As mentioned it is possible to be very strong without being huge or muscular, in my experience high intensity blue collar work (like moving pianos) will often cause this.
A lot of it is also technique and experience. When I used to move furniture it was always amusing to see a new guy who obviously spent a lot of time in a gym struggle with a piece of furniture that a much smaller experienced guy could handle easily.
Muscle hypertrophy is different than strength/power. Bodybuilders care about hypertrophy, about mass, not strength. Hypertrophy has to do the most with increasing the size of fast twitch fibers, not changing how many of them there are. Or getting them to all fire at the same time. The cite above lists some very specific recommendations for those whose prime concern is hypertrophy.
Training for strength/power involves neural adaptations more than does training for bulk. It is more about using all the fibers at one time. Unlike training for bulk only there is more of a need to have lighter sets done explosively as well. The muscles may not get as large but they will be more powerful because more fibers are recruited at a time. Their being strong without that much muscle is not because they have different fiber populations than the bodybuilders, it is because they use more of the fibers at a time.
DSeid - your link is to the MD version of Medscape which requires a login. I happen to have one so I searched google and found this link, which I think is the same thing.
Edit - I’m not sure what you’re saying exactly but i worked my muscles to the point of absolute exhaustion doing small sets at the highest possible weight and then “pyramiding down”. I went from benching 165lbs to 380lbs in about a year - just as an example (i did the full circuit).
Sorry about not realizing on was on the other side of the wall, and thank you for getting a better link. And sorry that I was not clear.
The first small point is that the major difference between bulk and strength is not, as Flyhalf claims, having different composition of muscle fiber types, but mostly how the nervous system recruits the muscle fibers. It was a just a little funny to have him/her be wrong after slapping someone else down for not knowing what they were talking about. Petty of me I know, but I couldn’t help but point that out.
The other was merely highlighting the already given factual answer: muscle mass can be gained without gaining fat, even while losing fat, especially if the individual is starting off from a less fit place.
Since the OP seems to be answered I hope no one minds if I continue the hijack –
So it is possible to gain strength without gaining muscle mass and (to a lesser extent) gain muscle mass without the corresponding amount of strength you would expect? I can’t imagine a huge body builder not being much stronger than the average person even if he wasn’t as strong as you would expect based on his size.
I found the article very interesting but a little difficult to follow.
It seems the best approach for many men would be to try to do both, that is add muscle mass and train the muscles to use more fibers. Is this possible or are they conflicting goals? Is there a workout routine (ie # of reps/ # sets) that is best for achieving this?
Honestly, I have a little trouble with that concept as well. However I do understand how muscle VOLUME could be independent of muscle strength.
Unless there are genetic differences in the efficiency of myosin (and I can’t recall ever reading anything to that effect), then more muscle fibers will mean more strength - leaving aside the issue of the density of neural connections. However I can see muscle volume being dependent upon multiple factors such as glycogen stores - just like a pumped body builder is much bigger than he or she would be after several days of rest.
Did you read the thread? Did you see the “ahem” offered prior to the statement that long distance runners have “a lot” of muscle? I would submit that that is where the “tone” began.
As to your other points, I would say that we’re mostly in agreement. I would, however, argue that a bodybuilder DOES care about strength as it pertains to hypertrophy because generally a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle. A guy who benches 100 pounds for 100 repetitions is ridiculously unlikely to be as big as guy who benches 400 pounds for 5 repetitions. To keep getting bigger (hypertrophy) you must progressively overload the muscles which inevitably means getting stronger (strength).
We agree that your nervous system recruits the muscles necessary for the task at hand and in addition what you have to recruit (i.e., muscle composition) will tend to determine what you’re suited for. I admit that my previous answer may not have been complete, but it doesn’t make what I said not true. They, fiber types and recruitment of those fibers, work together. An advanced lifter is recruiting most of their fibers but they also have more of them.
Assume two lifters, both with the same training age (neural adaptation), but one is 165 lbs and benches 500 lbs. The other is 250 lbs but also benches 500 lbs. Why the difference?
