Men: Building Muscle Size Vs. Strength

Adding variety to a workout helps people achieve their goals

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Some men hit the gym to build muscle size. For them, it’s about the bulging biceps and pectoral muscles, ripped abs, and thick legs.

For others, gaining more strength could help them perform better at their sport, but increasing size may inhibit them, such as runners.

But to reach either goal, guys need to use different resistance training methods, according to several sources.

Tim Reed, certified personal trainer and owner of Adventures in Fitness, Inc. in Cheektowaga, said that to increase size, it’s important to lift weight heavy enough to perform only six to eight repetitions per set and to complete two to three sets.

“It will increase the size quicker because it’s more strenuous,” Reed said.

To get stronger without gaining as much bulk, lift lighter weights for more repetitions, about 15.

“You won’t get much size with a workout like that,” he said.

Either way, it’s important to lift smoothly, with a full range of motion, and to lift to the point of muscle exhaustion.

“Your form must be correct,” Reed said. “You shouldn’t be raising the weight up if you can’t do the exercise correctly. Nine times out of 10, the form gets sloppy and you’ll hurt yourself and you won’t be able to do anything.

“Younger guys want to put mass on, so they lift heavier and heavier weights and form goes out the window.”

It’s also important to eat a balanced diet and take rest days between resistance training days. On the rest days, a light aerobic exercise can keep you moving, such as walking, bike riding or swimming. Or, you can work a different muscle group per day, such as upper body one day and lower body on alternating days.

So which resistance training equipment is best?

They all bring different pros and cons. For example, weight machines with cables tend to encourage more fluid movements than free weights, but it’s mostly seated. Novices tend to rely on gravity and momentum to move free weights instead of keeping them in control throughout the entire range of motion.

But free weights can encourage more creative means of incorporating weights, such as enhancing body weight movements. Those can help keep you with the program, since you can do them anywhere; however, for guys trying to build size, Reed said body weight exercise won’t challenge your body enough if size is your goal

Kettle bells’ irregular shape work the core muscles more, giving more value to each workout. But they can be unwieldy and bulky to store for home workouts.

Resistance bands are both portable and easy to store; however, like body weight exercises, they may not offer enough challenge.

Reed encourages resistance trainers to vary the workout with different types of equipment and movements.

“If you do the same thing over and over, you’re not tricking the muscle and it gets used to it,” Reed said. “The more variety the better.”

John Jarosz, certified personal trainer and owner of Apex Personal Training, provides training at Steel Mill Gym in Buffalo, among other venues.

“Use different types of movements for same muscle group,” he said. “Getting in a rut is the worst thing people could do, just going through the motions. That’s where you hit plateaus.

“Sometimes you see people in the gym five years and they look exactly the same. Your body will adapt to something eventually.”

Remember that gaining muscle also gets tougher the older you get because testosterone levels decrease. That’s the hormone that helps men pack on–and retain — muscle tissue.

“Most men are unaware that once they reach 40, testosterone production drops 1 percent per year,” said Linda Ann Taylor, board certified adult nurse practitioner for Invision Health in Williamsville. “If we get their testosterone levels up, that can help them have better lean muscle mass.”