By Derek Mann

The Secret to Strength: It's Not Always About Size



You know how sometimes you see someone totally ripped and think, "Wow, they must be super strong"?

But then there's that friend of yours who doesn't look like a bodybuilder but can outlift everyone at the gym. Confusing, right?

Well, sit tight, because we're about to dive into the world of strength, muscles, and why they don't always go hand in hand.

The Myth of Size and Strength

The Prevailing Belief: Big Muscles = Powerhouse

Let's be real for a second. When we think of strong people, our minds often jump to those massive bodybuilders, the ones with biceps the size of our heads and veins popping out like road maps. 

Movies, magazines, and social media have kind of conditioned us to equate big muscles with strength. I mean, if someone's got arms or legs like tree trunks, they've got to be strong, right?

Looking Strong vs. Being Strong: The Real Tea

Now, here's where things get interesting. Just because someone has huge muscles doesn’t mean they're the strongest person in the room. Yeah, it's a shocker! Muscle size (that swole look) is often about aesthetics. It's about how the muscle looks rather than how it performs. 

While those big muscles can indicate strength, it's not a given. On the flip side, there are folks (like yours truly) who might not look like they live at the gym, but when it comes to lifting, stretching, or holding their own body weight, they're champs.

Strength, you see, is not just about muscle size but also about how effectively your muscles work and how well you can control them.

The Science of Building Muscle vs. Building Strength

Ever heard of the term 'muscle hypertrophy'? If not, don't sweat it! In simple words, it’s just a fancy term for muscle growth. Let’s break down the science of building those bulging biceps versus actually being able to, you know, use them effectively.

What is Muscle Hypertrophy?

Muscle hypertrophy is when your muscle fibers grow in size. Think of it as your muscles getting a bit of an ego boost. This happens when you consistently challenge them, causing tiny tears.

Don't worry, these tears are a good thing! When they heal, they grow back thicker, giving that enlarged appearance.

Aesthetics Over Power?

Often, when folks aim for muscle hypertrophy, their primary goal is aesthetics – they want those noticeable, well-defined muscles.

This involves a specific type of training, often focusing on isolation exercises, high repetitions, and working to the point of muscle fatigue.


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Training for Muscle Growth vs. Training for Strength

Training for Size (Muscle Growth)

  • Repetitions and Sets: Typically involves higher repetitions (like 8-12 reps per set) with moderate weight.
  • Rest Intervals: Shorter rest periods between sets (around 30-60 seconds) to maintain muscle tension.
  • Type of Exercises: Focuses more on isolation exercises targeting specific muscle groups, like bicep curls or leg extensions.
  • Goal: Achieve muscle fatigue by the end of each set to stimulate growth.

Training for Strength

  • Repetitions and Sets: Involves lower repetitions (around 1-6 reps per set) but with heavier weights.
  • Rest Intervals: Longer rest periods between sets (around 2-5 minutes) to allow for maximum power output in the next set.
  • Type of Exercises: Prioritizes compound exercises that engage multiple muscle groups, like squats or deadlifts.
  • Goal: Increase the body's ability to produce force. It’s less about muscle exhaustion and more about pushing the body's limit in terms of weight.

My Personal Training Approach

Stretching Muscles to the Max

Every individual has a unique workout routine, and mine might be a bit different than what you’ve seen or heard. You see, I’m a big believer in stretching those muscles to their fullest. And no, I’m not just talking about those pre-workout stretches that most folks do.

  • Dynamic Stretching as a Core Exercise: When I talk about stretching, I mean dynamically using each muscle group, pushing them to their limits. This not only increases flexibility but also preps the muscles for more rigorous activities.
  • The Importance of Full Range Motion: Exercising through a full range of motion ensures every part of the muscle gets worked. This maximizes the muscle's potential and ensures we're not leaving any strength gains on the table.

Disclaimer: This is fitness advice. Please consult with your doctor before starting any new training routines.

Adding Load: It’s All About Body Weight

Lifting weights? Sure, it has its place. But have you ever tried lifting yourself? Your body weight can be your best workout tool, and here's why:

  • Natural Resistance: Using your body weight means you’re working with a resistance that's natural and tailored to you. It's about understanding your body, its limits, and its potential.
  • Functional Strength: By training with body weight, you're not just building muscle—you're building functional strength. This kind of strength is super useful in everyday activities, making you less prone to injuries.
  • Versatility: The beauty of bodyweight exercises? You can do them anywhere! No gym? No problem. Parks, homes, hotel rooms, you name it.
  • Progressive Overload: Just like with weights, you can progressively overload with bodyweight exercises. As you get stronger, you can modify exercises to make them more challenging, ensuring you continue to see progress.

Why I Don’t Look Like a Bodybuilder, but I Feel Like One

Remember when I said I don't train like a bodybuilder? That's because my training is focused more on flexibility and genuine, functional strength rather than just muscle size. 

It's about being able to control and utilize my body in the most effective ways. While I might not have the bulging biceps or massive pecs, I’m proud of the strength I’ve built and trust me, it’s more than skin deep.

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Why Flexibility Matters

In the world of fitness, there's often a lot of talk about strength, endurance, and speed. But let's not forget about a crucial component: flexibility.

While it might not have the flashy appeal of heavy lifting or sprinting, flexibility is the unsung hero in our fitness journey. Let's get into why it's so important.

Benefits of Staying Flexible

Here are the benefits of staying flexible:

  • Reduced Risk of Injuries: Think of your muscles as elastic bands. The more you can stretch them without snapping, the less likely they are to get injured. Staying flexible means your muscles can handle more stress and strain, reducing the chance of sprains and other injuries.
  • Improved Posture & Balance: A flexible body often means a well-aligned body. It can help correct imbalances, ensuring you stand tall and maintain balance during activities.
  • Enhanced Blood Circulation: Stretching and flexibility exercises promote better blood flow, ensuring that your muscles get the oxygen and nutrients they need.
  • Less Pain and Stiffness: Ever wake up feeling like you've turned into the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz? Regular flexibility work can decrease muscle stiffness and alleviate those aches and pains.
  • Better Athletic Performance: From sprinting to swimming, a more flexible body can move more efficiently and effectively, boosting your overall athletic prowess.

Bottom Line

Strength and size might grab headlines, but it's the harmony of flexibility, body awareness, and functional strength that crafts a truly fit body. In the end, it's not about how "fit" you look, but how fit you feel. 

So, whether you're stretching it out, lifting your body weight, or challenging those muscles, remember that every aspect of fitness has its role in sculpting the best version of you. Stay Flexy!