Generally, bodybuilders use heavy weights / low reps to gain mass, and lighter weights / high reps to increase definition. When I was actively trying to put on muscle, I used 3 sets of 8-10 reps to failure. In other words, if I could do 3 sets of 10 reps, the weight was too light, and I added 10%. The goal as to always work out with the maximum weight for a given bodypart.
As for strength / muscle size - there isn’t a one to one correspondence between different people. For example, take a look at Jennifer Thompson - at 130 lbs, she can bench press more that the vast majority of men, regardless of weight. Bodybuilders also use all kinds of potions to “volumize” their muscles, which increase size without increasing strength. When taken to extremes, this leads to abominations like Greg Valentino, who has inflated his arms with Synthol (an oil which causes the muscle to swell).
That said, most bodybuilders are damn strong, even if they aren’t training specifically for strength, like powerlifters do.
The point is what gets maximized. Bodybuilders care about bulk. Weightlifters and other athletes care about power. The former will get stronger in their pursuit of bulk; the latter will get bigger in their pursuit of power. But there will clearly be those with less muscle bulk who have more power if that is what they have trained for.
It does get even more complex however. There proportion each of us have of slow (Type I) and the different sorts of fast twitch (Types IIa and IIb) fibers is genetically determined. They may be able to switch some, but if so not much. Generally if you are a great marathoner you were born with lots of slow twitch that you optimized and would never be able to become a great sprinter let alone a body builder. You are not built to be built that way. And vice versa. Fast twitch fibers (Type II a and b) both have more mass per fiber and more ability to hypertrophy than do slow twitch, which respond less with more myosin and more with more mitochondria and capillaries. During muscular demands groups of muscle fibers are recruited. The slow (Type I) get recruited first, then Type IIa and then Type II b (which are only for explosive actions and fatigue very quickly). Power requires being able to recruit all of those types at once, not just maximizing the cross sectional area. A large cross sectional area also helps. And then there is the fact that, as the cite discussed, both hypertrophy and power benefit from periodization and especially from undulating periodization - meaning that there is real benefit from mixing it up from high weight/low rep to vice versa to plyometric and so on.
And clearly I said as such in my third post. None of your information is new to me and nothing I posted contradicts what you said. That’s why I said we mostly agree.
And the slapdown, if you want to call it that, was for Hilarity coming in with her/his haughty tone about how long distance runners have a lot of muscle. As if everybody knows that. And since you seem to be very knowledgeable about the topic, you know as well as I do that it was a ridiculous statement to make. I would also think you’d agree with my original statement to Markxxx regarding “a lot” of muscle. I wonder why he/she hasn’t been back to tell us just how much muscle he/she has…
It’s just a little funny for you to think you’re slapping me down for not knowing what I’m talking about when clearly I do. Petty of me I know, but I can’t help but point that out.
That’s interesting and I appreciate your breaking it down that way but I have a couple of questions.
Why do you not distinguish between sarcoplasmic and myfibrillar hypertrophy? My impression is that the former produces bulk and the latter produces strength - or by ‘hypertrophy’ should we assume you only mean the latter?
I understand that slow twitch fibers cannot be trained to respond more quickly, but if you do exercises that create myofibrillar hypertrophy, won’t both types of muscle fibers respond to that? I understand that they will respond differently in terms of whether preference is given to creating more myosin or more mitochondria and capillaries, but the end result, an increase in strength, should still be the ultimate result - shouldn’t it?
The reason I ask is that I had worked out for years before that 12-18 month period where I hulked out. I had never made any significant gains. If I were able to increase the amount I could bench by 10lbs over the course of a year, that was a good year. It’s been a while now but I don’t think I’m exaggerating.
The main difference was that I started taking supplements that contained plant sterols. Just like women in menopause can take herbal supplement that mimic estrogen, these supplements contained phytochemicals that mimicked testosterone. Not only did I gain muscle mass and strength more quickly than ever before, buy my recovery rate went from 3 or 4 days of moderate pain after working out, to less than 24 hours - and relatively little pain.
The only other difference at the time was that I was on Prozac which I know did increase both my aggression levels and my pain threshold substantially. While that would account for my being able to work out more intensely, it couldn’t have had any impact on my recovery rate or my ability to get bigger and stronger.
