
    8. easier excitability of motor neurons
    9. Intramuscular synchronization ( this is paramount for expressing strength )
    10. Inhibition of Golgi Tendon Organs

    So to answer your question, you gain strength without size in this phase because your main gains are coming from neural factors. They increase very fast at start and are responsible for major strength gains. As you will approach elite levels of strength, gains from neural factors will slowly grind to an halt, and you will have to move up weight classes if you want to further up your results. However, you could stay as well in a low weight class and enjoy competing there, even if it is not your optimal class =)
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2010
  8. Aug 27, 2010 #7
    Thanks for all the responses. Other responses are welcome.

    @ Danp

    Hope I keep getting stronger at this size. ;)
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