This question is a follow on from https://fitness.stackexchange.com/a/11884/5376.

I assumed that as I get stronger, my muscles will get bigger, but it seems that this is not a strictly linear relationship, which indicates that I can increase the amount my muscles can do without increasing their size, (they become more efficient?).

So my question is twofold:

  • How are muscle mass and strength related? What causes an increase in strength but not mass?
  • What are the types of exercises that increase strength but not mass?

I would think that there are some limitations to muscle mass vs strength, that is, that the muscle can reach a maximum efficiency where it has to increase in size before it can be stronger. I'm looking for answers where the muscle hasn't reached this stage yet (and so there is room for increasing in strength or mass).

My goals: I'd like to increase the amount my muscles can do (their strength) rather then increase their mass at least initially.

Assumptions: I'm using the words size and mass interchangeably, even though they strictly aren't the same thing.

  • 6
    This answer may help, as well as this one and this one. Basically: stick to six or less reps for the first few months of lifting, then three or less once you're established, using near-maximal weights. This topic is discussed in depth in Starting Strength and Practical Programming. Commented Mar 11, 2013 at 2:06
  • Do those links answer your question? Commented Mar 11, 2013 at 17:41
  • 1
    This answer and this answer talk about the differences between myofibrilar and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
    – Daniel
    Commented Mar 12, 2013 at 16:50
  • Strength is not proportional to bulk. You will gain mass (ie weight) but your size won't necessarily change much unless you load tons of protein and supplements like creatin (which increases water weight more than anything). Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 22:47

1 Answer 1


You are a woman, so by nature you will not bulk up as much as men since you lack sufficient testosterone. It's a big myth will get bulky just by strength training alone. You muscles will increase in mass but not so much in size (think density).

A good example is Stacy

That said, pick a good strength building routine like Starting Strength or Stronglifts.

  • It is also a big myth that natural levels of testosterone have an influence on muscle building.
    – Baarn
    Commented Mar 12, 2013 at 14:00
  • 2
    @Informaficker That article says that exercise-induced testosterone/growth hormone surges don't have an effect on muscle growth. That's totally distinct from the different levels of those hormones due to gender, which can differ by orders of magnitude. Commented Mar 12, 2013 at 14:04
  • @DaveLiepmann "In the first study, researchers examined the responses of both male and female participants to intense leg exercise. Despite a 45-fold difference in testosterone increase, men and women were able to make new muscle protein at exactly the same rate." (source). That study can be found here.
    – Baarn
    Commented Mar 12, 2013 at 14:23
  • @Informaficker What is your claim? That Jorgen is wrong because he says testosterone is the cause of sex differences in muscle growth, or that there are no sex differences in muscle growth, or that testosterone doesn't affect muscle growth, or something else? Commented Mar 12, 2013 at 14:33
  • I think that the claim that women don't bulk up because of lack of testosterone is wrong as those studies suggest that it isn't related to muscle protein synthesis. I would point my finger at genetics here, as women obviously don't get as bulky as men. (btw not my downvote on the answer)
    – Baarn
    Commented Mar 12, 2013 at 14:36

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