Sometimes listening to people at the gym talk can be interesting. Some of the time the conversations you overhear by someone near you at the dumbbell rack is just about life but other times it is about training. It is those training conversations that fascinate me the most.
The most interesting of these conversations is when people talk about training for size, strength, or shape. It is always confusing to me in some sense because people seem to often want one or two of the three but not all three. Or other times they just want one and most definitely don’t want the others.
“Yeah I really want to get stronger and maybe shape up my biceps a little but I don’t really want to add too much size.”
But these three concepts are so interrelated that people need to be aware that all three will be happening at the same time whether the really want them to or not.
The Combination Effect
What happens when you work a muscle using an exercise? The muscle fibers in the area worked are stressed. That stress causes them to become damaged and then if the proper nutrients are available along with rest they will grow back stronger and thicker. It tends to be difficult to limit yourself when lifting to gain only size or only strength. The two concepts go hand in hand.
While you can find some lifters that are naturally leaner and very strong one of the few ways to do this is by mixing in regular session of endurance work so that the body is trying to adapt to multiple types of stress on the muscles. But even by doing this, as you get stronger your muscles are going to become larger and thicker. By the same token large muscle size equates strength. While not all bodybuilders can go toe to toe with a powerlifter for weight lifting totals, that is more of a result of a different focus.
Which of course leads us to shape. Whenever you are training with an exercise you are training the shape of your muscles and thus your body. Most powerlifters do not train for shape like a bodybuilder does so they usually don’t look the same with their shirts off. If you focus all of your attention on training the peak of your biceps by using just concentration curls and never working the length or bottom section of the muscle then you will develop a specific shape. The same goes for other exercises. If you never use incline or decline work on chest day your chest will not be as developed in the upper and lower sections.
Everything is Related
No matter what you are doing at the gym it involves training for size, strength, and shape. But the manner in which you train dictates the emphasis on those categories. Many women lifters try and train exclusively for shape because they want their body to look differently. They usually do not want any size and strength is a nice bonus. But after a year of following a solid routine most women who stick with a program have gained muscle size, strength, and the shape they are looking for. While they might not weigh much more on the scale that usually due to fat loss balancing out the muscle weight gain. That is not to say they are now large like a bodybuilder, but all three things still happened.
The bottom line is you need to be aware that all three things will happen no matter what. Your training style should be adjusted specifically to meet your goals but don’t try and fool yourself into think all three aren’t going to happen, because they are. Heck, most of us would love if all three happened quickly and easily.