Muscle Size vs Muscle Strength

Do you want to increase your muscle size in order to look good? Or do you want to increase your muscle strength and in doing so, change your physique? Many would assume that muscle size and strength go hand in hand, but that is not necessarily true. Our bodies adapt to the demands that we place on them, so it really depends on how you train your muscles as to how your muscles will respond.

For example, gymnasts tend to be very strong for their size. They train mostly with their own body weight and the pressure their muscles are under during their typically long training sessions is high. Then take bodybuilders who build muscle mostly for aesthetic purposes. There is no doubt that they are very strong, but if you matched their strength pound for pound against a gymnast, they would probably lose out.

“An increase in muscle diameter is due to an enlargement of individual muscle fibres by an increase in the number and size of individual myofibrils accompanied by an increase in the amount of connective tissue. This increase in muscle protein is produced by increased protein synthesis and decreased protein degradation” (Verkhoshansky 2009).

There are two different types of hypertrophy – sarcomere (functional) and sarcoplasmic (non-functional) hypertrophy.

Sarcomere hypertrophy is an increase in the size and number of sarcomeres, which compromises the myofibrils. When the sarcomeres are added parallel to the existing myofibrils, this will contribute to an increased ability to produce muscle tension. The area density increases and with this, there is a greater capacity to exert muscle force.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is an increase in non-contractile protein and plasma fluid between muscle fibres. This increases the cross sectional area of the muscle without increasing the strength of the muscle.

Your muscles will adapt according to the demands placed on them on a regular basis. If you are solely interested in mass gain, training at 80-90% of your one rep max will produce the results you require. If you want functional muscles, then training dynamically in your sport/ sports and supporting this with weight training will be ideal for you. Certain sport-related moves will require strength and coordination in specific muscles that can best be acquired by continually practising those moves.

Now you know the difference, you can get out there and achieve your perfect physique!



"Essentials Of Strength Training and Conditioning"; National Strength and Conditional Association; 2000

Verkhoshansky Y(2009) Supertraining. 6th ed. Ultimate Athlete Concepts, USA.

About the Author

Job Role Sports Nutritionist and Social Media Coordinator Qualifications Bsc Sport and Exercise Science Steph has a competitive athletic background which spans 19 years. As a child she performed with the English Youth Ballet and had performed on the West End stage by the age of 10. Her enthusiasm for sport and fitness continued to grow as she did, encouraging her to learn more about nutrition and training. She began using her knowledge and personal experience to help others when she began coaching at the age of 16. From here, she went on to study Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Essex during which time she also received the Most Promising Newcomer Award from her University to mark her outstanding contribution to sport. During her first year of study she was introduced to partner stunt acrobatics and artistic gymnastics. After one year of dedicating herself to a lifestyle revolving around her sport, she was training with the best team in the UK who are currently ranked fifth in the world. Steph has worked in both the private and public sector coaching children and adults from grassroot to elite level as well as providing them with cutting edge advice on how to reach their goals. Steph has received awards for her choreography and has competed nationally and internationally meaning that she can back up her scientific knowledge with a wealth of experience. As our resident Sports Nutritionist, Steph is here to provide the most current and evidence based fitness, health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals.
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