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  1. #1
    pay the iron price SuffolkPunch's Avatar
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    Training for STRENGTH vs. SIZE

    MYTH: Low reps is for strength, high reps is for size.

    Although this contains a grain of truth, it leads to wrong thinking - the classic problem we get on this forum is the legion of novices who don't want to do novice routines because they contain 5 rep sets ... which are "for strength" not "for mass". This is (mostly) incorrect.

    Strength and size are intertwined and it's worth taking a few minutes to understand how...

    1) What is SIZE? - this is easy enough, it's how big the muscle is. A larger muscle contains more fibres (myofibrils) and more fluid (sarcoplasm). Note that these two components tend to stay in the same proportions to one another regardless of whether the muscle shrinks or grows - and regardless of how you train.

    2) What is STRENGTH? A simple measure is the peak force a muscle can produce. This will determine how much weight you can lift in a 1-rep-maximum effort attempt for a simple movement.
    There are actually 2 components to strength:
    - The size of the muscle - more fibers means more ability to contract and produce force. Size is the most important factor for strength.
    - Neural factors - how well your brain coordinates the firing pattern of all the fibres in your muscle (or lots of muscles together in the case of a complex movement).


    So how do you train for each of these qualities?

    1) Training for SIZE is most closely related to the amount of volume you perform. The best and simplest way of measuring volume is the number of HARD SETS you do for a particular body part over the course of 1 week.
    - We use sets not reps because actually the number of reps is just not that important, you can grow muscle with higher or lower reps within a wide range (say from 1-30 reps per set).
    - We call them HARD sets because you have to train up to or very close to the point of FAILURE in every set. It's still possible to grow from using less exertion than this - but if you are interested in measuring your volume, this can muddy the waters.
    - Research shows that 10 hard sets for each body part, done over 1 week is a good starting point for hypertrophy. This tends to need to increase the more experienced you get.

    2) Training for STRENGTH. From reading the above it should be clear that you are most interested in growing the muscles involved - because a bigger muscle is stronger. If your goal is to be as strong as possible, you also need to give some thought to the previously mentioned neural factors. It turns out that training with heavier weights is better for training neural efficiency.


    So can we have both??

    You will get both anyway - in any program. As a novice, you can maximise your ability to acquire both without any compromise. This is what novice routines that use 5 rep sets are for!

    Once beyond the novice stage, you will find that you need more and more volume to keep the results coming. THIS is where problems with lower rep sets will make themselves apparent. The problem with using very heavy weights all the time are that you are at greater risk of injury especially when approaching the point of failure. Doing enough hard sets with a heavier weight also produces a lot more fatigue than using lighter weights. So you will find that if you want enough volume to maximise hypertrophy you cannot keep up training over a long period with heavy weights.

    You have to specialise. If you are a bodybuilder, you have to compromise by reducing the weight and accepting that your neural gains will not be as good. If you are a powerlifter, you will have to reduce work done on exercises that don't affect strength in the big 3 lifts as much (like bicep curls for example).


    Do novices have to train for strength first even if they want size?

    I'm going to say no - but consider everything I've written above. And also remember that novices gain mostly neural efficiency in their first 4-6 weeks - gains from this will far outstrip mass gains - but like I said they should get both at the same time and do not need to use a high rep program. There is the possibility that more strength can lead to more ability to grow muscle once you are more experienced and have to work harder to produce a growth stimulus... this is somewhat uncertain - but if you can max out both why wouldn't you!?

    The key point worth repeating is that 5 rep sets can maximise muscle growth in novices. It's just that they don't often see their results as soon as they would like because their body composition is usually worse than they imagine it is. It's not until you get to mid intermediate stage with 14% or lower body fat that you actually start to look "in shape"
    Last edited by SuffolkPunch; 04-01-2018 at 03:43 PM.
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  2. #2
    Registered User wowter's Avatar
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    Great write up SP. Vote for sticky so we can easily refer to it when threads on this subject pop up.
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  3. #3
    Weak and foolish OldFartTom's Avatar
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    Please sticky
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  4. #4
    1080 TnTNZ's Avatar
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    As always, quality post SuffolkPunch.
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  5. #5
    pay the iron price SuffolkPunch's Avatar
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    Thanks guys, this one I might just sticky up...
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    Originally Posted by SuffolkPunch View Post
    Thanks guys, this one I might just sticky up...
    worth a sticky... add "Y not both" to the title.

