S.O.S. - Strength or Size?


Ed at 50 and focused

Ed at 50 and focused

To build a better body, a person needs to train with purpose. Goals and objectives must be identified for our training. One of the basic questions we must ask ourselves if whether we are training for muscle strength or muscle size. If you have never even considered this question, but rather opted for the health club line of “toning up” then you will fail in your attempts at building a better body. Let me repeat that again, without separate and specific training protocols for increasing muscle strength and then increasing muscle size, you are wasting your workout time!

I have seen dedicated health club members go year after year with consistent effort with NO improvement. Let us get real about building a better body. Take the analogy of home construction. First, a foundation is laid of basic heavy concrete. Next, carpenters add a frame with lots of lumber and plywood on that foundation. At that point, if a person were to drive by the construction site he would see a solid building, not finished of course but he would see significant observable results. Do you not want the same significant observable results from your workouts?

So, let’s get back to my question of strength or size. To help you answer this you should know the following:

A. You will only gain a certain amount of muscle size with a muscle size building routine before you need to train for strength.

B. You will increase a certain amount of strength with a strength routine before you need to train for size.

Back to our home analogy, the heavy concrete foundation is strength and built on that is our frame of size. To put it in relation to time, train 1 month for strength and 2 months for size then back again.

Pushups with weight vest

Pushups with weight vest

Characteristics of a Strength Routine:

- few heavy compound movements

- 2-3 minutes rest between sets

- 3-5 rep range

- repeat same workouts 2 times a week

- 6 workouts per week – 30 minutes long

Characteristics of a Size Routine:

- several medium weight compound and isolation movements

- 30-60 seconds between sets with some super sets (sets performed back to back with no rest)

- 8-12 rep range

- perform same workout once a week

- 6 workouts per week

- 45 minutes long

Pull ups with weight vest

Pull ups with weight vest

The focus of the strength routine is a few heavy quality moves, whereas the focus of the size routine is 50% more lifts of a medium weight.

Here is my personal strength routine:

Monday & Thursday - Dead lifts & shrugs

After a warm-up I proceed to dead lifts, rest, shrugs, rest, dead lifts. Repeat the cycle as often as possible in 30 minutes. Lift as heavy as possible for 5 reps a set. Recording my weight and increasing it every Monday (starting the second week)

After two workouts you will know the number of sets you can perform in the 30 minute timeframe.

Tuesday & Friday - Wide grip chin-ups with weight & standing military presses

After a warm-up, I proceed to wide grip chin-ups with weights, rest, standing military presses, rest, wide grip chin-ups. Repeat the cycle as often as possible in 30 minutes. Lift as heavy as possible for 5 reps a set. Recording my weight and increasing it every Friday (starting the second week)

Wednesday & Saturday - Incline bench dumbbell presses* & parallel bar dips with weight vest

Follow the same procedure as the above two workouts (presses, rest, dips, rest, etc) Weight is increased every Wednesday (starting the second week)

* Occasionally I substitute this exercise with pushups with weight vest and my feet elevated on a box.

Shrugs and Dead lifts

Shrugs and Dead lifts

Note: The above routine is basic, heavy and hard. You will not see health club soft bodies doing any of the above exercises with heavy weights in the 5 rep range. You will notice after a couple of heavy sets your rest periods will become longer. That is OK as long as you do not exceed 3 minutes in the later part of your 30 minute routine. You increase the weight Monday, Wednesday and Friday as long as you keep the same reps and sets per session. After four weeks you should be significantly stronger on any exercise that you may do in the size routine. This strength routine, except for your calves, works the entire body. Your grip, forearms and even your abs will be worked. Try this for a month for some serious total body strengthening. Next month I will feature my size routine in Part II of S.O.S.