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I'm 20 6'3 and trying to gain strength with very little increase in my size.Are there any specific things i should be doing when lifting so i gain muscle strength without any size increases? i notice a lot of powerlifters have size on them as well, which is not what i want.I want their strength but not the size.Keep in mind I'm not aiming to be a powerlifter.

  • You can combine bodybuilding and powerlifting trainings; however, it wouldn't give you a 100% strength you would have expected to gain from powerlifting alone. – Kneel-Before-ZOD Sep 16 '15 at 3:14
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There have been studies on that topic and it happens that strength more or less depends on 3 factors:

  • Cross-sectional area of your muscles (i.e. your "size") is the biggest/most reliable factor
  • Neural efficiency is another factor: when you lift heavy things you get used to lifting heavy things
  • Anthropomorphic factors, i.e. your leverages which will be more or less good for some lifts

Powerlifting and general strength training consists (to simplify) in two phases (which are trained alternatively or concurrently depending on the level of the trainee and the training methodology):

  1. Accumulating volume (think of volume as an abstract value quantifying how much work you have done) to generate hypertrophy. Hypertrophy helps you get stronger (see mainly factor 1), healthier by stabilizing your joints and helping your lift more safely, and in shape by burning calories.
  2. Taking the existing muscle mass and making it more efficient at lifting heavy weights (what we usually call "strong"). This is dipping more into factor 2.
  3. (there is also a 3rd phase called peaking, but that's purely for pre-competition purpose so I'll avoid talking about it)

Therefore, depending on what you mean by not getting bigger, you will either severely limit yourself to fighting for bits of neural efficiency out of your existing muscle tissue, push through and risk your health, or you will have to accept some degree of size increase. However, if your only fear is to become too heavy, rest assured that it will mainly depend on what you actually eat as your body cannot create muscle out of thin air.

That being said, limiting your diet will mean that your body will have a harder time recovering from your training (as the absence of food is seen as another stressor), so you have to adapt your training accordingly.

Training

Look for low volume training regimen as they will not stress your body too much, allowing you to get stronger on a minimal diet. If you are just starting, I would recommend starting with something like Starting Strength, and follow it by the Texas Method once you will have stalled on your lifts. Once you've exhausted your gains on those two training templates, you will have to start gaining or stop there.

Diet & Recovery

Since you need to be in a caloric maintenance or deficit, it is important that you get your diet and recovery factors dialed in 100%. The first step towards that is to get your daily protein requirement so that all of your food is used intelligently. The usual cut off is 1g of protein per lb of bodyweight, but you can go as low as 0.8g/lb with no harm.

Recovery-wise, you need to sleep. Sleep is the most important recovery factor (along with food) and you are going to hurt yourself if you do not get at least 7h30 (+/- 30 min) per night.

Good luck and train safely.

  • I would upvote this multiple times if I could. You hit every point I would. You can't really have powerlifter strength without powerlifter size, and the advice on training is also spot on. – Berin Loritsch Sep 17 '15 at 16:26
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There are two ways to approach this that can work together.

Diet

Your body's size is largely dependent on how much you eat, followed by how much of what you eat, and then by physical activity. The key point here is how much you eat. If you eat at maintenance, your body weight will remain the same (you might lose fat over time). You can also eat slightly lower than maintenance (no more than 10%-15% below). In this case your weight will decline, most of that weight will be fat loss. This also means that if you frequently eat above maintenance (once in a while won't hurt you) then you will gain size whether that's from fat or muscle.

Note: After a while, eating at or below maintenance may affect your ability to continue getting stronger. In this scenario, it may benefit you to eat above maintenance for a while to increase strength further and then cut back down.

Training

Training for maximal strength tends to revolve around lower reps per set and a lower overall volume. If you are a beginner, then following a beginner's program is your best option at the moment.

If not a beginner, structuring your training around a lower rep scheme will provide more benefit for your goals. Sticking to around 5 or fewer reps per set will provide more stimulus for your body to neurologically adapt to moving heavy weight (that's what strength is: your efficiently using your muscles).

Following a good powerlifting program or Olympic weightlifting program (doesn't mean you have to compete) will also provide you the training you seek to increase strength. As long as you don't eat everything in sight, your size will remain more-or-less the same.

A final note: as you lose fat you will appear to get bigger even if your size hasn't actually changed.

