Strength vs Size: How To Get Big, Get Strong or Do BOTH

Three of the most common reasons a person ever steps into a gym and picks up a weight is because they:

  • Want to build muscle.
  • Want to increase strength.
  • Want to do both equally.

In those first 2 cases, the game plan seems obvious enough. Find a proven workout routine aimed specifically at that one goal and train your ass off using it. Makes perfect sense, right?

Apparently not, because I see people disagreeing with this statement all the time. They’ll argue that getting big and getting strong aren’t mutually exclusive, and there should be no real difference in the way a person trains for either goal.

The question is, are they right? Just what is the difference (if any) between training to build muscle, training to get strong and training for an equal combination of strength AND size?

Let’s find out…

Strength And Size Are The Same, But Different

The first thing you need to know is that these goals, while definitely different, are very closely related to each other.

How so? Well, for starters, the strongest person is also usually the person with the most muscle, and the person with the most muscle is also usually the strongest.

Now sure, you’ll occasionally see some huge dude in the gym struggling with unimpressive weight, just like you’ll occasionally see some short fat guy who looks like he’s never seen the inside of a gym squatting a ton. But generally speaking, there is a definite correlation between being strong and being big (and vice-versa).

Not to mention, the #1 requirement of building muscle is progressive overload, and that basically means that if a natural trainee like you and I aren’t getting stronger over time, we’re probably not building muscle either.

Similarly, while it is very possible for strength gains to be neural (or even technical) rather than muscular, getting stronger is usually going to cause muscle to be built (assuming you’re eating to support it).

So… the goals go hand in hand for sure, and we won’t typically get one without the other… at least not often (and certainly not optimally).

The “Everyone Should Only Train For Strength” Argument

And this is usually the point when certain people like to end the discussion and just claim flat out that everyone, even if they only want to build muscle and look good, should train like a powerlifter.

They’ll say to avoid ALL isolation exercises and machines completely. Train ONLY with low reps. Stick with JUST the major compound lifts. Basically, don’t waste any time training for or even thinking about building muscle… just pick a good strength oriented routine, lift heavy and get strong. The muscle will take care of itself.

Sorry, but these people are morons.

Granted, they are partially correct morons, but still morons nonetheless. Why? Because they’re missing the most important point.

Just Because It Works Doesn’t Mean It’s Optimal

You see, there are definite differences in the type of training that works best for each goal.

Again, there is plenty of overlap and many similarities between them. And sure, an intelligent workout routine aimed strictly at muscle growth will still allow you to get stronger, just like an intelligent workout routine aimed strictly at strength will still allow you to build muscle.

That’s why bodybuilders are strong and powerlifters are big. Like I said before, the goals go hand in hand. So, if you’re training solely for strength, you’ll still be able to build plenty of muscle. That’s where these people are completely correct.

But they become morons when they imply that this is what works BEST for building muscle. And when you recommend that a person with Goal A should train for Goal B because it happens to still produce Goal A, that’s exactly what’s being implied.

And that’s just wrong.

If you want Goal A to happen as quickly and effectively as it possibly can, then you should train directly for Goal A and adjust every aspect of your program in whatever way suits it best. Why the hell should the results you want be a side effect of your program? It should be the one and only focus of it.

It’s like saying a powerlifter should train like a bodybuilder. I can argue that getting stronger is a HUGE component of a muscle building program, and that having more muscle will lead to more strength. So, according to this same dumbass logic, someone only interested in strength should train for size.

Right?

Wait, what’s that you say? That person may still get strong, but it just wouldn’t be the best way for them to train for strength? Yup, you’re absolutely right. And my point is that the opposite is equally true. Training for strength will produce size too, but it’s just not going to be the best way to make it happen.

So while a routine aimed only at strength will work for size and a routine aimed only at size will work for strength, neither will work as well as a routine designed specifically for that goal.

“But No One Got Big Lifting Light Weights!”

I was recently having a little chat with a more “strength focused” individual about this very subject, and after explaining what I just explained, his reply was the headline you see above. That no one ever got big lifting light weights.

Uh… okay… but what does that have to do with anything I just said?

Ohhhh, I know… I get it. When I say “training for muscle and size” he’s taking it to mean training like an idiot. You know, all the stereotypical dumb-shit bodybuilder nonsense I make fun of regularly. For example…

  • Lifting light weights for high reps 100% of the time.
  • Resting 1 minute or less between every set.
  • Doing tons of isolation exercises and hardly any compound exercises.
  • Doing leg extensions and leg curls instead of squats and deadlifts.
  • Doing 100 sets of 100 exercises to “blast your muscles from every angle.”
  • Focusing more on pump than progression.
  • And so on. (Plenty more here: Bodybuilding Workouts SUCK For Building Muscle!)

Yeah, that’s NOT what I mean at all when I say “training for muscle and size.” Instead, I mean using a program that is, above all else, focused on progressive overload and adjusts all of its components (training split, frequency, intensity, volume, rep ranges, rest times, exercise selection, etc.) specifically towards the goal of muscle growth (and of course eating properly to support it).

You know, something like The Muscle Building Workout Routine or the many programs included in The Best Workout Routines.

“But A Beginner Should Only Focus On Strength!”

And this is another common argument that comes up in this conversation. And I agree with it. The majority of what you see in this article is aimed at intermediate and advanced trainees. Beginners, regardless of their specific goal (strength or size) benefit from virtually the exact same thing.

