Whether your goals are adding strength or adding size, the question in the title of this article is an important one to ask.
The reason why is because too often, lifters spend time training hard, unknowingly facilitating a goal different than their intended one.
In truth, training for strength and training for muscle size have a lot in common.
Both are irrefutably involve resistance training, and often deal with moving loads that are anywhere from moderately heavy to very heavy.
In both cases, the large, compound, primal movement patterns will generally benefit the lifter and facilitate his gains in each respect.
With all of that said, there are noteworthy differences that make size training and strength training mutually exclusive.
And where chasing a pump or having delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) are concerned, it’s worth going through each training goal one at a time.
Pumps & DOMs When Strength Training
From a conventional lifting standpoint, if you’re not moving over 85% of your max effort, you’re not going to increase your absolute strength much, if at all. This is even truer for beginning and novice lifters who definitely have strength to build.
We can therefore conclude that we’re going to be higher up in the weight lifted category, closer to our max to constitute traditional ‘strength training’. We have to remember a few important truths about strength training:
- We train our strongest fibers through the eccentric phases of the lift.
- Absolute strength is a product of the ATP-PC system (anaerobic alactic).
- To perform well in the gym during PR attempts, muscles need to “feel” strong and ready.
The first point is a major one. Everyone can lower more than they can lift. This in itself proves that the eccentric phase of an exercise can deliver more benefits to strength than other components.
Moreover, demonstrating you can pull off a slow, controlled eccentric will prove you’re more stable, athletic, and have a better mind-muscle connection present when weight training.
The tradeoff is this: Heavy, exaggerated eccentrics often tend to cause more microtrauma than concentric training does, and is also more taxing on the nervous system (more on that shortly). That means the chances of getting sore using this method are elevated – especially if it’s not a method you typically use.
Second, strength training is usually performed in shorter bursts; think of a set of 2-5 reps, compared to a marathon set of 15 – 20, or supersets or trisets at ten reps apiece. Another contributor to DOMS is high lactate training, which strength training almost never is.
In short, DOMS isn’t always the indicator of a good workout or “gains” for these basic chemical reasons. What the real thing is that heavy lifting – especially using compound movements – will do is trigger plenty of hormone release from the spinal column. Increasing your testosterone and human growth hormone will do you well in your quest for moving more weight. And for building some muscle, too.
Lastly, the point above ties into the final point: Strength training relies on the efficiency of your Central Nervous System (CNS). Truthfully, everything relies on that efficiency, but performing the greatest feat of strength you’ll do for the entire day in a controlled pattern requires it to be on its "A game", with nothing to compromise it.
That means the overall aim during most of your strength training workouts should be to stimulate your muscles, not destroy them so you can barely lift your limbs after they’re done. We’re trying to bring your nervous system up, not tear it down.
Pumps & DOMs When Training for Muscle Size
Size training, as mentioned, is a bit of a different animal. Though the consistent factor for hypertrophy training is the involvement of fairly significant loads to train with in a traditional weight lifting fashion, there are still several different avenues under that umbrella to achieve the desired end result of building muscle:
- 10x10 German Volume Training
- Gironda’s 8x8 Training
- DOGGCRAPP Method
- Ladder Training
- Pyramid Scheme
- Drop Set Training
- Compound Set Training
The above are 7 of countless popular training methods for hypertrophy, and they all have one thing in common: They completely fatigue the muscles being trained.
The one thing you can guarantee is plenty of blood flow entering the muscles, especially if they’re being trained in an isolation method. There are several lifting techniques that encourage increased blood flow and time under tension to achieve the same purpose of muscle fatigue. Adding volume to the mix by way of several sets of the same exercise, and you’ve got a recipe for cosmetic growth.
Using strategies like mid range partials and rest-pausing are common ways to break down muscle fibers, especially through concentric repetitions, and below is a video of just that. Watch Tom Platz the legend, coach John Meadows through an extended set of hack squats.
Note the mid range partials and drastically long contractions to induce blood flow.
If you’re size training the right way, most of the time, you should be pretty sore from a solid workout, and you should also feel a significant pump during.
Just for clarity, I said “pretty sore”, and I said “most of the time”. It’ll occur more often than strength training, but doesn’t need to happen every single workout – and it definitely doesn’t have to be debilitating soreness to the point of calling in sick for work the next day.
If you’re sore for more than 4 days (which is already a lot), give your nutrition and rest a gut check to see where you’re going wrong. If there are no holes (which I doubt!), then you may plain and simply be overtraining.
Are pumps and DOMS an inarguable mandatory part of each workout if you’re looking to get big or strong? No.
Can you get big and strong while avoiding them altogether? Absolutely not.
At the end of the day, the presence of both play an important role in the changes you see in the mirror and on the gym floor performance wise. As long as you train smart and play the game the proper way, you can employ both safely.