Building Muscle Size Vs. Strength

Experts say they usually go hand in hand

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Some men hit the gym to build muscle size. For them, it’s about the bulging biceps and pectoral muscles, ripped abs and thick legs.

For others, such as runners, gaining more strength could help them perform better at their sport, but increasing size may inhibit them.

But to reach either goal, guys need to use different resistance training methods, according to several sources.

Jill Murphy, certified personal trainer and co-owner of Mission Fitness in East Syracuse, said that controlling the entire movement up and down “will create more muscle size. Don’t use momentum or gravity. And it’s a lot safer. Do the movement slowly.”

Perform three to four sets of six to eight repetitions each. After each set, the muscle should feel fatigued to the point of exhaustion and unable to perform the movement with proper form.

If the goal is building greater strength, lift weight light enough to allow three to four sets of a maximum 12 repetitions.

The type of resistance — exercise bands, dumbbells, weight bench, isometric movements or body weight exercises — doesn’t make much difference in building strength or size; however, the equipment does make a difference in likelihood of injury to novices. Experiencing an injury can result in long lasting inactivity.

So which resistance training equipment is best? They all bring different pros and cons.

For example, weight machines with cables tend to encourage more fluid movements than free weights, but it’s mostly seated. Novices tend to rely on gravity and momentum to move free weights instead of keeping them in control throughout the entire range of motion.

But free weights can encourage more creative means of incorporating weights, such as enhancing body weight movements. Those can help keep you with the program, since you can do them anywhere.

“Body weight exercises can be very effective at building lean muscle mass, especially when utilizing single leg exercises and concentrating on engaging your core throughout the movement for added stability and balance,” said Susan Wood, who has a doctorate in physical therapy and works at St. Joseph’s Health Outpatient Physical Therapy at Northeast Medical Center.

Isometric exercise holds a static pose, such as a plank, to the point of muscle exhaustion to build muscle. Wood also mentioned certain yoga poses as helpful.

Kettle bells’ irregular shape work the core muscles more, giving more value to each workout. But they can be unwieldy and bulky to store for home workouts.

Resistance bands are portable, inexpensive and easy to store. They’re also versatile.

“Resistance bands can provide lean muscle mass for the whole body,” Wood said.

However, like body weight exercises, they may not offer enough challenge eventually.

Men tend to focus on certain physical focal points — chest, back and arms — but should instead strengthen and build the whole body to avoid injury.

It’s also important to eat a balanced diet and take rest days between resistance training days. On the rest days, a light aerobic exercise can keep you moving, such as walking, bike riding or swimming. Or, you can work a different muscle group per day, such as upper body one day and lower body on alternating days.

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