And that is, focusing on getting stronger on a few basic compound movements using a low volume full body routine. No argument from me on that at all.

Well, mostly.

For example, I’m a fan of Starting Strength and have recommended it many times. But let’s say a beginner is mostly interested in size rather than strength. Do they really need to be doing power cleans or would some type of row be a better choice for them? I’d personally go with rows.

And getting strong doing sets of 5 is great. Again, no argument from me on that. But do you know what’s also great? Getting strong doing sets of 8. Really, as long as you’re getting strong, you’re doing it right.

But just making a small adjustment to the rep range you’re getting stronger in or the exercise you’re getting stronger on may better suit the specific goal you’re training for ever so slightly. Sometimes even for a beginner.

The Differences Between Training For Strength or Size

Alright, so now you know that these two goals have some similarities (e.g. both require getting stronger). However, they also have plenty of differences between them that should dictate the specifics of how you train for each.

Want some examples? Here’s the first few that come to mind…

Example #1: Training Split

I’ve covered this topic pretty thoroughly before in my comparison of Full Body vs Upper/Lower vs Body Part Splits, but the take home message was simple.

As long as everything else is done right, just about any sane split can work for damn near every goal. Be it increasing strength, building muscle or anything in between. Everything “works” for everything to some extent because of the overlapping principles between goals. That’s why plenty of people have gotten strong as hell using a body part split and plenty of others have gotten big as hell using a full body split.

However, certain splits are just much more ideal (and proven) than others for certain goals and situations. For strength, upper/lower (and full body) tends to work best. For building muscle, upper/lower and (intelligent) body part splits tend to work best. For beginners with any goal, full body tends to work best.

Example #2: Intensity/Rep Ranges

As I’ve also covered before (How Many Reps Per Set?), just about every rep range is at least somewhat capable of producing your desired training effect (strength or size). That’s why you can get strong doing sets of 10 and get big doing sets of 5.

However, some rep ranges are just much more ideal for certain goals than others. Generally speaking, someone only interested in getting strong will do best spending the majority of their time in the 1-8 rep range. Someone only interested in building muscle will do best spending the majority of their time in the 5-12 rep range.

Yup, this is another perfect example of the overlap I’ve been mentioning. However, it doesn’t change the fact that going slightly lower in reps (and slightly higher in intensity) better suits strength, while going slightly higher in reps (and slightly lower in intensity) better suits size.

Not to mention, someone trying to get as strong as possible might never be able to make it happen without going below 5 reps on a regular basis. But someone only trying to get as big as possible will likely never need to go below 5 reps to make it happen.

They certainly can, but the point is that one goal significantly benefits from it (or just flat out requires it), while the other doesn’t.

Example #3: Rest Periods

The higher your training intensity is (meaning the closer you are to your 1 rep max), the less reps you’ll be doing per set and the more rest you’ll likely need between them. As mentioned above, people training solely for strength will do better training at a higher intensity, which means they’ll often require longer rest periods between sets. Specifically, 2-5 minutes tends to be the ideal range.

People training solely to build muscle or get big will do better training at a slightly lower intensity (note that I didn’t say “low intensity,” I just said a slightly lower intensity by comparison), which means that much rest won’t typically be needed. In this case, 1-3 minutes between sets tends to be ideal.

Again, there’s another example of the overlap between what’s ideal for strength and what’s ideal for size. But again, there is a difference significant enough to warrant making some minor adjustments to the way you train for each.

Example #4: Exercise Selection

The examples I can give here are virtually endless, so let me just give you one.

Let’s say you feel the bench press more in your triceps and shoulders than you do in your chest (a fairly common problem). Now if you only care about getting strong, this wouldn’t matter much because you’re more interested in the movement than the muscles. You don’t really give a crap about what muscle group is moving the weight so long as you’re moving the weight.

But when muscle growth/building a nice looking chest is your primary goal, this instantly becomes something you SHOULD give a crap about because you DO care about the muscles doing the work. At least a little.

So if the bench press isn’t fully providing the optimal training stimulus your chest needs, something needs to be done about it. Whether that means adjusting your form, adjusting your exercise selection or just including other secondary exercises (for example, the incline Hammer Strength machine or dumbbell flyes), it will likely have a significant positive effect on your results.

Now let’s look at it from the other side. Would someone who is only interested in strength and bench pressing a lot of weight ever need to do an exercise like dumbbell flyes or some kind of machine press like the Hammer Strength machine? Nope, probably not.

Whereas exercises like these would have a beneficial effect on that first person training solely for size, they’d likely have little to no beneficial effect at all and may in fact be detrimental to this second person training solely for strength.

This is just one example of MANY.

Similar, But Different

See what I mean? None of the above examples are super huge differences, but they are still differences that will most definitely have an impact on the results you get. Or, the results you fail to get because you’re just not training optimally for your specific goal.

So again, and I can’t overstate this enough… regardless of whether you’re only interested in strength or size, getting stronger is still priority #1. Now if all you care about is strength, then it’s your only priority. But if all you care about is size, then you have additional priorities that you should be taking into account to get the best results possible.

Strength AND Size: How To Train To Get BOTH

So at this point we’re (hopefully) all clear on the similarities and differences between the two goals and how to train for each. Right?

Just in case we’re not, let’s recap.

