strength without bulk

I appreciate your feedback on this topic, as it has added to an interesting debate. The points you make seem valid but i do not profess to know anything about how forces differ at different joint angles, etc, so i can’t comment upon them in relation to my original post. I have already stated that i understood that even though the actual difference was only 40kg, if all other factors were equal, such as height, then the bigger guys would have a greater than 40kg advantage on the smaller guys. However i still hold to the fact that even taking all the factors into consideration that you have mentioned, the superheavyweights should be outlifting these smaller guys by MUCH more weight than they ever actually could given that they may have up to 3 times the muscle mass, if muscle size was the MAIN factor in the strength puzzle. Of course muscle size plays a factor in strength, but i don’t believe it to be the over 50% bit. Don’t get me wrong i’m not trying to undermine your post, it is probably true what you say. As long as guys like Jonathon Edwards are living and doing what they do though, i don’t think i will be changing my opinion too soon, although i am a learner and always willing to listen. I mean, i just checked out Jonathon’s height on the UK athletics website and he is given as 182cm (5’11.5"). I have met him on two occasions and i think this is probably about right. He is not a short man at close to six feet, and yet he only weighs about 73kg(161lb) or 11 and a half stones. I would never guess that he actually lifted weights if i didn’t know of him, because he literally has no muscle to speak of and what’s more he doesn’t even look cut at that bodyweight. His muscles are tiny, so if muscles play a bigger role than the neurological system in strength and power, how on earth does he squat 235kg and power clean 150kg? Bearing in mind that at close to six feet he would be have to undergo the limiting joint angles, etc you speak of and having to catch the bar in a higher position than most 77kg lifters. He is not an isolated example, and think about all the guys who have huge muscles and limited strength to go with it. John Davis (my weightlifting idol) the superheavyweight world and olympic weightlifting champion from the forties and fifties would only have been capable of a power clean in the region of 150kg. He was 5’8.5" and 105kg at his best in 1951. I think some guys just build muscle, whilst others don’t, even though they may be of similar strength, which is why i am arguing that muscle size is not the most important factor in strength. Maybe (and this is not my theory but an idea) the testosterone of some guys is of a better quality for muscle building, e.g more anabolic and tissue binding,etc. Just an idea!

one engine on a boat pushes it to a speed of 30knots.
two engines only push it to 36knots, not 60.

same principle here with muscle size, yes?

Sometimes, but evidence that significant hypertrophy increases power/weight ratio suggests that there can be another outcome. I think the effects on relative strength and power of adding muscle mass depend entirely on the athlete.

And cost twice as much to both buy and run …

Michelle Smith-deBrun did a lot of strength work but with minimised bulk a number of years ago, but I don’t have training details.

Hey all,

I believe that Rob Ryder has put forward a good idea here. I have found in my recent training that I have been putting on a lot of muscle mass, and am worried that this increased weight will have an impact on my speed. Thus I believe that the idea of strength without bulk would definetely be in my best interests to avoid further increases in the size of my thighs or pecs.

My question involves the implementation of this type of strength training. If I was planning on doing a 5x2 or 3x3 bench press at 90% of 1RM that would be 240lbs for me. Does anybody have any recommendations on what type of warmup sets to do to approach that weight. If I did say 5@135, 5@185, then 5x2@240 would that go over the 10 rep limit or do the warmup reps not “count”? The question also applies to squat if I was working off a 365lbs squat. Warmup at 225?

P.S This forum is amazing, congrats to Charlie for setting this up.

Any lifts at >75% should be counted.