    good write-up and read.
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  7. #7
    Registered User daawhitty's Avatar
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    Thanks for the informative post.
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  8. #8
    WOATbrah of peace :) sooby's Avatar
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    this should definitely be a sticky


    the amount of threads as of late with newbies wanting to do a "hypertrophy" program and that novice programs and 5x5 only build strength

    lul
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  9. #9
    "Thats what!" -She MyEgoProblem's Avatar
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    Another excellent post by SP.. 5*

    With a bit of luck it wont be ignored.
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  10. #10
    Registered User TheViking1992's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by MyEgoProblem View Post
    Another excellent post by SP.. 5*

    With a bit of luck it wont be ignored.
    Too late... i've already ignored it...
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  11. #11
    pay the iron price SuffolkPunch's Avatar
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    Thanks for the comments guys

    Originally Posted by MyEgoProblem View Post
    Another excellent post by SP.. 5*

    With a bit of luck it wont be ignored.
    I'll be sure to link it to those who still ask the question
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  12. #12
    Registered User Ckdjim's Avatar
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    Outstanding man. You finally answered my questions. One more though, how would you know when to switch to more volume for novices? After 6 months? A year? I'm still sub 300 with my rep sets although I have pulled 1rm of 315 in squat and DL
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  13. #13
    pay the iron price SuffolkPunch's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by Ckdjim View Post
    Outstanding man. You finally answered my questions. One more though, how would you know when to switch to more volume for novices? After 6 months? A year? I'm still sub 300 with my rep sets although I have pulled 1rm of 315 in squat and DL
    I would add it incrementally. If say squat results are drying up add an extra 2 sets per week. Some programs have volume ranges or planned volume increases - but I doubt that novices need this. Intermediates might.
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  14. #14
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    Thank you. İ was doing stronglift but i was thinking to change it to more high rep routine for aesthetics. İts better i stay on it
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  15. #15
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    Definitely deserves sticky.
    At age 60, I've exceeded all my prior PRs. Not “over the hill” yet. :)

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  16. #16
    pay the iron price SuffolkPunch's Avatar
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    Here is more information relating to the structure of muscle that's built, in particular the notions of "sarcoplasmic" vs. "myofibrillar" hypertrophy:

    http://www.higher-faster-sports.com/...ionalmyth.html
    Last edited by SuffolkPunch; 03-23-2018 at 06:56 AM.
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  17. #17
    Registered User kingofturtles's Avatar
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    So what does an experinced lifter like myself do? Ive done 5x5 for years, I did 3x10 for a while, I am currently doing a PPL, which for me so far is the best. I need a lot of volume these days. I am doing sets of 3x8 for mains and 3x12 for others. I am trying to get strong and big, which apparently according to your post is not possible.

    Maybe a week of something like 5/3/1 then a week of 3x8-10 and repeat?
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  18. #18
    pay the iron price SuffolkPunch's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by kingofturtles View Post
    So what does an experinced lifter like myself do? Ive done 5x5 for years, I did 3x10 for a while, I am currently doing a PPL, which for me so far is the best. I need a lot of volume these days. I am doing sets of 3x8 for mains and 3x12 for others. I am trying to get strong and big, which apparently according to your post is not possible.

    Maybe a week of something like 5/3/1 then a week of 3x8-10 and repeat?
    It is possible, just that you won't get the best neural efficiency you possibly could. Unless you are entering a powerlifting competition, this need not worry you. You will still get strong in the sense that a larger muscle is a stronger muscle.

    Here is a scheme that can be used by intermediate lifters which varies parameters like rep range over time to prevent adaptation:
    https://forum.bodybuilding.com/showt...hp?t=174402191
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  19. #19
    Banned Ekaen's Avatar
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    Must also mention that there are 3 tipes of muscle that are all activated during any rep range but some rep ranges favor others

    type 1 = endurance
    type 2 = strength/speed
    type 3 = one rep max power

    Bodybuilders usually have less type 3 muscle fibers than non lifters but have more type 1 fibers than actual olympic endurance athletes while powerlifters usually have the most type 3 while fighters usually have the most type 2 fibers