  • If your primary goal is building muscle, use an intelligently designed workout routine that adjusts all of its components to suit muscle growth. You’ll still get strong as hell, because getting strong is the #1 required component of an effective muscle building program. You just probably won’t get as strong as you would if you were using a routine designed specifically for strength.
  • If your primary goal is getting strong, use an intelligently designed strength routine that adjusts all of its components to suit strength gains. You’ll get strong as hell and, as long as you’re eating to support growth, you’ll grow too. You just probably won’t grow as well as you would if you were using a routine designed specifically for growth.

With that out of the way, there’s one final question that still needs to be answered: What do you do if your primary goal is to both get strong AND build muscle? 

Well, when a person wants an equal combination of strength and size, there are 2 options that I like and would recommend…

Option #1: Combining Goals

One thing you will rarely ever see me recommend is combining goals. Trying to build muscle and lose fat at the same time, or train for some endurance goal while trying to build muscle, or any similar example of trying to meet two (or more) conflicting goals simultaneously is almost always a horrible idea.

Most people will either greatly limit their results or, more commonly, spin their wheels and not get anywhere with either goal.

However, there can be exceptions to this if the two goals are similar enough to each other and have some degree of overlap. Hey, what a coincidence, because that sounds exactly like increasing strength and building muscle!

So, how do you make it work? Well, there’s a few different methods for doing it. Here are 2 of my favorites:

  1. Let’s say you’re using an upper/lower based routine. In the first upper and lower body workout of the week, you could make it more strength focused. Higher intensity, lower rep ranges, mostly (or even entirely) big free weight compound exercises, more rest between sets, and so on. Then in the second upper/lower workouts of the week, you could make it more size focused. Moderate intensity, moderate-higher rep ranges, less rest between sets, still focused on compounds but with some isolation exercises too. So over the course of a week, everything still gets trained twice but one time it’s more of a power/strength day, and the other time it’s more of a size/hypertrophy day.
  2. Let’s again say you’re using an upper/lower based routine. In fact, let’s say you’re using The Muscle Building Workout Routine. In that program, you’re basically doing one primary exercise and one secondary exercise for each major muscle group in each workout (like bench press and then incline dumbbell presses for chest, or rows then lat pull-downs for back). In this case, you can do the primary exercise for somewhere in the 3-6 rep range (for example, 5×5) for more of a strength focus, and then make the secondary exercise for somewhere in the 8-15 rep range (for example, 3×10) for more of a size/muscle building focus.

Option #2: Alternating Goals

A second way to train for an equal combination of getting strong and getting big is to take what I just described in the first option but then break the goals up into phases and cycle between them. Aka… periodization.

For example, you could do sets of 8-10 for the primary exercise and sets of 12-15 for the secondary exercise and call that the “size/muscle building phase.” At the end of that training cycle (6-12 weeks, for example), you could switch to sets of 3-5 for the primary exercise and sets of 6-8 for the secondary exercise and call that the “strength phase.”

You could then alternate between phases for as long as you need/want to.

Strength Matters Most, But Other Stuff Matters Too

Now let’s bring it all together.

If you want to get strong, you need to get stronger (duh). If you want to get big, you still need to get stronger. Regardless of which goal you care about most, getting stronger is still the key component to making it happen.

However, it’s NOT the only component. There are many other aspects of your program and many ways of adjusting them that have proven to better suit one goal more so than the other. Will any of it completely make or break your success? Probably not. But will getting it right improve your success? Absolutely.

So depending on which goal you have (getting strong, building muscle, doing both), you should focus on getting strong as hell while every single one of those adjustments have been made.

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97 Comments

  1. Frank says

    Why do you recommend in your “Muscle Building Workout Routine” doing Leg Curls, when in this article you say this people are “training like an idiot”? Or maybe I’m confused.

    • says

      Yup, you’re confused. As long as it fits with your goals and program, leg curls are a perfectly fine hamstring accessory exercise. That’s why I do them and include them in many of the routines I design. The same goes for dumbbell flyes, lateral raises, biceps curls, triceps extensions and so on.

      What I describe as “training like an idiot” is when these types of exercises are done IN PLACE OF other more important exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses, rows and pull-ups. So doing leg curls as a secondary ham exercise after something like Romanian deadlifts is fine. Doing leg curls instead of deadlifts… that’s when you start to stray into “training like an idiot” territory.

      • Josh says

        Of course, unless the individual is unable to do a full squat and is overweight, the machines prep you. I agree with you from other articles that most are unnatural motions but doing 2 months of exercise and weights I tried a Smith machine squat and went down further than i could before. Now I just need to stop being a wimp and add the squat and others to my workout.

        If one’s flying solo like me, it works but if I hired you, and I had to do hamstring curls, I would be mad. Lol

  2. Josh says

    I have a question for you? I was 290. I am now 235. It has been a heck of a journey but I have focused on weight loss and strength training. At what weight level do you think would be ideal to stop focusing on weight and switch to a more focused intermediate program of strength training with a calorie surplus. Give me a range. :)

    I’d like to aim for under 10% bf. i am 5 10 and 27. Curious if that was too low.

  3. Thomas says

    Another very important topic which is quite easy to understand yet many people don’t really know about. Well done!

    A question only loosely related to this article:

    Neither in The “Muscle Building Workout Routine” nor in really any workout in your guide you mention Dips or Close Grip Bench Presses as Tricep exercises. Surely you have to take into account that they work Chest/Shoulders as well (+ potential shoulder/elbow/wrist injuries), but at least I personally feel that these exercises build muscle a lot faster than e.g. Skull Crushers can ever do.
    I’m sure you have a definite reason for not even mentioning them in any workout except for not doing them and I’m interested in that one before I pick up one of those routines.

