When training for powerlifting, olympic lifting, strongman events, etc., the majority of training cycles in an overall program would be focused on strength (myofibular hypertrophy) and perhaps power.

Is there any benefit to adding in a cycle focusing on mass (sarcoplasmic hypertrophy)? My first inclination is that it would just add bodyweight and bump me up to a higher weight class, but perhaps there are structural benefits?

  • This site offers a translation of one of Ivan Abadjiev's lectures about weightlifting but many of the things in there apply to powerlifting and strength exercises as well(I can tell for sure because I kind of follow his philosophy). Maybe you should see it and also take a look at other works of his.
    – Tsvetan
    Commented Jan 2, 2012 at 10:02

4 Answers 4


Many lifters, particularly novices, need to focus at least some of their attention on hypertrophy and mass gain in order to have a sufficient muscle mass to make strong. I'm not sure if it's appropriate for intermediates and beyond. I'm also not sure if this would call for a sarcoplasmic hypertrophy phase (in which I imagine one would focus on 10-12 rep sets), or simply doing sets of 5-6 reps instead of 1-3 reps.

Cross-Sectional Area

There are specific structural benefits of having bigger muscles. For one, they provide more space for muscles to operate:

The cross-sectional area of a muscle (rather than volume or length) determines the amount of force it can generate by defining the number of sarcomeres which can operate in parallel.

(Source: Starting Strength wiki)


Many competitive powerlifters espouse a minimum bodyweight necessary to "look like you lift weights" as well as to have the correct body proportions to perform the powerlifting lifts optimally. Several EliteFTS lifters weigh in this Myles Kantor interview of Mike Robertson:

Jim Williams wrote in 1973 regarding physique and squatting, “...the majority of your squat record holders for their size, no matter what class, have big hips. Big hips play a major role in doing heavy or maximum squat movements.”

Dave Tate has similarly remarked, “There’s always a height to weight ratio when it comes to strength. Regardless of what anyone says, if you're 6’2” and weigh 165 lbs, you might pull okay, but you’re not going to squat worth a shit. You don’t have the thickness or the torso. I’m not saying you have to have a fat torso, but a light lifter like that won’t have the torso support for leverage.”

Taking the 6’2”, 165 lb aspiring powerlifter as an example, what’s the least he should weigh to avoid chasing his tail in the squat and the sport in general?

MR: If you’re 6’2” and want to be successful in powerlifting, the minimum weight class you should compete in is the 308 lb class. However, you’d probably do better by moving all the way up to the super heavies.

Just keep in mind that what’s good for your powerlifting total isn’t necessarily good for your body. I would think that a 6’2” guy who weighs in the 220–230 lb range would be able to squat fairly efficiently if he worked hard on mobility and proper technique.

I'll try to relate a picture from Starting Strength 2nd Edition, to illustrate my point. Envision an underdeveloped thigh from the side. Since it is relatively thin, the forces applied by the quadriceps and the hamstrings are not far apart. Now envision a well-developed thigh. Its mass widens the space between the two forces, making a longer and more efficient lever arm. Think of trying to close a door by pushing it close to the hinges, as opposed to pushing it near the handle.

It's on page 83 of SS2E:

A bigger chest - whether from training or genetics - improves bench press efficiency. The increased steepness of the angle of attack of upper fibers of the pec/delt on the humerus increases the efficiency of the pull against the bone. This characteristic of third-class levers is the primary source of the advantages to be obtained by increased bodyweight, and is what is meant by the term "leverage." It applies throughout the barbell exercises.

There are diagrams comparing efficiency with a small chest versus a big chest for bench, and a small thigh versus a big thigh for the squat.

One has more leverage with a bigger muscle.


Consider: the lighter weight classes consistently lift less than the heavier weight classes. If you are training for strength and power with no regard for anything else, you'll want to gain tremendous amounts of size.

It's possible to get very, very, very strong and powerful without gaining much size, or even any size, or doing any hypertrophy-specific work. But being bigger allows you to lift more.

  • This could do with a nice image that shows that the cross-sectional area isn't the same thing as thickness, due to the fact that muscle fibres don't run in nice straight lines
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Nov 21, 2011 at 19:52
  • @IvoFlipse I am unfamiliar with that, could you edit my answer? Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 4:46
  • The point about lever arms is interesting, but it's at the connection to the bone where the leverage is exerted. I don't think gaining weight is going to change anything about the bone size or angles for adults.
    – J. Win.
    Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 21:04
  • 1
    @J.Winchester If a gymnast's bicep is four inches high, he's attacking the attachment to the bone at a more advantageous angle than if it were two inches high, no? It's closer to an optimal 90 degree angle. Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 21:07
  • @DaveLiepmann, that makes sense.
    – J. Win.
    Commented Feb 12, 2012 at 6:59

Myofibrillar and Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy do not lend themselves to being a black and white "it's either one or the other" result. Depending on your initial muscle mass levels, you may put on mass which will be sustained simply because it's muscle you should have had to begin with. In that case, putting on mass would not mean it's sarcoplasmic. Nor does it have to be 100% Myofibril density increase. It can be a combo which favors one or the other.

