THE SCIENCE BEHIND fitness and health is wild, crazy, and ever-changing. One minute a study supports a particular claim, then next it’s the worst thing you could possibly do to or for yourself. Today, we explain the difference between strength and size training.

Are strength and size training related?

There is definitely a measure of carryover from strength training to size training, and vice versa. That said, there are also very key distinctions. Making a muscle grow requires a slightly altered approach than it does to make a muscle stronger. We have to remember that training a muscle strictly for the cosmetic—namely, to make it larger—means the emphasis shouldn’t be so closely focused on your performance, or weight lifted; rather it should be on the training effect your workouts have on your muscles. The volume of exercise and completeness of muscle fiber breakdown are directly related to the results you see in the mirror. The idea is to have your muscles work to full exhaustion. In many cases this doesn’t necessarily take much weight in a well-planned isolation workout. More important is the cumulative effect that the workout has on your muscle tissue.

When it comes to adding strength, the most effective way would come through making the “base” of your exercise routine consist of larger movements. The compound style exercises like squatting, deadlifting, and bench-pressing are great choices to allow the body to recruit many muscle fibers in one shot. That total body exertion, especially under heavy loads, encourages greater hormone release and trains fast-twitch fibers to be more responsive and fire harder. These are keys to gaining strength. Here’s where things differ. Because of the large impact on the hormones, the heavy lifting, and the compound movements, generally speaking, strength training will have a greater impact on the central nervous system. It really takes a beating with repeated maximal efforts, so rest time between sets, and between training days as a whole, needs to be closely monitored so as to avoid adverse effects.

Here’s the cool part: With size comes strength. If you ever wondered why powerlifters are all so large and typically carry an appreciable layer of body fat, you’ve now learned the answer. The larger the surface area of the unit, the more force that unit will be able to apply against a resistance. Those big guys wouldn’t be able to bench 700lbs if they only weighed 175. Applying this, building muscle and gaining strength can go hand-in-hand if you train smart. If you’re an intermediate lifter who wants to break a strength plateau, the answer may be to add some more size first. Be careful, however, and make strength training your goal if a basic foundation is what you’re lacking.