Flyhalf, I really have no interest in going back and forth over this, so I apologize for not restraining myself. The only pertinent point that deserved to be in a GQ thread was to comment that the reason an individual can be VERY strong without having what would be considered a lot of muscle is not so much due to the composition of the muscle (fiber types) as it is to how those fibers are recruited. You are right that we mostly agree and I was wrong to interject myself otherwise.
In answer to your question: I exercise regularly which includes lifting as part of the mix. I have no interest in having much bulk (Craig’s build would be my fantasy body for myself). I also run, bike, swim, jump rope, do the elliptical, do calisthenics, do high intensity intervals and long runs, light weights on the balance disc, a little bit of yoga … it varies depending on my mood and the time of year. I am not a gym rat or an athlete - just a middle aged guy enjoying myself while staying fit.
dzero, I have read of that distinction on the muscle sites but honestly never heard of it in med school or in the journals. It does not make too much sense to me. Type II fibers can hypertrophy and cross section area multiplied by the number of fibers being activated at a time is going to produce force. The velocity of that force will equal power. IIb can move fastest but IIa can keep it up longer. Most hypertrophy occurs, I think, in IIa (those have mitochondria and are therefore able to function aerobically) rather than IIb (which have no mitochondria and function anaerobically only and I think are also sometimes called IIx). Both types of II have well developed sarcoplasmic reticulum and indeed that hypertrophies with exercise, but by so doing it produces strength - because they are what release the calcium causing the contraction.
(Which confuses me, since they say both no change and more sarcoplasmic volume density, but minimally it increases along with the myofibrils to produce explosive power.)
Type 1 doesn’t not contract quickly and they respond to endurance loads. In short, they contract no more when you are lifting your 1-RM than just moving through their range of motion. Move them often for a prolonged time and they respond but do that and you may even lose some Type II.
DSeid. Thank you for your response. I tried to follow the abstract but I had some real problems with terms like “volume density”. Honestly if I heard someone use that in conversation I’d say they were making the term up. I always thought that density was a function of volume (mass / volume), so volume-density I assume would be V * (M/V) which just works out to be mass. Talk about obfuscation. Jeez. However it wouldn’t surprise me to find it is a term of art. I just hope they have a damn good reason for such an apparently bogus construct.
Anyway, I suspect that the molecular mechanics are more of a mystery than anyone wants to let on. I’m happy to let Mother Nature keep a few secrets . . . for now.
They certainly are more of a mystery to me then I’d ever want to let on! It is confusing complicated stuff. And this discussion has not even broached the bit about the value of the eccentric phase (and why that might be)! It is not surprising that so much gets put out there in the pseudoscience and folk science realm and anecdotes when the real science is so complicated and unclear even after so much study.
But as to the op - an individual can gain muscle strength and/or mass (which are not necessarily correlated one to one) without putting on fat mass, and even while losing fat mass. The target is the range in which the calorie demand for daily living, the exercise itself, and the anabolic demands of building the muscle mass (paying particular attention to the protein and carb demands in the window immediately following the weight training) can be met by the combination of food intake and fat burn but no more. A highly trained individual with a low percentage body fat who wants to put on more muscle mass will have much more difficult time doing that though than someone who has more excess fat and is at a lower initial fitness point.
Would you consider Bruce Lee to have had “a lot of muscle”? With pants and a long sleeved shirt on, he’d probably look like a fairly skinny fellow, as he had a small frame. Just curious, as I agree with the majority of what you are saying.
OK, fair enough. So if we are talking “a lot of muscle” as in a total, absolute sense, then he didn’t have “a lot of muscle.” He may have had a lot of muscle for his slight frame, but not a lot compared to a bodybuilder.
In that case, though, you should be consistent and say he wasn’t strong either – after all, he may have been strong for someone with his slight frame or able to do some impressive body weight feats (probably a ton of chinups, 1 fingered pushups, etc.) but he certainly wasn’t STRONG in a total, absolute sense. I bet his bench or squat wasn’t that impressive, even for his weight class.
So Bruce Lee did not have a lot of muscle and he wasn’t strong either… seems to follow, yet doesn’t sound quite right…