As far as the benefit of mass goes, let me first correct the previous poster on his nomenclature;

There is no such thing as an 'Olympic Powerlifter'. It's either Olympic Weightlifter OR Powerlifter. Powerlifting is not an olympic event, nor are the two disciplines the same in the execution of their respective lifts. A powerlifter squats, bench presses, and deadlifts, competing in one of many federations at state, regional, national, or world level. An olympic weightlifter snatches (not a power snatch - a full snatch) and clean and jerks (not a power clean - a full clean and jerk), competing under ONE ruling body (the International Weightlifting Federation) and ultimately the goal is to compete in the olympics (if your lifting weights to be a weightlifter and not a just a fitness enthusiast). Strongman Competition I'm not as clear on in terms of ruling bodies. They were under 'Worlds Strongest Man" but that may have changed, and there may be more than one now. Anyway, strongmen compete in a whole variety of odd object lifting, truck pulling, and grip / carrying feats.

Enough on that.

I am a competitive powerlifter in the American Powerlifting Federation in the 242 lb weight class. My opinion is that training for hypertrophy is NOT critical when you are trying to improve your power lifts. It would stand to reason that this is true of olympic weightlifting also. The main reason why is that these are weight class sports. Thus, the stronger you are, while being as light as you can be will be to your benefit. Let me use an example;

The weight class below me is 220 lbs. I lift in the 242 lb class because I actually weigh 233 lbs. So let's say another lifter weighs 239 lbs. Both of us compete at 242 and we achieve the same three lift total of 1,500 lbs. I will win because I am actually lighter even though we are both in the 242 class. Excess fat is obviously the worst. But excessive hypertrophy can be bad too.

There are tons of examples of people who are super strong in powerlifting and very light relative to what they lift.

Bob Peoples deadlifted 725 at 180 lbs of bodyweight.

Lamar Gant deadlifted 688 at 132 lbs of bodyweight, squatted 595 and benched 352.

Dr. Fred Hatfield has a whole list of his accomplishments at various body weights here: http://samson-power.com/ASL/hatfield.html

Rock Lewis benched 600 lbs raw in July 2007 at 241 lbs of bodyweight.

Brian Cass has all three of his lifts over 700 lbs at a bodyweight in the 220's.

It goes on and on... John Inzer, Eric Cressey, ...

Getting bigger DOES NOT necessarily mean getting stronger. And training for hypertrophy specifically is a waste of time in my opinion.

Just be careful when you research this because their are guys 275 lbs and over who squat and deadlift in the 900 lbs and some over 1000, as well as some ultra heavy bench presses. You have to pay attention to whether they are using gear or not - by that I mean squat suits and deadlift suits and bench shirts. The geared (or equipped) bench is over a grand already. The raw world record is 715 lbs. So make sure you know what you're reading before you make conclusions. All the lifts above, with the exception of some of Hatfields lifts, are all raw.


A bigger muscle does not necessarily mean a stronger muscle.

There are two concepts centered around hypertropy. Training for hypertrophy(sarcoplasmic), and the hypertrophy that naturally happens when you lift. Sarcoplasmic and Myofibrillar hypertrophy are not mutually exclusive. When you train for power you will have a little Sacroplasmic and when you train for hypertrophy you will have some Myofibrillar.

If you are training for power (olympic lifting, explosive events) there is no reason to train for hypertrophy(Sarcoplasmic). As evidence you can look at the neuromuscular adaptations of the olympic powerlifters compared to bodybuilders. Even the heavyweight class of Olympic powerlifters(snatch, power clean) has compact muscle.

Now Strength and Power are two different concepts in themselves. You need a base of strength (squat, deadlift) to be able to train Power (snatch, power clean) but once you have that base there is little reason to train for strength (note that this means lifts like a slow squat as opposed to an explosive squat) as it will negatively affect the plyometric neuro responses that are so heavily trained.

You don't need to train for hypertrophy unless you want to have bigger muscles(not necessarily stronger)

  • "Even the heavyweight class of Olympic powerlifters(snatch, power clean) has compact muscle." I think you mean Olympic lifters. Powerlifting is a separate sport. Commented Dec 24, 2014 at 8:50
  • Also, do you mean heavyweight or superheavyweight, which is the top weight class? The heavyweights (e.g. Dimitry Klokov, Oleksiy Torokhtiy) look remarkably like bodybuilders. The superheavies like Rezazadeh don't. But they're all huge. Commented Dec 24, 2014 at 8:53

In the 1980s when I was in my 30s I was 6-2.5 and 198 and squatted officially with 505 in a contest...NO wraps and NO Steroids!! I later squatted in the gym in slightly below parallel with 545. I was an Olympic Lifter primarily and my best split C&J was 162.5 kg (358) and snatch 125 kg (275). So much for all people who squat well having big hips and stout builds. Earlier at one time in my career I was 6-2 and 163 lbs but could power clean and jerk 245 on an exercise set--7 foot 1 inch bar. I could also do a full butt to calves front squat with 270 at this time.

Most benchers of world caliber are supposed to have huge chests, short arms and large arms....Take a look of Mike McDonald {world record holder multiple times in the bench} in the late 1970s and his arms look almost frail and he used no super-suits or wraps.

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