5 Facts: Muscle Size vs Strength

The relationship between Muscle Size and Strength has been argued and debated for a very long time. This is because the results of individuals who train with weights vary on such a large scale that it can be hard to determine what exactly solicited anyone's results. Introduce chemical warfare (Anabolic Steroids) and you can be sure the entire subject will become much more clouded than it even was before. The truth is your genetic potential for muscle size from a particular stimulus is different from almost every other individual. The key and the 'Holy Grail' is to find the common ground by which everyone can benefit. Hopefully in this article we can outline the main differences between physiological changes in your body for Muscle Size and that of Strength, and maybe make you think differently about your goals and how to address them.

1. Motor Units

'Motor Units' is a fancy term used to describe the nerves that are connected to your muscle fibres. Everyone is born with their fixed number of Motor Units. Motor Units are turned on either at a few at a time, in a sequence or in a big bunch. They are the nerves that are responsible for Muscle Recruitment. Why is this relevant to us? Well, when we lift weights or use our muscles, our Central Nervous System is switching Motor Units on in a way that is appropriate for the task they are performing, e.g. Less muscle will be recruited for standing up from a chair then if say, we were performing weighted squats in the gym. Our brains can learn to switch on more muscle fibres in a particular path way if we provide enough stimulus, and this is the main theme of what is happening when someone is getting stronger; The heavier the task, the more muscle recruitment needed to complete it.

NOTE: Since averagely (even for heavy gym lifting) a lifter will only recruit approximately 30% of the target muscle fibres to perform an exercise, there is a whole lot of strength the individual can gain while not increasing muscle size (from the 70% remaining fibre not switched on). E.g. A well trained Olympic Lifter may be able to recruit upwards of 70-80% for a one rep max.

2. Muscle Damage

The word 'damage' in this term isn't actually implying any long term injury, but the microscopic muscle tears that occur in muscle fibres while performing tasks. Ever felt stiff or sore from a workout? Most likely it is related to the micro-tears in the muscle tissue due to performing a new task or stimulus. It is normally a temporary feeling, lasting only a few days. However, what is happening in your body is very important with regards to understanding how the muscle grows. Micro-tears are the beginning of the process known as the 'Over-Compensation Phenomenon', named in the sense that we cannot fully define what actually happens at the microscopic level yet. All we know is that our bodies, when given adequate rest and nutrition will repair these micro-tears to be slightly bigger or more adaptive, in the effort to perform that stimulus both more effectively and without further damage.