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Does strength affect muscle size?

Bigger weights = Bigger muscles? Is the stronger muscle bigger when form is equal and are we just overcomplicating things?



Marcus Ruhl was renowned for his massive bicep size in the early 2000's. Frequently weighing in at over 260lb on stage he 'rhuled' the mass monster era in terms of sheer size and freak factor. His biceps really stick out in my memory though; massive peaks almost dwarfing his triceps in comparison.


Marcus Rhul posing and showing his huge biceps
The sheer mass of Marcus Rhul

I remember watching his training videos and being enthralled by the intensity, the sheer size of him and the huge amounts of weight he would lift. In particularly, the weights used for his biceps and shoulder exercises were particularly massive and impressive.


Of course there are so many factors that influence the size of a muscle - its never going to be as black and white as a stronger muscle = bigger muscle. If we take away lever length and insertion point differences would we see a significant correlation in muscle strength and size? Surely its a contributing factor?


An athlete with a bicep that covers 8 inches from insertion points at the shoulder and elbow will have more potential for a bigger looking bicep then an athlete who's bicep cover 9 inches from each insertion point. Its just simple logic as the bicep will tend to look more bunched up and appear bigger - think Lee Priest (INSANE ARMS).



Huge weights being curled by Marcus Rhul
Marcus Rhul curling the full cable stack plus additional weight

Bearing this in mind its sometimes

hard to see any correlation between

strength and muscle size because every

human is different. Assuming that 2

athletes trained the identical exercises

in the same rep ranges and had the

exact same lever lengths and insertion

points then I would expect the

bodybuilder who is able to lift the

heavier weights to have the bigger biceps.


Now I'm sure there would be some discrepancies between athletes that might make this not true (twitch fibres?), but out of a pool of 100 lifters i would be confident in the majority of the stronger of those being overall larger than those who are weaker.


Its important to reiterate that training style, proximity to failure, tempo and rep ranges must all be equal for us to ascertain any relevant conclusions. Low rep trainees may skew the results as they will be able to generate greater 1RM's possibly through neurological adapations without creating as much muscle damage (and potentially therefore size) over time. This is a trap I myself have fallen into.


Marcus Rhul showing huge biceps on the bicep preacher curls
Marcus Rhul preacher curling the 30kg's for reps!

Historically, looking at bodybuilders and their biggest bodyparts we can often see that they are most strong on the exercises that train those bodyparts. Eg. Tom Platz's legs and the squat, Ronnie colemans back and his rows, deadlifts, Dorian Yates and his calves and the astronomical weight on his standing calf raises etc. Although only anecdotal it seems to be the case quite often.


We all know the guy in the gym with the stand - out bodypart and then notice his lifts for that bodypart are also particularly impressive.


There are ways and means of increasing the stress on a muscle without increasing strength - but these are finite and sooner or later your back to adding more weight on the bar.


I think we can only speak in very broad terms when approaching a subject like this.


Does strength affect muscle size?


My closing statement would be:


Assuming my form is equal, my 60 kg strict curl will produce more stress on the muscle than my 40kg strict curl. This over time will generate more muscle. There are ways of increasing muscle via more stress without taking the weight up but these are shorter term compared to the benefits of gradually increasing load over a number of years. Over a large pool of lifters the strongest will also generally be the biggest though there will be exceptions to this. From athlete to athlete it may not ALWAYS be the case due to discrepancies in training style, intensity, average reps, level length and insertions points etc.


Thanks for reading, Ross

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