Maybe you know someone like my friend Mark, he’s the strongest person I know and in the gym. Mark can easily clean and press 110kg. Mark’s not a big, muscular guy, in fact if you didn’t see him with that loaded barbell above his head you’d never believe he could do it. Mark is an excellent example of ‘Dense muscle vs big muscle’, how muscular strength is not dependent on muscle size.

Mark is compact and strong primarily because his muscles are dense. They contain more muscle fibers than the bodybuilder next to him in the gym whose muscles are larger but much less dense. This physiological difference is best demonstrated by two very different types of weightlifters you might run across in the gym:

  • Bodybuilders
  • and Powerlifters

The difference between bodybuilders and powerlifters

Both groups train hard, both use pretty much the same equipment, but both have very different training goals and objectives. The powerlifter trains strictly for strength while the bodybuilder trains for size. Let’s take a closer look at each group.

Why are powerlifters so strong

With few exceptions, powerlifters are not as big or muscular as bodybuilders, they train for strength and always strive to lift MORE. This strength training develops strong dense muscles that allow them to bench press, squat and deadlift more weight than bodybuilders dream of lifting. Powerlifters train and compete using low reps and explosive power which cause myofibrillar hypertrophy, or enlargement of the muscle fibre. As the muscle gains more myofibrils, it becomes more dense which results in a greater ability to exert muscular strength.

How bodybuilders get so big

Bodybuilders on the other hand train with lighter weights at higher reps usually with a smooth, even cadence. They train for volume and the pump which results in sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, an increase in the volume of the muscle cell fluid, sarcoplasm. Bodybuilders train to increase the volume of sarcoplasm which causes the size of muscles to increase while the density of the muscle fibres decreases, and there is minimal increase in muscular strength.

Dense muscle vs big muscle, which would you prefer?

Which body type do you prefer? Lean, mean and wiry with dense strong muscles? Concentrate on fewer sets with heavy weights and by doing less than 5 reps per set.

Or maybe you prefer bigger and more muscular for the sake of appearance. You’ll gain more muscle size but you don’t get as strong by doing lighter sets of 8-12 reps or more.

Regardless of your body type or preference, remember that stronger does not necessarily mean bigger, and bigger does not necessarily equal stronger. Train Hard!

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