3 Main Differences in Training For Size vs. Training for Strength

Lifting muscle

If you are going to the gym and your aim is getting big and strong, it is important that you understand that each of them can be very different things. Weight training can definitely increase both your size as well as your strength and you may even see results at the beginning, but as you get further and further into your training you will probably have to focus on either bulk or function.

When in a gym, even a beginner can see that the big people seem to be using the same equipment as the strong people, but there are some noticeable differences in their training methods. So what are the differences in weight, reps, nutrition, cardio, and so on? Thankfully, there is a lot of research out there to help you understand these differences, but here are a few key factors to help get you started or just a little better informed.


This is the typical ‘bodybuilding’ approach. Training for muscle growth is not functional. You will probably not get stronger, but your muscles will get visibly bigger.


Total volume is the first thing you need to do when you start training for muscle growing, which is the combination of reps and sets. If your focus is muscle growing alone, you will want a very high number of reps (from 10 to as high as 20 per set) and the number of sets will depend on how many exercises you are planning to do for each body part. You will also have to keep the weight suspended for as long as you can within a set, as in trying to go as long as you can without putting the weight down.

Now, in order to finish the high number of reps, you will have to use relatively lighter weights so that you can actually get through them. With this method of training, you will not see an increase in strength. This is for the sole purpose of your muscles getting bigger, not functionality, nor strength.


The amount of time that you should rest between each set varies. Generally, you are looking at about 3 minutes of rest between sets when you are working on your lower body (i.e. legs and gluteus) and around 90 seconds for nearly everything else.

Sleep is also a very important factor to muscle growth. You want to have a full 8 hours of sleep every night, and maybe even have an after workout nap. After all, most of the growing happens when you are sleeping.

Not to mention, try to avoid extra physical activities apart from what you do to build mass. Try to find shorter routes to places, try not to engage in sports that require a lot of running around, and in the cold months, make sure to layer up so your body is not expending energy to keep you warm.


It is best to stick to lean meats as well as vegetables and legumes with a good level of protein. However, do not rule out the carbs, especially if you are bulking. Just make sure that you are getting enough calories. Typically, you should aim to intake about 18 to 20 calories per pound of your body weight. Also, try to eat healthily so you do not blow up like a sumo wrestler, unless that is your goal, in which case please suit yourself.


When you train for muscle strength, your focus is pretty much entirely on function. However, there are many more benefits to this than simply getting your muscles stronger. Strengthening them has all kinds of pros from increasing your Resting Metabolism Rate to helping to prevent disease, improving blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and overall emotional health.


When you are looking to get stronger rather than bigger, you have to use your mind as much as your muscles. First, you need to warm up. Cardio will help get the heartbeat rate up and your blood flowing in your whole body. Then each exercise should have warm up, acclimation and working sets.

Every muscle in your body contains hundreds of motor units that contract when they receive neural impulses. No human really uses the full capacity of motor units when exerting force, but the heavier the weight you use, the more motor units are used.

You should use only half of the maximum weight that you can handle for a single rep, with the proper form of course, during your warm-up sets (10-20 reps). When doing your acclimating sets (5-6 reps), you should use just over 65%, and during the working sets (3-5 reps), you should use just over 90% and less than maximum capacity.

Always cool down with some light cardio in order to release the blood trapped in your muscle tissue.

The key to building strength in your muscles is to increase the weight you work with over time. Otherwise, you will hit a plateau. You do not need many reps to gain strength, but you definitely need to lift more each time.


Between sets, your rest periods should be short; from 30 to 60 seconds should suffice but make sure to listen to what your body is telling you. Between exercises, you need to rest about 3 to 5 minutes.

Outside of the gym, you must get enough sleep (8 to 10 hours) so your muscles can heal properly. Also, avoid overtraining because that actually does more harm than good. Without proper rest and enough time to heal, no matter how much you train, you may end up staying at the same level. Rest is just as important as the training itself so do not overwork yourself.


Eat healthily. Multiple small meals are better for your body than 2 or 3 big ones. Maintain a balanced diet. Carbs, protein and healthy fats all play key roles in giving you the energy your body needs, the ability to heal and maintain muscle, and making sure your joints and tissues are healthy enough to support the movement of your muscles.

Also, do not forget to hydrate. The average person needs to drink about 64 ounces of water daily; an active athlete surely needs much more than that. Dehydration will actually stop or even reverse strength gain.

As far as calorie intake goes, it relies entirely on the goals you are trying to achieve. If you are looking to get heavier, increase your calorie intake. If you want to maintain your weight, maintain the calories as well. If you are looking to lose weight, simply consume fewer calories.


The Takeaway

After reading this, you may feel like you absolutely have to go with either nonfunctional size or strength alone. However, the fact is that you can physically grow while getting stronger as well. When training for both size and strength you probably will not get as big as if you were training for mass or as strong as if you were focusing entirely on strength, but you may find some happy medium in between the two.

Training for both will actually help you achieve higher results than just focusing on muscle growing or strength gaining; your workouts will be complete as one supports and complements the other. It will also help you vary your training to avoid feeling stuck or overworking (and maybe injuring) yourself.

Got any tips or insight you would like to share? Go ahead and help us learn more in the comments below!

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