Bodybuilders Aren’t Strong?

by Matt Weik

How many of you read the title of the article and your head almost exploded? Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just here to spit some knowledge (new research) your way. Could it be that muscle size really might not be correlated with strength? New research is saying yes.

Say what?

For quite some time people have been talking about how a big muscle is a strong muscle and vice versa. And when you think about it, that theory does kind of make sense. I think many of us followed that motto for quite some time. Research, however, always seems to debunk many theories in the health and fitness world. This seems to be one of those cases.

Researchers now believe that there is a complete separation when it comes to muscle size and muscle strength. Many exercise protocols and programs have been based on the theory that in order to build muscle, you need to build strength. Well, not so fast. Researchers are now saying through their work that there is very little correlation between a change in muscle strength and muscle size when weight training.

Through low or high load weight training, it has now been found to stimulate muscle growth. This is completely separate to strength gains. One researcher said, “As the story goes with exercise-induced changes in strength, neural adaptations are contributing first with muscle growth playing a more prominent role in the latter portion of a training program: however, there is little direct evidence that this is actually true in an adult partaking in a resistance training program.” Another researcher also commented on the study mentioning, “Our paper highlights many potential issues with how we think about changes in strength following exercise.”

Where do we go from here?

Without a doubt, more research is going to need to be done surrounding this topic. There have been other studies done over the years that this new study discredits. Yet, we see different body types every day completing feats of strength. You can watch a 155-pound male squat multiple times his body weight while looking extremely frail. So, while this all shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, more research is definitely needed to gain a better understanding of the differentiation between muscle size and muscle strength and the best way to train for both.

Samuel L. Buckner MS, Scott J. Dankel MS, Kevin T. Mattocks MS, Matthew B. Jessee MS, J. Grant Mouser MS, Brittany R. Counts MS and Jeremy P. Loenneke PhD. The problem of muscle hypertrophy. Muscle & Nerve, November 2016 DOI: 10.1002/mus.25420