The ten rep ‘limit’ is just a rough guide, so don’t be afraid to go a couple of reps over etc. No one figure can be applied to all humans in expecting the same outcome, as there are far too many variables. For example, a person may actually be spending more time under tension (the key variable in muscle building) by performing 3 sets x 3 reps in comparison to 5 sets x 3 reps, if the former is performed at a considerably lower speed. All other things being equal, some guys may still be increasing muscle size whilst performing 8 reps in total, compared to others who need to go over 20 reps or more. There is nothing magic in the number limit of 10, other than that for most people it is a good ball park figure when shooting for as much strength as possible whilst keeping muscle gains to a minimum. As with the case in all training the key is to know thy self. If you are like me and have a tendency to put on muscle in a disproportionate manner to strength increases (which is likely to be the result of some or all of the following; a naturally high resting testosterone level, better anabolic properties of ones own testosterone, greater receptor sites within the muscles, high protein intake, etc), then even 10 reps in total may stimulate some amount of muscle growth. In this instance you may be better capping your rep limit at 6 for example, and following the protocol of Jonathon Edwards in performing 3 sets x 2 reps. The function and size of Edward’s body is a clear reflection of the weights protocol he has followed; such immense power in the tiniest of packages.
If you were to perform 5 sets x 2 reps at 90% of 1rm, you could warm up with 70% x 2 reps and 80% x 2 reps. Using David W’s advice only the second warm up set would need to be counted as it is over his 75% recommendation. At this point you would only be performing 12 counted reps, with 2 of them being fairly light. This is still in the ball park of the ‘10 rep guide’. If you are a freak and gain muscle at an alarming rate then you may want to reduce the number of work sets (e.g you could perform 3 x 2, 6 x 1, 2 x 3 etc) and thus the overall number of reps/time under tension. You could also just perform 1 warm up set at 75% with a slightly higher number of reps, but to prevent injury it is probably better that you warm up in the best possible way and keep both warm up sets.

heres some links

Great stuff. Basically you dont need to train for sarcoplasmic hpertrophy, but do lower reps and train for myofibril (sp?) hypertrophy.

As a powerlifter this is quite important for me. A problem i see quite a lot is when a 80kg guy decides to powerlift and says he want to enter the 100kg class!

all things being equal, strength is directionally proportional to cross sectional area and volume of the muscles involved…i’m afraid it doesn’t get any more complicated than that… :slight_smile:

:smiley: THings are rarely equal.

I dont have much muscle. Should I then focus on getting more muscle mass with using a bit higher reps, or should I from the beginning of just focus on getting the best power:weight ratio with using low reps and sets?

Originally Posted by gambit
all things being equal, strength is directionally proportional to cross sectional area and volume of the muscles involved…i’m afraid it doesn’t get any more complicated than that…

Spot on.

In an ideal situation, we would all like to stay light and get stronger. Unfortunately, from my own experince, and my observation of many top and improving athletes around me, they do tend to get heavier when they get stronger.

Even Ben johnson, under the astute guidance of Charlie Francis, put 6kg on between 1984 and 1988. I am sure Ben johnson would have run even faster if he had gained the improvement at the lower weight. But he did not. In fact, I would bet that he would never had run under 9.8 if he had emphasised keepingh his weight down to 73kg.

In regard to Jonathan Edwards, much is made of his 150kg in recent years. Great lift if it was a power clean and did not use wraps. However, this lift did not lead to any improvement in his triple jump given that his WR was in 1995. In other words, any strength improvement has to be reflected by tests relating to the sport itself. The more related it is to the event, the more likely it will beneficial to improved performance.

True that Edwards did not improve his tj during a time when he was said to have cleaned/power cleaned 150k. Still, so many factors go into the performance that it is difficult to say whether or not any one factor(especially a general factor) was THE reason why an athlete performed x time or y distance. The best we can do is to guess what contributes to the performance. Perhaps Edwards weight numbers have allowed him to REMAIN among the best in the world even at age 37-particularly lifts with an elastic component since we know that this capacity will be lost during aging before max strength. The performance cannot ride/exist on any one factor but on a number of capacities/biomotor abilities. For all we know, Edwards could have faced some difficulties/injuries in other aspects of his training that led him to shift the emphases to other areas.

