3 Things People Confuse about Strength Training and Mass Gaining

Posted on 30 Jun 2015 22:51


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This sounds like a click-bait blog post but the truth is, I read an article by Todd Bumgardner called 3 Strength Myths and I feel like weighing in on each of those “myths” because I disagree with everything about them.

Myth 1: Growth does NOT require variety

To begin with, you do not need to be overly worried about “growth” when you are discussing Strength Training. I understand that the author’s audience is bodybuilding enthusiasts, but the article was titled "3 Strength Myths" not "3 Muscle Building Myths," and the author claims that growth does NOT require variety, so that is why I have titled this blog post as things people confuse between strength training and gaining mass, which is basically bodybuilding.

Before you strength enthusiasts start with “a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle” let me tell that the only time growth of ANY muscle is relevant is when it is directly related to performance. What does this mean practically? It means that if you are seriously struggling with your deadlift and your upper back is not holding up then you should be doing lots of upper back work to get strength and enudrance in the upper back. This probably will mean you will get a bigger back but this is not your goal. And, this growth MUST translate into getting you stronger on the deadlift. If it does not it was useless in terms of “strength training.”

Now, when it comes to bodybuilding everything is very subjective. How much size are you trying to add to your legs? What have you been doing? Has it been working? There are so many questions but the general answer is that you DO need a few exercises to get the growth going. I’m not talking about doing 10 exercises for your quads; I am saying that the other extreme and simplistic view of “take a barbell and load it for 20-30 total reps in as many sets” is incorrect. You should definitely be doing more than just squats for your legs if you want to add more mass to your legs and you have been doing squats all along – it is either that or you change up the training parameters within which you have been confined to all along.

But this article was targeted towards strength trainees. And for strength trainees the concept of growth is irrelevant. As a strength trainee all that you care about is how strong you are: and that is a performance based assessment not one based on aesthetics. So I am going to give Todd the benefit of the doubt and say that perhaps he meant that for STRENGTH, exercise variety is not important. And that would be a true statement. I have to admit that this may also be a wee bit subjective, again, but the undeniable and irrefutable truth is that to get strong on the squat the bare minimum exercise you absolutely MUST do is the squat.

So the bottom line is that for bodybuilding and getting bigger you will need more than just one exercise to get the job done, and hitting the muscle with variations is beneficial but for strength training – especially PURE strength training, all that you really need is a handful of key exercises that you are trying to improve. So for powerlifters that will be at minimum a form of the big three competition lifts: the squat, bench press and deadlift.

However, for continued growth of a muscle, regardless of the effect on your 1RM, you will eventually hit "growth plateaus." This is when you do one or more exercises consistently, and you progress on those exercises in various ways, and you initially see growth in the target muscle. Then, eventually, even though you continue to seemingly progress, the growth slows down to an immeasurable crawl or stops completely. This can happen due to over-training, but somethings we do not know why it happens. It just does. Usually, a good responses is, you guessed it, variety. It is not about "fooling your muscles" or "keeping them guessing." It is not even about hitting the muscle from various angles. It is simply about resuming growth whatever way you can.

Myth 2: Isolating muscles is not important if you want growth

You know, I try to remain really dispassionate when I am refuting someone’s point. I don’t want to make it personal because that destroys my message. I will end up sounding like Vegan Gains who has successfully bagged everybody good (and bad) in the fitness industry and made a royal nuisance of himself – to the point that even people like me who are on the fence about the people he has labeled “The Worst of the Fitness Industry” will end up thinking of him as having zero credibility (as if being a militant vegan wasn’t bad enough for him). But, it really irritates me when I read statements like “train big compound movements for bigger growth” because they are very misleading.

First off, this article was meant to be about strength and yet the author Todd is talking about adding mass to the body. I don’t understand the train of logic or reason to do so but this is a gross error. Second, you will not get big biceps by doing heavy (or more) squats or pull-ups. You want big biceps? You need to do bicep curls. This is the same faulty logic that misleads people to rely on deadlifts for trap growth. It doesn’t work that way. In fact, I think specifically training your traps to be big and strong via shrugs and upright rows will help stabilize your deadlift because the traps will get involved in the movement and help your deadlift in terms of quality of the rep. I am digressing and that was pure anecdotal experience, but the gist is that you should not rely only on big movements if you want specific areas of your body to grow. Of course, the overlaying fact is that if you are interested in getting strong you should not look at individual muscle groups because strength training is about movements. To improve the squat you need to work towards improving the squat, not towards making your hamstrings larger.

Myth 3: Less Volume is better

Todd is not clear with this point so it is hard to fully refute it. He says that a thousand reps and a thousand sets isn’t the right way to train. But it is not about such extremes. He also says that you don’t need an overabundance of exercises. And I agree with that point. So while I agree that you should choose a few good exercises and hammer away at them with volume, the truth to getting stronger (or bigger) is to be able to do more than your last workout (figuratively). This means that if you are able to do 10 total repetitions in the 90%-100% of your 1RM range, you want to eventually build up enough workload tolerance that you are able to handle more and more reps closer to 100% of your max and you are able to increase that 10 to 12 or 15 or 20 – and only then will you truly know that you have gotten stronger.

To people concerned with absolute strength, the term high volume means something completely different than it does to a bodybuilder. For them, three sets of eight reps might seem high!


Strength Training and training for mass have similarities and the two will overlap many times but they are distinct and different goals. When push comes to shove and you are picking and choosing various approaches or methods, you absolutely must keep these goals at the forefront of your decision making process.

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