    Cheers!

    • says

      Thanks dude, glad you liked it.

      Regarding dips, as I’ve mentioned many times before, I’ve found over the years that they are the cause of shoulder problems for A LOT of people, myself included.

      Some people can do them perfectly fine of course and never have any issues ever, but a surprisingly high number of people can’t.

      And since I have no way of knowing which group every person will fall into, I tend to just leave them out of the programs I design by default. It’s just the safer/smarter thing to do when you’re designing programs for a potentially infinite number of people to use.

      Now if I was designing an individual program for a specific person, I’d know which category they fall into and would adjust accordingly to include dips if it made sense to do so.

      Regarding the close grip bench press, I agree, it’s a good triceps exercise and definitely has it’s place in many routines. It’s just that in many of the programs I’ve designed and put out there so far, they don’t tend to fit as perfectly as an isolation exercise would.

      In those cases, an additional compound pushing exercise would add additional unwanted volume to the chest and shoulders. To make that volume “wanted” instead, other adjustments would need to be made to compensate for it. Dips (assuming you’re doing them for triceps rather than chest) pose a similar issue.

      So, the close grip bench press is one of many great exercises, and dips are too as long as you can do them safely. I’ve designed many other programs that have included both, and if someone wanted to, there are ways to include one (or in some cases both) in most of my other programs too.

      • Thomas says

        Thanks for your reply man, much appreciated.

        Did you refer to your Workout Routines-Guide with that last sentence or other routines you set up? It’s just that I make awesome progress so far using those two exercises (or either one of them) and from that perspective it’d be strange or even dumb to abandon them, I’m however planning to use your Muscle Building Workout Routine and definitely don’t wanna screw with it by substituting something since it’s well thought-out. Any possibility to somehow include of those exercises without screwing the rest up?

  4. Patricia says

    Hi. If I follow your routine plan, can I acquire all of what you have said above? I love doing your plans because I don’t have to think anymove about sets of reps.

  5. Dani says

    Hi! This post(specially your comments about “combining” strengh/size and the “suggested” 5×5 – 3×10) makes me think about maintaining the weights while dieting to avoid muscle loss.

    Should someone doing the 5×5 – 3×10 when “bulking” continue doing that program while “cutting” in order to lift the same weights or could him change to a “basic” 3×8-6 – 3×10-8 for whatever reason he could have (relax joints, bored, stressed of doing reps of 5)? The fact is, for sure he lifts more on a set of 5 than on a set of 8, so he will reduce the weight but on the other side the intensity can be the same if he continues to stop only 1-2 reps from failure.

    I don’t know if this has sense but i was wondering if when we talk about “dieting and reducing the weights while incresing the reps” we are refering to the usually done “I do 15 reps with a bullshit weight in order to sweat and be ripped” or we are talking about all forms of reducing the weight on the bar.

    • says

      I’m not 100% sure I understand your question, but I think the answer you’re looking for is that any reduction to the amount of weight you’re lifting while trying to maintain muscle/strength while losing fat is a bad thing.

      This is true whether the reduction happens because you’re doing the lighter weight for higher reps toning myth bullshit, or just changing your rep range from sets of 5 to sets of 8. The first is much worse of course, but the second is still just a lesser version of doing the exact same thing.

      So if you were benching 200lbs for 5×5 and wanted to now switch to fat loss, changing to 185lbs for 3×8 or whatever is a bad idea. Keep the intensity the same and, if anything, lower volume (for example, maybe 3-4 sets of 5 instead of 5×5) to compensate for any drop in recovery that often comes from being in a deficit.

      • Dani says

        So, I guess in order to move from a 5×5 program to your ultimate training routine (first exercise 3×6-8) the idea is, at least, not being on a deficit. Maybe when maintaining? surplus?

        Thanks ;-)

        • Dani says

          What I’m trying to say is that is obvious that whenever you go higher on reps the amount of weight lifted would be less, but if there is no chance to avoid muscle loss as you would lift less weight, in order to not loose that muscle a person must be stick to the same rep scheme all of his life … or assume that muscle loss. Just curious about that.

          • says

            Changing your set/rep range and therefore the weight being lifting isn’t the problem… it’s doing it while in a deficit that it.

            So as long as you’re at maintenance or in a surplus, changing from 5×5 to 3×6-8 (or vice-versa) is perfectly fine.

  6. Daz says

    Awesome post again Jay! Every time I get confused and start thinking about changing my routine you put out a post that sets me straight again. In this instance, I was thinking about changing to a full body routine after reading a lot about Reg Park, Steve Reeves etc but since my primary goal is just to get bigger I’ll stick with an upper/lower split.

  7. Mike says

    Hey Jay, as always, thanks for the great post!

    I’m currently doing your beginner’s routine, but aim for sets of 3 x 6-8 rather than 8-10. I just find that I can make progress in this range more easily and consistently, and obviously I can use a heavier weight as well, which is important to me. My question to you is this: when adding weight, is there a point at which the drop in reps due to the heavier weight causes enough of a volume drop that it’s counterproductive, and needs to be addressed (by adding a 4th set, perhaps)? For example: let’s say I successfully do 3 x 8 bench presses with 200 lbs, and the next day, I add 10 lbs more. With 210 lbs, let’s say I can only do 6, 5, 5. I’ve now done 16 total reps, down from 24, so my total volume is way down, despite the weight being higher by a bit. Does that matter? Should I try for a 4th set? How much of a drop in total reps is acceptable when adding weight?