The “all things being equal” part is always brought up when trying to make arguments that muscle size is responsible for strength. Indeed, it is correct to say all things being equal strength is directly proportional to the volume and cross sectional area. As Siff, Roman, Verkoshansky, Zatsiorsky, Tsatsouline, Vorobyev and others would point out, the key to the strength puzzle actually lies in this “all things being equal part” because this is where 80%+ of the factors behind strength lie. Read the links posted by ‘Help’ to get an initial grasp, if you prefer to hear my message from someone who has a reputation in this field.
Of course you will add some bodyweight following correct strength training, but it is so minimal compared to the mass that is produced by the methods that most guys like yourself follow.The athletes that you have seen around you who got bigger as they got stronger (which is obviously the standard observation around all gyms) could have minimized a lot of that bulk if they knew better how to train for pure strength whilst minimizing muscular breakdown. I doubt you will accept this simple truth however.
Actually Ben’s 6kg weight increase in that time period is very small for a man who has built up to squatting 2 sets x 6 reps with 600lb. The vast majority of people would have added at least 15- 20 kg to their bodyweight in reaching such a huge squat weight. Charlie deserves a lot of credit in keeping Ben’s weight down in reaching such a high strength level in the squat. Who knows, if Ben had limited his sets to doubles and triples and limited his sets, he may have only added 2- 4 kg of excess bodyweight but would have squatted something like 2 sets x 3 reps with 650lb. Just because someone reaches the highest eschelons of sport, it doesn’t mean that even they can’t improve their training and performance somewhat. I am not saying he would have added less bodyweight, but the chances are he could have done.
Don’t forget that Jonathon Edwards was capable of 137.5kg power clean before 1995, so it is obvious that the lift helped his jumping ability. Unfortunately, since he has been capable of 150kg power clean (and it was a proper clean- not that wraps would make a difference in this lift anyway) he has not been able to match the same variables that existed at the world champs in 1995. I am not saying he would have improved on his world record, but no one would argue that extra power wouldn’t have been an asset to him in the 1995 conditions.
People who try to argue that muscle size is largely responsible for strength like it is a scientific law ( where any exceptions to the ‘rule’- which only appears to be a rule because most everyone tears down muscle in seeking strength, cannot be allowed as it would contradict the law) have an impossible task in front of them in explaining how guys like Edwards squat 230kg etc, even though he has pipe cleaners for legs. What about all the powerlifters and olympic weightlifters in the lighter categories? It is certainly not huge muscles that are lifting their weights, so you can’t argue that muscle size and strength are directly correlated. That is just a nonsense. Muscle size does play a role which is why there is a loose correlation, manifested by the fact that guys in heavier weight classes tend to lift heavier than those in lighter weight classes. The “everything else being equal” is what you should be investigating if you wish to TRULY understand what strength is about.

I think it is more complicated than that, other wise it wouldn’t be possible to get an experienced lifter to lift more in, say the squat for eg, without any change in body weight and girths. This is very achievable!

Nice post Rob Ryder! I agree, the ‘all things being equal’ and ‘CSA’ paradigms are for those how fail or refuse to digress into the black science that is strength development with minimal weight gain. Good work. :wink:

rob ryder

Rob, I am well aware that muscle size is not the only factor that determines strength. Obviously leverage and skill are important factors.
Similarly, I know large bodybuilders that are not that strong, although I don’t think they care. I also know many skinny guys that lift big weights. One 67kg guy I know dead lifts 277kg. I even jerked 140kg from a rack when weighing 80kg at 1.86m height at 19 years of age. I should of went up to Lou Ferrigno that year and said Lou you need to change your training because I am stronger than you yet I am 40kg lighter. He had barely jerked 100kg in a superstars competition. The only reason why I could lift more was because I practiced the skill and he did not. Ten years later, and 10kg heavier, I smashed my 200m by 2.5 seconds but I could no longer lift 140kg because i had come to the conclusion that practising unrelated skills was not necessary for my strength training.

In any case, much of what you have to say does not differ from the post by gambit which states “all things being equal, strength is directionally proportional to cross sectional area and volume of the muscles involved…i’m afraid it doesn’t get any more complicated than that…” In other words, a highly skilled athlete with leverage advantages will get future improvement by developing the cross sectional area of the muscle.

However, I will stand by my observations.

For instance, one champion lifter (OG silver medalist, who lifted 190kg c&J for years as an 82.5, only improved to 200kg when he allowed himself to get heavier (90kg). Now this is an athlete who trains entirely for power. I will note from my observation over 25 years that I have not seen many experienced adult athletes improve their performance significantly by staying at a similar weight. By this statment, I refer to people that have matured, and have been participating in their chosen sport for a while. Many top athletes I know will put on weight, and then endeavour to lose fat, to make improvements. They may be at the same weight, but the muscle mass is often evident when they improve.

As far as your analysis of Ben Johnson, he still put on 6kg to improve some 3-4 tenths. What does that mean for an 11 second runner that has excellent technique and conditioning and needs to gain strength. Just lay out 6kg of lean meat on the table and tell me that is not a huge amount of weight gain. Any one can put on 6kg, but 6kg of world-class muscle is not an easy achievement. Perhaps you could convince Charlie Francis that sets of 1-2 reps (with greater CNS stress) is preferable to sets of 6 reps. Good luck.

