Training to increase strength and training to increase muscle size are not always the same thing. Look at a powerlifter’s training regimen compared to a bodybuilder. However, that doesn't mean that a powerlifter won’t gain muscle, or a bodybuilder won’t get stronger – they absolutely will! But each training style has its components to focus on attaining one adaptation over the other – and therein lies the problem for the ones with the goal of adding mass to their frame.
You can get extremely strong without adding loads of muscle – just look at Olympic weightlifters. However, you cannot really add mass without first attaining a good foundation of strength.
This is what we will cover today – are you strong enough to go on a program that focuses on gaining muscle?
First, we must cover some basics. When it comes to building muscle, there are 3 main pathways to achieving it.
1. Muscular Tension – This is the load placed on the muscle. The heavier the load, the more tension that is placed on the muscle. This is arguably the most important aspect of building muscle (in my opinion). It is the tension applied that causes the muscle fibers to thicken. Super light weights lifted for high reps do not thicken the fibers (more on this in a second).
2. Muscular Damage – When we strength train, our muscles experience micro-traumas in the form of tears. This is felt with soreness of the muscle. With proper nutrition and recovery time, these tears are repaired, and the muscle can come back stronger (and theoretically larger) than before.
3. Metabolic Stress – This is the accumulation of metabolites within the muscle – which is accomplished by light to moderate weights lifted for a higher number of reps. This pushes a lot of fluid into the muscle resulting in intracellular swelling. This is ‘the pump’ you feel when working out (when you feel like your muscles have been blown up like a balloon). This contributes to adding size, but it is seen more so within the muscle cells than the fibers themselves.
If your goal is to build as much muscle as possible, finding an optimal balance of these three things in your training is key to maximizing your ability to do so. None of these 3 pathways are mutually exclusive - they all overlap with each other to some extent. But methods can be employed to drive one more than others.
As I mentioned, muscular tension is the most important of these 3 pathways. Reasons being, firstly, it is the only one that directly leads to thicker muscle fibers, and secondly, the other two pathways are somewhat dependent on it. Muscle damage cannot occur without sufficient tension to tear the muscle and furthermore, a heavy enough weight needs to be lifted in rep ranges that carry over to the intracellular swelling to create metabolic stress. This is usually around 20-25 reps at the most. Anything over that is working the endurance of the muscle and will yield very little in the way of increasing muscle size on a regular basis. In a nutshell, the weight must be heavy enough to reach failure around 25 reps at the most. If you can do more that 25 reps with it then chances are its too light and there will be very minimal gains in hypertrophy made.
Overall, creating sufficient muscular tension is the key ingredient to building mass – whether you’re working in the 3-6 rep range or the 15-20 rep range. This means that to maximize your potential for building muscle – YOU NEED TO GET STRONG FIRST!
This begs the question: how strong is strong enough and how do I know if I am ready to take on a program that specifically focuses on building muscle?
I am glad you asked! Let me introduce you to the Strength Standards for Mass Building.
The Strength standards for building mass
Your path for maximizing your muscle building potential runs through these standards. Your programming should primarily focus on achieving these strength standards before starting a program that has a focus on muscle building. A hypertrophy program executed after achieving these standards will yield ten times better results in gains as opposed to executing it before you are strong enough to hit them.
Why is that?
Because you will be able to utilize heavier loads for all exercises – producing more muscular tension resulting in more muscle damage and increases metabolic stress.
This idea can be summed up in a quote from Paul Carter that I absolutely love because it’s so simple and sums up everything I’ve written in this article up to this point into one sentence,
“If you want to get big, get a pump with heavy weights.”
Here are the standards.
1 Rep Front Squat: Male Standard: 150% Bodyweight. Female Standard: 100% Bodyweight
1 Rep Deadlift: Male Standard: 200% Bodyweight. Female Standard: 150% Bodyweight
1 Rep Bench Press: Male Standard: 150% Bodyweight. Female Standard: 75%xBodyweight OR 5 Rep Dip: Male Standard: 30% Bodyweight. Female Standard: 5x Reps with no additional weight.
1 Rep Strict Press: Male Standard: 100% Bodyweight. Female Standard: 75% Bodyweight
10 Reps Bent Row: Male Standard: 75%Bodyweight. Female Standard: 50% Bodyweight
5 Rep Pull Up: Male Standard: 25% Bodyweight Added. Female Standard: 5 Total Reps with no additional weight.
3 Rep Reverse Lunge (Per Leg): Male Standard: 100% Bodyweight. Female Standard: 75% Bodyweight
30 Second Loaded Carry: Male Standard: 100% Bodyweight. Female Standard: 75% Bodyweight
Now a person doesn’t necessarily have to achieve 100% of these standards before moving on to more muscle building goals, but you should shoot to attain at least 80% of them without neglecting an area of the body. For example, don’t just achieve the upper body standards and leave your lower body as an afterthought.
Quite possibly the best part about these standards is that if you have the goal of building muscle, you are going to get absolutely yoked by achieving these! Assuming your nutrition is in line with aiding that outcome. Focusing on strength if you have never really done so yields fantastic results when it comes to building muscle because most of your programming is driving very high amounts of muscular tension. Then when you switch gears to more of a mass building plan, volume is added to that tension, and you really blow up!
The moral of the story: you must do the gritty work up front. Lay the foundation that will set you up for future success. When you try to rush to the reward before you’ve earned it by cutting corners, the end result will never be as good or rewarding.
If you need help achieving these standards, check out the Strength Foundations program and use the code EARNIT25 for 25% off!
Now it’s time for some fun,
Let’s get it!