    Thanks!

    • says

      For a beginner, I really wouldn’t worry about it at all. The more advanced you get, it MAY become more of an issue, but still usually not enough to actually warrant adding additional sets.

      Plus, in the next workouts, you’ll be adding reps to those sets and gradually building the volume back up that way.

      And also, in the example you gave, you went from 200lbs to 210lbs. Ideally that increase should be from 200lbs to 205lbs, in which case the drop in reps would be less significant.

      • Mike says

        Makes sense. Just out of curiosity – at what point, for the more advanced guys, does the volume drop become significant, and under what circumstances? I’m sure there’s people out there more advanced than me wondering about it.

        Thanks!

        • says

          Well that’s the thing, it depends on the circumstances.

          For example, some people might actually have something like this built into their method of progression.

          So rather than setting a goal of 3×8 or whatever, they might set a goal of reaching a total number of reps on a given exercise and then add/remove sets as needed.

          So when they first progress to a heavier weight, they’d end up with less reps per set but more sets to reach their goal total. But then as they get stronger and add reps to each set, they’d do fewer sets because they reach their goal total sooner. They’d then go up in weight and do it all over again.

      • Anthony says

        Hi! I also had the same question as Andrew had regarding how to include deadlifts into T.M.B.W.R. I’ve been using it for the last three months with great results, but would like to incorporate deadlifts. Thanks for all your help and info!

        • says

          The conventional deadlift is the hardest exercise to program IMO because it A) trains so much of the body (legs, back, etc.) and there’s a ton of overlap, and B) is more taxing on the body as a whole than any other exercise.

          The RDL on the other hand is really just a posterior chain exercise (hamstrings, glutes, and some lower back), so it doesn’t even come close to interfering anywhere else as long as it’s properly programmed. The conventional deadlift does, which is why I tend to stick with RDLs in most of the muscle building programs I design. Strength programs are another story, though.

          I’m definitely not against using them in hypertrophy oriented routines, it’s just that the RDL often fits better (especially in this specific routine) and still provides the needed training stimulus.

  8. Kieran says

    Great article once again. One thing though I’d really like to fully understand, what is the science behind strength vs size? I mean you say if your goal is to mainly build strength you will get strong but not build as much in size compared to if you were aiming for size but it wont get you as strong. Why do muscles grow more in size at reps between 8 – 12 than heavier reps but fewer but get stronger quicker? Does the body respond differently when repairing the muscles somehow or something along those lines?

  9. Kent J says

    I have read in many places about more muscle burning more calories, even while resting. WOuld this be more true for someone building larger muscle mass, versus strength. I am diabetic and seeking to optimize my time in the gym. it would Seem that more muscle fibers would allow me to burn more glucose.

  10. Lucas says

    What about doing the first set for 5 reps, then reduce the weigth and go for 6-12 reps?
    5 reps for strength and 8-12 for hypertrophy.

    • says

      Yup, that’s one way I like (although the first exercise can go even lower in reps… 4-6. the second can go somewhere in the 8-12 range).

      Another is, when using an upper/lower split, have one workout be more strength based and the other more hypertrophy based.

      And another is to do a full training cycle of X number of weeks solely aimed at strength, followed by another training cycle of X weeks aimed solely at hypertrophy. And then keep alternating.

  11. Ryan says

    Hi there,

    Very well done on the article, brilliantly written, however I am still slightly confused.

    For example, my bench has hit a plateau at 58.5kg doing 3 sets of 10 reps. I’ve got my diet, sleep, pre and post-workout nutrition all working like clockwork. I say a plateau, but I manage to do an extra couple of reps on the next bench workout than I could previously e.g. From 10 x 58.5 (Set 1), 10 x 58.5 (Set 2) and 4 x 58.5kg [failure] (Set 3) TO (i.e. the next workout) 10 x 58.5 (Set 1), 10 x 58.5 (Set 2) and 6 x 58.5kg [failure] (Set 3) – adding a couple of extra reps to the bench each workout has been the norm since first hitting 55.0kg. I know that once one overcomes the noob gains (which I already have which may sound surprising) progress isn’t as fast, but for most people this will happen when they are benching in the range of 70-100 kg. So can I increase my bench more by training for size or strength?

    I mean I still don’t understand the difference between the two. Could you answer it in this simple way for me. What would increase someone’s 1 rep maximum the most? Training for size? Or training for strength? Like if someone wants to punch through a wall or something ridiculous like that, what will allow them to punch through it the hardest, training for size or strength? I know that sounds silly, but what I mean is which, out of training for size or training for muscle, will pound for pound build more muscle?

    Sorry for the confundled way I’ve written this, but I can’t think of a better way to describe it.

    Many thanks

    • says

      If your goal is to bench press as much as possible, training for strength is definitely the way to go… as that’s the sole goal of training for strength: to get strong. The sole goal of training for muscle growth is to build muscle. Getting stronger is just one of the main tools used to make that happen.

      As for punching through a wall… neither training for strength or size would be the “right” way. Training specifically for “wall punching” would.

      • Ryan says

        Thanks very much.

        In regards of training for strength, I get that you should do 1-5 reps for an exercise and rest between 2 -4 minutes between sets, and if for strength then 8-12 reps per exercise resting between 45secs – 1 min (rough guides). But what about in between this range, in the 5-7 rep range? Like if I was doing 6 reps incline bench press x 3 sets resting for 45secs in between each set, would this benefit strength or size gains more? Or would this be a happy medium? Or would I be better increasing rep range/reducing rest time or decreasing rep range/increasing rest time?