  • I don't believe this directly addresses the question, although some good supporting points are made... – Hituptony Sep 16 '15 at 18:32
  • @Hituptony: in a nutshell: Q: "How should I train for strength with very minimal size increase?" A: "Eat at or below maintenance, if a beginner then follow a beginner program, otherwise focus on lower reps." From my point of view, that answers the question. – Alex L Sep 16 '15 at 18:37
  • Eating below maintenance will not prevent your body from growing. It really is based on the training. Although I agree diet is important, I don't think that's going to determine the type of training he needs in order to gain strength but not size. Lower reps will build size. Please review my answer. This question is about training, not diet. We don't know if OP is chubby, a hardgainer, huge already. Lot's of unknowns to say eating below maintenance is the ticket. That's for fat loss...You don't eat below maintenance to get stronger. – Hituptony Sep 16 '15 at 18:44
  • @Hituptony: true, eating at or below maintenance won't stop you from growing, but you won't get bigger. – Alex L Sep 16 '15 at 19:04
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Not sure if you're a beginner, but I'd say don't worry about "increase size." The type of size you see on powerlifters take years of intense training, proper dieting, and carefully portioned supplements.

I'd say the fear of "getting too big" is just as silly as "I only want to lose weight in my [body part/area]"

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    Actually, this is fairly inaccurate...... the proper dieting part. A lot of powerlifters do not have proper diets; this is why many of them don't look the part. – Kneel-Before-ZOD Sep 16 '15 at 10:10
  • @Kneel-Before-ZOD Ah you're right, I was confused about "bodybuilders" – ljk Sep 16 '15 at 16:52
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"Train for Strength" can mean very different things to different people.

By strength do you mean muscular endurance, functional strength, powerlifting strength?

To train to be a powerlifter - you will need to break down your muscles and rebuild them via protein synthesis and recovery periods in order to maximize your potential with the given goal with powerlifting.

I would suggest reading up on Sarcoplasmic vs Myofibril Hypertrophy training types http://www.bodyvision.fitness/blog/hypertrophy-difference-between-myofibril-and-sarcoplasmic/

To train for muscular endurance - You can definitely keep your weights lighter and reps higher to stimulate muscular endurance and achieve a physique that will do more sculpting and oppose to a strength program which will give you more mass in your muscles by tearing fibers and creating scar tissue around those parts of the muscles thereby making the size of your muscles grow.

If you lift heavy enough to stimulate a response, chances are you will grow even slightly. After 4 weeks of a consistent program one will notice gains. It may not be so noticeable that you're just a giant now, but your shoulders might be wider and more defined. Your back may be wider or thicker. Your arms may be more vascular, etc. These are side effects of effective lifting.

My question then becomes, What's your goal? Hope this helps!

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I think a lot of the other answers are great, in particular this one, but I'll give you another option to consider: kettlebells.

"Training for strength", simply put, requires a degree of muscle enlargement because the size of a muscle has a significant (but by no means total) influence on strength and power output.

Barbells are, point blank, the most effective way to build strength. If there was a better method, athletes who need strength with ditch barbell training and use the alternative.

I wrote up a simple (but effective) barbell-less program centered around kettlebells recently, and you might want to consider that.

I think most people would consider Pavel Tsatsoline plenty strong, and to my knowledge he only does kettlebell and body weight training.

enter image description here

In fact, in his book Pavel mentions that a big reason kettlebells are popular in law enforcement is for folks who don't want to look big and want to keep hypertrophy to a minimum. I won't get into the not-really-saying-anything-specific term of "functional fitness", but kettlebell exercises are almost entirely multi-joint and frequently full-body. They offer a good blend of muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular stimuluation, and technical movement.

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The way it happened for me. And I must note that I didn't want this to happen yet I could not prevent it.

Go to the gym, get yourself a couple of strenght and muscle gain oriented programs and do them as instructed. Increase the weight everytime you can and just stick to it. Do this for 5 months. While you do this you should also eat less (aim to be cut) and drink protein supplements (100% whey is by far the safest option). Then after 5 months stop exercising for a whole month and stop drinking protein. Your body will start to dissolve your muscles but your strength will remain. After that 1 month just start it over again. Key note: Do not eat a lot, eat maintenance or less.

I am a steady gym goer, I'm counting my third year in the gym exercising 5 times a week religiously. This summer I injured my foot and I was unable to workout for an entire month. I lost a great deal (a great deal) of the muscles I had, but when I returned to the gym I was heart-broken to find out that I didn't lose or only bearly lost my strength. Now I'll have to work twice as hard just to get where I was before.

Try this.

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    Not the downvoter; however, if you stop exercising for a month and reduce your intake, you will lose strength. The good news is that you can easily recover once you restart. – Kneel-Before-ZOD Sep 16 '15 at 15:46
  • I disagree. Before the rest period my Dumbbell Shoulder Press exercise was at 26kg. After my rest period, after I lost most of my muscle my Dumbbell Shoulder Press was 24kg first time and immedately 26kg the next time. Maybe it's just muscle memory, but I did keep my strenght. – Fort Ash Sep 17 '15 at 5:09

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