Since this is primarily a sprinting fourm, you may be able to give me some examples of champion sprinters who have achieved notable improvement by staying at a similar weight. I am sure that they all tried to stay light. Greene put on considerable weight (15 pounds), Ben Johnson went from a skinny kid to a super physique, Christie went up over 13kg, Cason trained with bodybuilder in his best year, Michael Johnson was bigger than ever in Atlanta. These were all good athletes before they put on the weight. Perhaps, you need to tell them that they should have done things differently.

Of course, there are some exceptions. Carl Lewis stayed around 80kg and did improve from 9.97 to 9.86, albeit with a false start and faster tracks in 1991. Further, Surin improved notably, but his improvment was not related to power as his first 60m was already excellent by 1992. He improved other factors of sprinting to run out a strong 100m.

My argument is that an athlete should try to keep his weight down by merely working on the muscle you need.

So Rob, thanks for your advice, and I will try much harder to “TRULY” understand what strength is about. Since I am endeavouring to coach, I would appreciate if you can show me the light, as long as you can back your argument with real evidence. I don’t mean citing university text books, but real examples. In the meantime, I will keep telling my athete to eat more and do the right exercises so that his puny 68kg body can one day get to 75kg and hopefully obliterate his current best of 6 reps of 125kg squat so that he will run much faster.

Irrational hypertrophy (increased sarcoplasmic density) is the goal of bodybuilders not runners. Rational hypertrophy or increased myofibril content may be achieved using vertical rather than horizontal loading patterns as described by Bompa. Regardless, athletes often want to look like elite athletes rather than perform like elite athletes so some part of most training is aesthetic anyway.

Well, here is ‘everything’ else. :wink:
By everything else being equal I mean the same level of experience, technique, access to coaching expertise and pharmaceuticals, if appropriate…

It’s meaningless to talk about experienced vs. non-experienced athletes of the same weight without some sort of bench mark. Is a 60kg OL who front squats 180kg experienced?–maybe not when you consider what his competitors are doing. Naim suleymanoglu, the “pocket hercules” from the '88 games, front squatted 240kg before the olympics, at a body weight of 60 something kilos, and you can be certain that similar caliber athletes weren’t far behind. So I would argue that experience is a relative thing. Now, for top level athletes, significant gains will only come with an increase in body weight, “all things being equal”. Is there an absolute strength limit at any given weight?—I believe that there is. Given the same state of training, drugs etc. do you really think it would be possible for naim to f.squat 10% more in ?88 by changing anything? Any increase he would be able to eke out at under 65kgs would come from increased neurological efficiency, improved squatting technique etc. and for such an experienced and skilled athlete that wouldn’t amount to much.

For athletes who have not fulfilled their potential there is more room to grow. Non-elite athletes can make rapid progress in lifting simply by becoming more neurologically efficient, by improving their lifting form, by strengthening weak links, by being more courageous (!) and by generally lifting near or maximal weights. Remember going from 60kg to 120kg in bench press? This, I would say, covers most of the athletes we come across…so, of course, there do seem to be legitimate ways of strengthening lifters without adding muscle bulk, although I suspect that adding size is easier on the body and the mind of the athlete (and this is a crucial point) once they get to a certain strength level.

These methods are, of course, the mainstays of any real strength program and in that sense I agree with a lot of what has been said. But what happens after that is all done? How do we take the 80kg, 5?10?, 120kg presser to 180kg? The more experienced the athlete, the less room for strength gains without increases in muscle size. There is no magic at work here. Athletes, who carry more muscle, not bodyweight per se, are simply stronger.

As a side note:
“What about all the powerlifters and olympic weightlifters in the lighter categories? It is certainly not huge muscles that are lifting their weights, so you can’t argue that muscle size and strength are directly correlated.”

In '83 N.S. clean and jerked 160kg in the 56kg category. In '88 he C&J 190kg in the 60kg class. Naim certainly didn’t get any fatter between 83 and 88 but he might have become more muscular…and so on with all the other weight classes…

Regarding musculature-- Naim competed at 60kg in '88… so he probably walked around in the low 60’s fully hydrated…with virtually no body fat …and at a height of 4’10-11". Not bad for a skinny guy with no muscles.

Incidentally, N.S.?s is a good example because he is so well know—any other top strength athlete would do.