  12. Brian says

    Hi,

    Incredible Article! Quick question: In your Muscle Building workout routine you design it so that the exercises are broken into groups of 3 sets, or in some cases even as low as 2. I have heard from my bigger friends that a key secret to get a quick advantage at the gym is to group your exercises into 4 sets, and have been doing so for a while now. It seems to work fine (as you mentioned several times any exercise will produce some results), but what is the specific advantage of using 3 sets vs 4 in building muscle?

    • says

      No real advantage or disadvantage to either. There’s nothing magic about 2 sets, or 3 sets, or 4 sets, or 5, 6, 7 or whatever else. It’s just a matter of putting an entire program together in a way that will be as close to optimal as possible in terms of its volume, frequency, exercise selection, rep ranges, etc..

      There’s plenty of different ways to approach each aspect of this, and 3 sets just happens to be my preferred approach in that routine.

      In fact, in The Best Workout Routines, I include other versions of this program, one of which (Version 2) incorporates 4 sets for each primary exercise.

  13. Daniel says

    I have a question, if I wanna do both, get strong and big like you explain in the last part, and I usually work a muscle 2 times a week; can I work on strength one day a week (less reps and more weight), and work on getting toned the second day (more reps and less weight) and how much should I rest in between these two days? Is it going to be effective? If not, how can I can strong and also get kind of like a beach body.

  14. Roel says

    Hi there.

    I love your articles and I have been using your The Muscle Building Workout Routine for almost 3 months now with nice strength gains and body size.

    I wanted to ask how long exactly should I be using your routine?

    I am planning on using a 5×5 routine for a couple months and switching to a bodybuilding routine after I made good strength gains, but I am not entirely sure.

    Would I achieve the same goals by simply continuing to follow your routine forever? Would it be faster or slower within a 2 year time limit?

    I want to add both size and strength before joining the military.

    • says

      You can stick with this program for a long time, actually. As long as you’re deloading every so often (http://www.aworkoutroutine.com/deloading-and-taking-time-off/), you can progress well for quite a while. You could even make some slight adjustments (like exercise changes) every training cycle.

      But as for when/why you’d switch to another routine, I cover that here: http://www.aworkoutroutine.com/when-why-how-often-should-you-change-your-workout-routine/

      • Roel says

        Yes thanks. I have read from your article that one of the reasons for changing to a different routine is due to a change in goals. Evidently I have made good progress with your routine, but I want to perhaps go pure strength for awhile. Since I am already 9 weeks into your program, should I just change after I hit week 12, or keep going until I stall?

        Much appreciated thanks!

          • Roel says

            Thanks a bunch man. I always need reassurance on these things haha my bad :D.

            One last thing. Today I did flat dumbbell presses with 40 lbs, but I couldn’t hit 10, but I did 8. Then I dropped the weight to 35 and finished the last 2 sets with 10 each. Does that mean next Thursday I should try 40 again? Or bump back down to 35 until it is done perfectly? Thanks a bunch again.

  15. Manny says

    Thanks for the info and great site! From reading this article I have a question, though. Just like one is able to mix strength and size goals, would one be able to mix strength and endurance goals. Both weight training and cardio, when it comes to endurance. If there are ways in which that’s possible, which would be the way that works best?

    • says

      It’s certainly possible to combine weight training and normal amounts of cardio. But, mixing really heavy endurance goals with heavy strength goals is pretty tough. With strength and size, there’s lots of overlap between goals. With strength and endurance, the needs of one is sort of counterproductive to the needs of the other.

      Not to say it’s impossible, just harder and less ideal.

      • Manny says

        Alright, got it. & By the way, from the two methods you described in option #1 of combining goals, which would you say works best? I like the first method of doing the A workouts for one goal, and the B workouts for the other. But I feel as though it’d be a bit counter-productive since you’re training for each goal, basically every other week. Just wanted to ask to be able to clear things up in my head.

        • says

          There’s more than enough overlap between goals for the training being performed during one of the workouts to carry over significantly into the training being done in the other… so it wouldn’t be counterproductive at all.

          That strength day/hypertrophy day setup is actually a very popular way of doing it.

          • Manny says

            Okay, and what about for strength and endurance goals? Even though it’s not the most optimal, I still want to know how it works. Sorry about all the questions.

            • says

              Honestly, endurance training isn’t really something I have much personal experience with, so I’m probably not the best person to ask.

              But one option would be to alternate phases of progression/maintenance. So for X weeks you do the bare minimum needed to maintain one goal, while working hard at improving the other. At some point after, you switch.

  16. Stef says

    Hi,

    Really great article (again ;))!

    Just a question: I’m having some serious doubts lately about which routine to follow.. I’ve been following your upper/lower split routine for the last year, just changing rep ranges and exercise, but I’m getting a bit bored lately.
    So now I started doing starting strength because I’d like to get a lot stronger than I am now, before doing another upper/lower split (I also like the fact that a full body is something I never did before). Now my question is: what do you think about the low volume on SS after having such a high amount of volume for so long? (I averaged about 80-100 reps/week). Should I add some extra movements in the 6-10 rep range or should I just follow the program as it is? Rippetoe himself is kind of unclear about adding exercises when for intermediate trainees (been working out for a little more than two years and have decent strength).

