To build maximum strength and muscle size you have to train each discipline properly. From the outset you have to differentiate the components for each discipline and train towards them.
To make significant progress especially when you become advanced you have to train for either size or strength.
Admittedly there is a cross over in both strength and size training methods but also they are major differences that need to be addressed to optimize your end goals. So let’s take a closer look at both:
The fundamental differences between size and strength
In a nutshell the big difference between building size and strength is the actual training volume.
Training volume is the total number of sets and reps that are pumped out during each work out. Therefore, the higher number of sets and exercises concentrated on a muscle group or whole body the greater your training volume.
Theoretically increasing muscle size requires a higher training volume than building strength and this can impact on how your body reacts and adapts to the stresses of training.
In simple terms for your muscle’s to grow effectively they need the right amount of training volume and load. You are still going to use a heavy weight but the higher training volume will dictate that the weight will be lighter than used for strength training.
By mixing the right amount of training volumes with the correct amount of weight being used equates to boosts in muscle size.
This strategy is not rocket science and this is termed ‘structural hypertrophy’ as it allows you to concentrate on the muscles themselves. Plus it leans towards performing fewer amounts of sets per exercise.
In essence by slowing down the movement when combined with the sheer volume or reps will increase the time that your muscle is stressed.
This is the vital stimulus needed for muscle growth and undoubtedly you will have strength gains along the way but boosts in muscular growth will overtake these strength gains when training in this manner.
When executing the big lifts such barbell squats or deadlifts work at an intensity of between 70-85% 1RM with a higher rep range of 12-15 in total will induce hypertrophy.
A common strategy used is 3 sets of 5 main lifts with a heavier load and then progress to 4 sets of 6 exercises with a lighter work load. The rest interval between sets is also another consideration and research has shown that to maximise your muscle gains it should be between 90-120 seconds.
This should give your muscle ample time to recover properly whilst keeping the metabolic/neural stress at its ultimate peak for muscle growth.
The case of low reps and heavy weight
As mentioned previously there is a crossover between hypertrophy and strength and here it is!
The ‘low rep zone’ is defined as 1RM for 5 reps in one set and they are used to engage your high threshold motor units in your muscle.
Fundamentally this training strategy makes your nervous system a lot more efficient and switching from a higher rep range shocks your body into building muscle mass. Your muscle will adapt very quickly to the stimulus of training and by using heavier weight is a catalyst for recruiting more muscle fibres and motor units.
Ultimately this does keep your muscle from adapting to the stresses of your work out and coerces them to grow more effectively.
Why not mix up your current regime and add a set of low reps and heavy weights in the equation?
To build absolute strength the communication of stress alters in a few ways. The main difference is the total training volume as ultimately you will be lifting heavier weights with fewer repetitions per set.
In terms of the structure of a strength program the main lifts should be followed by assisted lifts.
The main lifts fall into a percentage range of 80-90% of your 1RM for 2-4 reps per set for 3-5 sets. The total number of main lifts per work out is between 10-20 lifts. However when the weight rises above the 90% 1RM mark, then the lifts are cut down even further to between 8-10 for 1-2 sets.
Absolute training should be performed within the 15-25 total rep range, with a weight between 70-80% 1RM but there is a reduction in the total number of exercises ( from 3-5 for the main lifts to 2-4 assisted lifts).
This reduction in the total number of exercises allows for a proper recovery and prevents overtraining because the overall stress of the workout has been managed effectively.
The main objective of the assisted lifts is to identify any weaknesses in the main lifts and this will have the benefit of boosting you overall strength because you are lifting heavier- in the main lifts.