Muscle Size vs Strength - What You Need to Know

Some people start bodybuilding to increase their muscle size. Some to ramp up their strength. And then there are others who choose to improve both their size and strength. Whatever may be your goal, there is no right or wrong when it comes to setting your training activities. The choice of muscle size vs. strength chiefly depends on personal preferences.

Therefore, it is always good to have a clear understanding of what the difference between the two is. So that you can tailor your muscle training exercises accordingly and have a better impact on your bodybuilding goals.

Here’s our take on the basic differences between strength training and muscle building. And see how the variation in the concepts can help you in your day-to-day training activities. If you are looking to try out a new program that requires more focus and specific training, having this information will be very useful.

Muscle Size vs. Strength – What are the Differences?

Muscle size is the strength capacity of your muscles. It dictates your muscle’s ability to release strength, which is why muscle size training programs are designed to increase muscle damage for mass gains. On the other hand, muscle strength is the intrinsic ability of your muscles. Pure muscle strength training programs, therefore, look at pushing the ability of your existing muscles to exert maximum energy.

Enlargement vs. Efficiency

While mass training targets muscle damage that will lead to enlargement of muscle tissues (and their cells), strength training depends on your nervous system to ensure highest muscle efficiency.

This is why oftentimes you will see a lean bodybuilder who can exert as much energy as his counterpart – who is more buffy – can. Muscle size, also known as hypertrophy, is directly related to muscle strength. The larger the size the better the strength capacity.

This is the exact reason why beginners focus on both mass and strength training as they start and eventually transition to one or the other. Mass training will give you a buffy frame with slow and less strength progression whereas strength training will result in a leaner frame with a focus on high stamina and energy expenditure.

Tailoring Your Workouts Depending upon Your Preference

Now that we know the muscle size and strength relationship, it is time to understand how it changes the training activities. The difference is mostly in the rep changes.

In essence, training for hypertrophy involves lifting light weights with high repetitions (8 to 12 reps). If you are looking to maximize strength, just reverse the intensity: heavy weights with relatively low repetitions (less than 6 reps). And going beyond that (with light weights) will be endurance training.

Most advanced bodybuilders settle at this stage and continue to work on their diet and physical exertion (powerlifting). Ben Pakulski’s Mi40 program is just one example of such a routine that will help you during the endurance stage.

Hypertrophy requires maximum muscle damage, which can only be executed through intense workouts that are high on the repetitions and low on weights. It should be noted that hypertrophy does not necessarily lead to an increase in water retention in your body. We are talking about actual body mass here. In more scientific terms, it leads to an increase in sarcoplasmic fluid in your muscle cells.

Strength training is exactly the opposite in that regard where you focus on powerlifting with a shorter number of reps. It leads to an increase in myosin and actin (myofibrillar), key protein types that play a pivotal role in muscle strength boost with no impact whatsoever on the size. Although the size of your muscles matter, there are many more things you need to focus on to achieve maximum strength.

The Correlation

As noted above, mass and muscle strength are inter-related. If you are someone who is looking out to try a new program, say Building the Monolith 5/3/1, then you should focus on both hypertrophy as well as strength. Something in the middle will be your sweet spot.

Mean Muscles recommends starting out with a mix of activities focused at both increasing body strength and muscle size and then slowly transitioning to one that is closest to your bodybuilding goal. Just focusing on one or the other from the start may not give you the output you might be looking for.


By now, you should note that choosing one over other does not put you at a higher position. In the bodybuilding world, everyone who is training is rowing the same boat of ultimate fitness. Knowing what muscle size vs. strength is and learning their correlation enables you to make wiser decisions about your diet and routines. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably working on half knowledge, which can be dangerous.

So, what have you decided? Is it going to be mass or strength or both? Let us know about your own experiences in the comments below.

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