Last time, we talked about the differences in “Aggregate Strength”
and “Specific Strength”… and how focusing on specific strength
can be a big pitfall.
Today, we’re gonna talk about the fundamentals of what creates
“strength”… and how some guys can be super strong without
(like rip a sink out of a wall strong…)
First, the obvious:
Lifting weights obviously builds strength. It also increases the
size of your muscles.
However, you can get STRONGER without getting BIGGER.
And many guys experience just this very thing when they first
start working out… where their strength just goes through
the roof it seems.
Don’t get me wrong… being strong feels COOL.
Yet, if you’re trying to grow muscle tissue, you can fall into a
bad pitfall if you’re trying to TRACK muscular growth and the
muscle building process through strength gains alone…
(This is known as a “surrogate endpoint”, we’ll talk about this
next time as it’s a BIG deal when it comes to understanding
how to interpret research, and where most interpretations
fall flat. It’s actually where most FALSE CLAIMS stem from)
Muscles actually grow in response to novel stimulus. This means they’re
growing because you’re challenging them with a workload thats
pushing the limits of what that muscle can do comfortably.
In response to this stress, your muscle will go through a series of
changes to adapt, and one of those changes is to grow larger. It does
this by expanding the intracellular volume of the muscle cell itself.
In other words each muscle fiber ‘swells’ to a larger size. This is called
QUICK LESSON: Hypertrophy vs Hyperplasia
Hypertrophy is when a cell grows larger
Hyperplasia is when more cells are formed. Unfortunately, this
doesn’t happen to muscle cells; however, it DOES happen to fat cells.
And once the new ones are formed they never go away!
(This is another reason why you never want to ‘bulk up’ and gain
fat while trying to gain muscle.)
Ok so back to the anatomy of strength…
As a muscle cell gets larger the fibers and everything that make up a
group of muscles gets larger. But this increase in size isn’t the only thing
that determines how STRONG you get.
In fact, there are MANY other factors contributing to your overall strength
Neuromuscular connection – the speed and efficiency that the nerves can fire
the working muscle to force it to contract and increase the force of the
Tendon insertion points – favorable tendon insertions make some people
stronger in a given lift even if their muscle is smaller…
Limb Length – For example short arms and legs are good for developing
massive strength in the bench press and squat, and long arms are good for
having a strong deadlift, but it doesn’t necessarily mean your chest, legs or
back will actually get bigger because of this…
…it just means you’re STRENGTH will go up faster than other people in
these comparable lifts who don’t have the favorable limb length.
Tissue durability – durable ligaments, joints and tendons can handle
more training volume and heavier weight over time, and this durability
will allow your body to do enough lifting to force the muscles to grow
to their full potential.
On the other hand people who constantly get injured can never
string together enough days, weeks, months and years of training to
fully reach their true muscular potential.
And although this doesn’t seem to sound like much – in my experience it’s
actually the #1 factor that determines if they can even come close to
maxing out their growth!
Enhanced blood flow to the muscle – as you get into a regular training
routine your body will actually build more capillaries (small blood
vessels that supply the muscle). This will enhance the amount of
oxygen and nutrients that can be delivered to the muscle and
therefore allow you to train more often and harder.
All of these factors contribute to how strong a given muscle and
your entire body can be REGARDLESS of how big each muscle gets.
In other words, a guy with favorable tendon insertions, favorable limb
length, durable tendons, and a heightened neuromuscular
conductance could have a WILDLY powerful bench press without really
having that big of a chest.
This is because your body is going to look for the most efficient way to
adapt to the stress you’re putting against it.
And growing a larger muscle is actually the LEAST efficient adaptation
compared to this list I’ve just given you.
Growing the muscle larger requires more calories, more protein and
amino acids – it requires enzymes and genes need to be turned on,
proteins need to be manufactured to build new cellular tissue, and
more nutrients need to be shuttled into the larger cell.
This is an energetically costly process and your body would rather
find a way to increase your strength without having to increase the
size of the muscles.
(At least not as it’s first choice.)
In fact, you could say that hypertrophy and actually making the
muscle larger is the final adaptation the body will go through in
response to lifting heavy weights after it has made all of the above
In other words: you’ll get stronger first, THEN you’ll get bigger.
This is also a reason why you cannot rely on measuring specific
strength in one lift or another to determine if you’re actually building
Instead, you should look at your overall ‘aggregate strength’ of all
of the exercise you do combined with your measurements and your
body fat %.
These 3 factors together will be a better indicator of how much
muscle you’re truly building vs simply how much stronger you’re
p.s. The above lesson supplies us the reasons why creatine and
caffeine help to build muscle size.
Creatine helps to draw more water in the muscle as well as
helps to supply the anaerobic kick you need to eek out a few
Caffeine helps with neuromuscular connection.
Almost every pre-workout supplement will have these 2
ingredients in it… they “carry” the claims.
I’ll talk more about supplements and supplement claims
in another newsletter, but if you’re looking for some extra