    • says

      Are you a beginner? SS is a beginner routine, so I really wouldn’t recommend it if you’re past that stage. There are plenty of other intermediate strength focused full body routines out there if that’s what you’re looking for.

  17. Mitchell says

    hey, you say you can use ‘the muscle building workout routine’ and to train for strength one day (3-6 reps) then hypertrophy on another (8-12 reps). But you also say not to mess with the ‘the muscle building workout routine’ because it’s been carefully designed. so can i alter the rep ranges to train strength and hypertrophy on different days? cheers

      • Mitchell says

        ok, cool! I’m planning on taking on your 2nd option which was a cycle of hypertrophy followed by a cycle of strength and so on. Would you recommend 3 week cycles? and if so, should the deload/light week come after each cycle or could it come after a cycle of hypertrophy and then strength (so after 6 weeks).

        And for this program, could the rotating push/pull/legs work (im thinking this may become difficult in the strength cycle where only compounds are used)or is the upper/lower a better choice?

        cheers again

        • says

          You could actually use upper/lower for the strength cycle, and then the rotating push/pull/legs split for the hypertrophy cycle. That would actually be a pretty interesting (in a good way) approach to setting this up.

          In this case, I’d probably go with longer cycles than 3 weeks. Maybe 8-12 (not including deload weeks). I’d also deload when switching from one cycle to the next. Although, if a deload felt like it’s needed within a cycle, I’d take it based on feel.

  18. Shareef says

    Hey man..what do you think about crossfit? vs the muscle building routine? and in general? should i do cardio (intervals) if my goals are fat loss and muscle/strength?

  19. Danny Kwok says

    Awesome post, and I thought I knew a lot already haha. If you don’t mind me asking, I have three questions, 2 of which are practically nearly identical, that I have been constantly thinking about and could not find the answer anywhere.

    1) I am trying to stick to the 8-12 rep range for optimal muscle growth, and I’m starting the first working set for 12 reps, then increasing the weight gradually and doing 10 reps and then 8. However for the last set I usually burn out and can’t increase the weight without doing more than 4 reps. I am now mainly oriented around bodybuilding, so should I adjust the weight so I can stick to the 8-12 optimal range? Or stick with the increased weight and do whatever I can do even if it is low reps?

    2) Simlar to the previous question, I am also doing weighted pull ups but let’s say I cannot stick to the 8-12 rep range for every set. Should I take the weight off and do body weight pull ups to get into that rep range? Once again I am mainly oriented around building muscle.

    3) I have trouble finding a split in which I can include working out my triceps because if I do chest and tri’s, the tri’s become too sore for my shoulder day. Do you have a push day? I find that I cannot give shoulders 100% if I already burned myself out from chest right before, so push days are not very appealing to me. This is the split I have in mind for now, which incorporates shoulder and tri’s day right after chest day.

    Day 1: Legs/calves
    Day 2: Chest and Core
    Day 3: Shoulders and Triceps
    Day 4: Back/hamstrings and Biceps
    Day 5: Rest

    Thank you so much! Your advice is greatly appreciated.

  20. Andrew says

    Hi, I have one question which I’d be grateful for a response on if possible. Everything you’ve said here makes sense and I’ve no doubt it’s correct but what isn’t explained is the reasoning behind the slightly different rep ranges for the goals of strength building and size building.
    Given that you’ve said 1-8 is the ideal rep range for strength building and 5-12 is ideal for building muscle, what is it about the extra few reps that means that range is that little bit better for building size?

    The reason I ask is because I’ve been lifting for about a year and shifted between sets of 10 and sets of 5 depending on the goal. I began lifting to gain size and saw good results lifting sets of 10, then changed focus more to strength and saw good results lifting sets of 5 but I’m now planning on looking to gain size again and I’m wondering exactly why the optimal way to do this would be to start lifting an extra few reps?
    Obviously I understand I could still gain size working at the same rep range but I’m looking for the optimal approach to focus purely on the size goal and not quite understanding why that subtle difference in reps is better for pure size.

    Thanks

    • says

      Because higher reps provide a different stimulus than lower reps. Higher rep ranges cause more metabolic fatigue and muscular damage than lower reps do (both of which play a role in hypertrophy), while low reps have more of a neural and technical component (both of which are more ideal for strength and less ideal for growth).

  21. Rodney Scott says

    Hello Jay,

    When training for strength and the rep range decreases (hence the intensity increases), how does one apply this to overall volume?

    To further explain, let’s say the goal for exercise “X” as per your program is 3 sets of 6-8 reps (for a total of 18-24 reps) and I wanted to switch over to more of a strength training focus by incorporating heavy triples into my training, would it be as simple as doing say 6-8 sets of 3 (for a total of 18-24 reps) as long as the overall volume cap for the session and ultimately the week is still within the optimal range?

    And if it is that simple and using the same logic, how would heavy doubles or singles be factored into the training protocol? Something tells me there is a line or threshold here when it comes to decreasing the reps and increasing the intensity because 9-12 sets of 2 (for a total of 18-24 reps) or, god, 18-24 sets of 1 (for a total of 18-24 sets) would clearly be ridiculous.

    I’m just wondering if it is that cut and dry or are there other concerns when shifting the focus to strength training. For example, how would you advise factoring in the increase of intensity and the inherent recovery and CNS issues and concerns that come along with this as outlined above?

    Thank you,
    Rodney

    • says

      There’s a lot of ways to do it, but generally speaking as as the reps go down, the number of sets would go up. So as you go from the 6-8 rep range into something like the 3-5 rep range, 4-6 sets would be pretty common.

