Does Size Really Matter?

Does Size Really Matter?

-Matthew Cavalier

Does size really matter? Men and women have been arguing about this for a very long time. What should we focus on? Is being big more important than performance? First of all, get your head out of the gutter. I’m not talking about the size of her gluteus maximus or his member. I’m talking about muscles. Gains. Hypertrophy. In the gym people are generally training for two things: physique or strength. Yeah, there are people who like to workout for their health, which is important, but this is not for them. For a lot of people, these may seem like two entirely different disciplines that don’t cross over. Bodybuilders generally do not worry a lot about how much they can lift. Their main objective is to stimulate as much growth as they can so that they can build a physique to display on a stage. People who compete in strength sports, like strongman and powerlifting, generally care about their performance in their respective sports and that size only matters in terms of making weight for their meets and competitions. The truth is that everyone from both sides of the aisle can probably benefit from learning about the other. I never trained as a bodybuilder, so it would be outside of my expertise to speak on their behalf. I have, however, trained for strength and performance. So let’s talk about why adding some size and training like a bodybuilder and programming for hypertrophy would be good for someone whose primary goal is increasing performance.

The first thing that should be noted is that a bigger muscle has the ability to be a stronger muscle. Yes, in the strength and performance realm, technique and coordinating one’s muscle groups to work together are how we are able to move heavy things efficiently. Making sure we know how to brace, stabilize our core and spine, how to hinge at the hips, ground our feet into the floor and all the other cues we use are what help us perform at our best. But doesn’t it wouldn’t it make sense that increasing the size of the muscles would make all those cues more effective? Think of it like this. You have two cars. They’re both exactly the same, except one has a four cylinder engine and the other has a V8. Who is the faster car? Obviously, the one with the V8. Think of our bodies as cars and the muscles are the engines that fire up our movement. If we spend time increasing the size of our engines, we will increase our capacity to produce strength. With more muscle mass, we are able to recruit more muscle fibers when executing the technique of our lifts.

The second thing we should know as strength athletes is that adding some size to our frame can help prevent injuries. Training for strength, especially as competitors, is pretty rough on the body. There is a lot of loading, pressure and abuse that our bodies are submitted to. Our joints and bones are stressed. Our spines are compressed and our hips are beaten to hell. Working on our technique and working leverages will only carry us so far. At the end of the day, we need some extra meat on our bones to help us support and move heavy loads. Let’s look at the squat for example. When we are under a barbell for a heavy squat, our entire body is under a lot of pressure. We have a metal bar across our backs, our spines are compressed, our knees are under stress and our hips have to be able to hinge under a lot of pressure. The guy with the tree trunks for legs, the big glutes and broad, thick back is going to have a much easier time supporting and pushing through a heavy squat and feel a lot better about it physically. The more mass we can get under a load, the better our bodies will be able to bear that load.

We can use hypertrophy training as a way to address weaknesses. Bodybuilders use a lot of isolation exercises to target specific muscles in the body to make them grow to fine tune and fill in the gaps of their physique. Strength athletes can and should do the same thing to build up their own weaknesses. Taking a bodybuilder approach to things allows us to pinpoint what we need to and efficiently build up weak spots in our performance. Let’s take the overhead press for example. I had to deal with this fairly recently. I had a hard time locking out the press. I had no issues getting the bar off my chest, but I could not get the bar locked out. So, I figured I should spend some time building up my triceps. Taking some time to do simple exercises like tricep extensions and skull crushers, and taking them to failure like a bodybuilder, allowed me to single out my triceps and get them stronger. After a block of that, my overhead started going up again.

How should you program in hypertrophy work? It really depends on where you are with your preparation for your next competition and what program you’re running, but there are a few ways you can handle it. You can just sprinkle in some extra accessory work in your program to address specific pitfalls. With that approach, you need to be careful as you don’t want to take away from the main objective of your program or mess with your recovery. This is especially true if you are in a peaking phase of your training and need as much specificity as possible. I recommend taking some time in the off season to train specifically for hypertrophy. After your last competition for the year, take three months or so and spend time training like a bodybuilder. Get away from specificity and try a multitude of exercises. Push your sets to failure and push the volume. Don’t be afraid to fill those muscles with blood and get that pump. Hop on the hack squat machine and rep it out until you can’t. Use all the different attachments on the cable machine. Do dumbbell presses and blow that chest up. Take some time to build up your base. You will not only promote some growth and add some size, you will also better condition your body and build up your work capacity to handle the gauntlet that will be your next contest preparation.



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“Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but don’t nobody want to lift no heavy ass weight.” -Ronnie Coleman