Build Muscle, Build Strength or Build Both?

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Build Muscle, Build Strength or Build Both?
© Doug Champigny,
All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

When it comes to weightlifting and working out, each bodybuilder is different. Is your goal to build muscle, to get stronger, to have more energy, to have more endurance or to have better holistic overall fitness? While in the long term you probably want a combination of all of these goals, in the short term you have to tailor your workouts to achieve the goal most important to you right now.

Should I Train To Build Muscle Or To Get Stronger?

Should I Train To Build Muscle Or To Get Stronger?

When hitting the gym for the first time many would-be athletes are unaware of the differences in training styles and the results they provide. Many equate strength with size until they realize the bodybuilders with the biggest muscles aren’t as strong as many of the smaller athletes.

Worse, many first-time gym-goers show up armed with a workout from a bodybuilding magazine because some pro bodybuilder says that’s how they train. Why don’t those workouts give the newbie the same results? First, most pro bodybuilders use steroids and other illegal supplements to let them lift heavier and longer while recovering much faster between workouts.

Second, they’ve already built their mass before becoming a pro, so their current workouts are designed to maintain muscle mass and refine their physique, not add tons of lean mass. Notice how at big shows like the Olympia and the Arnold Classic most competitors are there year after year with only a couple of pounds’ difference year over year, in spite of drugs, heavy use of supplements, etc.

If you spent thousands of dollars a year on even just the legal supplements, would you be happy only gaining 2 or 3 pounds of lean muscle mass a year? Sure, 20 – 30 years from now you’d have added 20 – 30 pounds of muscle, but are you willing to wait that long? Would you stay motivated and still be giving 110% to every workout 5 or 6 years from now? The biggest reason people stop working out is lack of results in a timely manner – the longer it takes to see results that less motivation most athletes have to continue lifting weights.

As such, your first step has to be defining your immediate goals… Which is more important, to YOU, right NOW? To build muscle? Get stronger? Increase endurance and energy reserves? Whichever you’re targeting, you should start to see results within 6 weeks and have noticeable progress within the first 12 weeks. If not, either you’re not working out and eating right consistently or you’re following the wrong training style.

To build muscle and add lean muscle mass to your frame quickly, use moderate weights for higher reps – say 12 to 15 reps per set, 3-4 sets per exercise with 30 seconds or less between sets. Lift and lower the weights at a slow or moderate pace to increase your time under tension (TUT) to maximize the effect of your training. If you can complete every rep of the last set in proper form, increase the weight at your next workout.

To increase strength, however, time under tension is less important than the amount of weight you lift. While in a perfect world one-rep max (1RM) lifts would be perfect for building strength, the human body is too prone to injury to train that way, especially given the inherent weak links at the joints and muscle insertion points. To be safer keep your training to sets of 3-6 reps, and only then after sufficient warm-up sets.

In either case, using proper form and weightlifting technique is paramount – using poor form to lift heavier weights is a recipe for disaster that leads to long-term, possibly permanent injury. And while we all like to think we can recover from anything, even if you do eventually heal you’ll have lost weeks, months or even years of gym time and results in the meantime.

If you can afford it, the best course of action is to hire a certified personal trainer, even if just for that first 3 months to make sure you’ve built successful habits and know what you’re doing every time you pick up a weight in the gym. If you can’t, at least keep an eye on what the personal trainers in your gym are having their clients do – while their workout routine may not be right for your goals, at least you’ll be able to observe proper form when doing each exercise.

If your goal is to build muscle AND get stronger, use periodization – concentrate on one or the other for 4-6 weeks then switch to the other style for a similar period and continue alternating the two as your training continues. This lets you work toward both goals while keeping your body in a metabolic state of growth throughout.

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