    Edit : the forum won't let me post links to sources cause I don't have enough rep power or something
    Last edited by Ekaen; 03-27-2018 at 07:10 AM.
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  20. #20
    pay the iron price SuffolkPunch's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by Ekaen View Post
    Must also mention that there are 3 tipes of muscle that are all activated during any rep range but some rep ranges favor others

    type 1 = endurance
    type 2 = strength/speed
    type 3 = one rep max power

    Bodybuilders usually have less type 3 muscle fibers than non lifters but have more type 1 fibers than actual olympic endurance athletes while powerlifters usually have the most type 3 while fighters usually have the most type 2 fibers

    Edit : the forum won't let me post links to sources cause I don't have enough rep power or something
    I like this article on the subject:

    https://www.strongerbyscience.com/muscle-fiber-type/
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  21. #21
    Muscle Physiology Junkie Nwlifter's Avatar
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    Good post, spot on accurate!

    (one typo to edit if your going to sticky it, this part,
    "and more fluid (sarcomere)"
    change sarcomere to sarcoplasm there, like you mention later, sarcomere is physical part of the fibril (the individual contraction 'modules'), sarcoplasm is the fluid your speaking of, just in case someone looks this up and gets confused. )
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  22. #22
    pay the iron price SuffolkPunch's Avatar
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    ^ Good spot m8, have fixed it.
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  23. #23
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    Originally Posted by SuffolkPunch View Post
    ^ Good spot m8, have fixed it.
    Cheers!
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  24. #24
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    Sooo, from a purely theoretical standpoint, is the below accurate?

    If I want to increase my 1RM, 5 sets of 3 is better than 3 sets of 5 (assuming both set groupings are equally "hard".)

    If I want to increase mass, 5 sets of 3 is still better than 3 sets of 5, since I have more hard sets? (Again, assuming both set groupings are equally "hard".)

    Still a bit confused, but thank you so much for the write up.
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    pay the iron price SuffolkPunch's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by ChairmanWaffle View Post
    Sooo, from a purely theoretical standpoint, is the below accurate?

    If I want to increase my 1RM, 5 sets of 3 is better than 3 sets of 5 (assuming both set groupings are equally "hard".)

    If I want to increase mass, 5 sets of 3 is still better than 3 sets of 5, since I have more hard sets? (Again, assuming both set groupings are equally "hard".)

    Still a bit confused, but thank you so much for the write up.
    Yes, most probably on both counts. I remember Greg Nuckols saying that even at 3 sets, the 'hard sets' rule of thumb still holds. Such rules of thumb are not infallible and tend to come apart at the margins but that one it pretty reliable.

    Of course, you may find 5x3 with a heavier weight more taxing in the long run compared to 3x5.
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    Thank you. Been listening to Israetel (and others) on hypertrophy. They seem to agree that 8-15 reps is a reasonable range, as is a MINIMUM of ten hard sets per muscle group per week (which you also noted).

    If I'm hitting each muscle group 2x/week, I need a minimum of 5x8 and maybe more like 7x12+ each session? Seems like a lot, but is this what it takes?

    One more question: in a program like SS that calls for 3x5, is that preferred because of the novice lifter, and the ability to practice on lower weights? Aside from that, it seems the 5x3 wins out? Or what other considerations are in play here?

    Again, thank you.
    Last edited by ChairmanWaffle; 04-04-2018 at 05:34 AM.
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    ^ Remember the number of sets is per bodypart not per exercise. So if you had 10 sets total and 2 exercises (say overhead press and lateral raise), you could do:

    3 x overhead press
    2 x lateral raise

    twice a week.

    As I mentioned in my OP, high weight and low reps reach a limit in terms of fatigue produced and the strain on your connective tissue etc.
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    Thank you again.
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    Only seeing this today - another great read, thanks Suffolk!
    "Listen, I want you to come down here and go dancing with me and we'll have fun together. You know you like The Spaniard, you know you like The Sith Lord, you know that. Hello? You're blushing, I know you're into The Sith Lord, I know it! Hello? Hello? Helloooo? Aww I lost connection."
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    From this when training for Mass

    is it better:

    To go close to failure from the first set of an exersize and take the hit on the subsequent sets
    i.e having to lower the weight in order to get the desired rep range.

    Or to leave "enough in the tank" to achieve the reps at the same weight over the sets.

    Also:
    When is a novice no longer a novice?


    Thanks for the post.
    Last edited by Ultradian; 04-10-2018 at 07:34 PM.
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