      But once you start getting into singles and doubles, it becomes a lot less about trying to get a specific amount of volume to add up, and a lot more about a specific training system/program with a specific planned out goal and purpose and method for meeting that goal and purpose.

      • Rodney Scott says

        Hello Jay,

        Thank you very much for your reply. I have some more questions pertaining to volume.

        Are all reps equal? Let me explain. Say one is training all sets leaving about one or two reps in the tank, or say at an RPE of or around 9, are these the types of reps counted towards that total figure that should fall in the optimal volume range? And if muscle building is the goal, would recommend all sets are trained around this RPE?

        Adding to that, how would you recommend accounting for sub RPE 9 reps ie warm up sets, acclimation sets, or, what I refer to as, therapy sets (push up pluses, facepulls or band pull aparts, internal/external shoulder rotations, pullovers or serratus presses, etc – clearly these examples are for someone with shoulder/scapula stability issues).

        Delving even deeper into this topic, what about when one is learning a new movement? For example, if all I have ever done for lower body were squats and deadlifts, and now started to implement say lunges or step-ups into my programming, there will be quite a few “feeler” sets, especially in the beginning of a training cycle, and there will also be a considerable amount of time actually learning the movement with little load (and hence not stressing the body too much and eating into recovery, from my perspective, wouldn’t really be a significant issue) so therefore would the “volume cap” still reign supreme here?

        And furthermore, what if one is returning to a movement from a layoff or an injury? For example, assuming that the same principles outlined above apply in regards to the load placed on body and recovery issue, if I was a 300lb bench presser 6 months ago, but then injured my shoulder and am now healthy enough to re-introduce the movement back into my programming albeit with a significant decrease in intensity (load/stress on body), again, would the volume cap reign supreme? Seems plausible to assume it wouldn’t necessarily apply because the body isn’t really being taxed and really the motor pathways are simply being “re-grooved” for lack of a better way of describing it.

        I apologize for these questions being a bit too ANALytical, but I just always seem to struggle with capping and controlling volume in my programming because there just always seems to be ways to “game” the system and add in more volume, and admittedly, I am a volume junkie. If you were to tell me the optimal range only applies to sets taken to RPE 9, then my immediate response is well what about sets taken to RPE 7 or 8? When I stumbled across your site offering such wonderful information for free (thank you so much by the way), I was fascinated by your recommendations on finding that optimal range for volume, but then, as you can see, I am still looking to “game” the system and am in need of more parameters. And also, I may add, the examples above are about me. I am dealing with coming back from an AC joint separation, from benching of course, and also, as a result, have pretty severe scapular winging on my left side. So any information or advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated!

        Thank you,
        Rodney

  22. says

    Thank you for the article. I have a question in mind. Is it possible to train for both strength and muscle size in same weekly routine ? for example doing squats 2 time a week, Tuesday doing it by 5*5 and Friday 8*3 ? and the same thing with the deadlifts. And then following with secondary exercise such as Leg press or Seated Cable Rows for 6/8 reps per sets?

    • says

      Yes… for example you can make one leg day more strength focused (heavier weight, lower rep ranges, more “strength” oriented exercise selection), and the second leg day more size focused (moderate weight, moderate/higher rep ranges, more hypertrophy oriented exercise selection).

  23. says

    Is it necessary to do direct arm work since they get hit hard with push and pull work? Also, would that be the same for calves, abs and neck?

  24. Richie says

    Wish I came across this website sooner, would of cut out all the bullshit and crap advice i’ve been given.

    Going to give The Muscle Building Workout Routine a crack.

    Two questions I have:

    1. I dont have access to a Leg Curling machine, could I replace leg curls with glute-ham raises?
    2. I don’t have access to a Lat Pulldown machine, could I replace this with pull ups even if it means doing pull ups on Upper Body A & Upper Body B?

  25. Cassidy says

    I’m a beginner weightlifter. I’m pretty thin. Would you recommend me going for strength or for size? I’m more into strength, but I still want to be bigger. Do you think going for strength is ok, since you still build muscle?

    With deadlifts, should you do 3×5 or 5×5?

  26. says

    Jay, I’ve just seen this old article.
    You’re right there is a sensible halfway house between training like an idiot (isolation dominant, machine based, medium to high reps) and the other extreme (compounds only, free weights only, low reps). I went from one extreme to the other, doing leg machines and various curls and pumps then the ’5×5′ programme. I may have increased my strength but my muscles didn’t get bigger (and my form was pretty poor too).

  27. Grunked says

    Hi, I just saw this post, and I thought I’d ask you a question about this since I’m very confused…:/
    I’m a sixteen year old guy and I’ve been seriously lifting weights for the last six months. I’ve been following Shortcut to Size by Jim Stoppani, and it gave me decent results everywhere. However, I was reading about strength training yesterday and I came across a program called Stronglifts 5×5. I really wanted to try it out, but a lot of people said that while it DOES increase strength, it doesn’t increase muscle mass as much. So I was wondering if I could do 4 weeks of stronglifts, then 4 weeks of Shortcut to Size, and keep cycling between them for both strength and muscle.
    Any other tips/suggestions would be greatly appreciated. :)
    Thanks

    • says

      If your primary goal is building muscle, use a program designed specifically for building muscle. If your primary goal is gaining strength, use a program designed specifically for gaining strength.

      Also keep in mind that the majority of the stuff I’ve seen from Stoppani has been laughable horseshit.

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