Why Size Does Not Equal To Strength

 
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FACT: SIZE DOES NOT always EQUAL TO STRENGTH. I understand where the logic comes from. The opposing belief seems viable when comparing a toddler to an adult; in which case then yes, size will likely equal to strength. Here I am speaking about the context of physical fitness and athletic performance in adults because although this principle applies to children and young adults when comparing them within the same age category, it’s hard to compare growing children because neither age group are physically mature yet. The truth I want to highlight is that size is not a true measure of strength due to the complex structures which exist within the human body.

On several occasions, in a group class setting, I’ve had women react with complete surprise at how strong I am for such a small person. In Asia, I would say I’m of average size, but I guess to the rest of the world I am what some would consider petite. I am 160cm (approx. 5’ 2’’) and my weight fluctuates between 47 kg-50 kg (approx. 103-110 lbs), but through my athleticism and commitment to training over the years I’ve been able to develop great strength for my size.

Here’s what’s important to understand. Muscle strength is not a matter of size, rather, muscle strength is a matter of force and velocity, which simply put is what allows for muscle contraction to occur. It’s possible to be small in appearance and size but strong in strength. Force is defined as strength or momentum which propels physical action or movement, while velocity is defined as the speed of the movement.

When training for strength, understand that there’s a whole lot more going on under the skin than just lifting, pushing, and moving. What needs to be classified is whether you’re training for size or training for performance and endurance. This difference in classification is what will differentiate between the type of training that’s best to achieve the desired goal. At its scientific level, muscle hypertrophy or muscle growth can occur in two ways: myofibrillar hypertrophy and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Neither of the two are better than the other, nor do they exclusively occur independently of one another, but the distinction creates an emphasis on why defining the goal for training matters.

First understand that each muscle fiber is an individual cell with multiple nuclei. Contraction or shortening of the individual muscle fiber is ultimately responsible for contraction of a whole muscle. Myofibrillar hypertrophy is an increase in the size or thickness of the cellular structures of the muscle fiber through the increase in myofibrils within each muscle fiber. An increase in myofibrils improves the force-production of individual muscle fibers because myofibrils is what contains the contractile (active) proteins: actin and myosin, which what makes muscle contraction possible. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is an increase in the volume of the semi fluid which surrounds individual muscle fibers but doesn’t contain the contractile proteins actin and myosin. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy prioritizes on muscle fibers which contain the proteins used for tissue repair and growth. The increase in volume is what people refer to as muscle “pump,” as this situations creates increased cross-section of muscle fibers, but the enhancement in appearance and size is caused by an increase in semi fluid, but the semi fluid does not impact the contractile capacity of the muscle fibers and therefore does not impact force production. This is why identifying the goal to training is important.

Not all training are made equal because beyond the aesthetic and physical efforts there’s a lot of complex physiological, neurological, and chemical reactions and relationships which occur underneath the skin; beyond what meets the eye. This is why cardio may not be the best for weight loss and why strength training is advocated by many health professionals, because if size alone is what’s desired then there are specific methods of training which are more favorable to such goal while the same is true if performance is what’s desired more. At the end of the day, this is why narrowing to more specific goals and having a clear understanding on what the desired outcome is, beyond just being toned and fit is important.


Resources: 

McCall, Pete. “10 Things to Know About Muscle Fibers.” ACE, 7 May 2015, www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/5411/10-things-to-know-about-muscle-fibers.

Neumann, Donald A., et al. Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System: Foundations for Rehabilitation. Third ed., Elsevier, 2017.

 

What Happened When I Added Weights

 

Circuits have always been my go to because there’s a level of satisfaction to completing a circuit. The speed of circuits keeps me engaged, the level of exertion required is addictive, and the versatility keeps me entertained time and time again. What changed everything for me was when I started to incorporate heavier weights into my circuits.

I remember my first day using weights. It was in a circuited class format, at a studio called F45 (where I've recently joined their team of trainers). At first I was intimidated because my preference is for a lean body and not a bulky body. My fear was grounded in my past of being pretty bulky (I wish I had a picture to show, but I didn’t really take that many back then). Having to buy a size up because my arms or thighs couldn’t fit in wasn’t fun, , so my solution was to avoid heavy weights. (Don’t get me wrong, some women prefer a more muscular physique, but as it comes down to preference, my preference is for a leaner body build).

In the beginning, what kept me coming back to F45 was the fact that this was circuited group training, which means I’m able to continue to do circuits but with friends and other people around me. I remember how hesitant I was to grab the heavy weights in the beginning, but what happened a few weeks after is something I continue to testify about today. Weighted circuits is what transformed my physique and I am forever an advocate for using weights. (I am not about piling on heavy weights just to prove the number I can hold, but what I am talking about is a gradual increase in the weights I use in order to constantly challenge myself and increase my athletic performance).

A bit of background on me, I’ve always been an athletic individual. Playing sports and staying active throughout my life has always been part of my lifestyle. Having an athletic physique is not something new. What F45 helped me achieve is a stronger but leaner figure. (Of course diet plays a role, but I’ve always been a relatively healthy eater, so in my case I know diet wasn’t the differentiator).

In all the years I’ve been training, I always had a problem with looking bulky. In part because I am what most will call a petite figure. Any gain in mass or muscle is therefore quite evident on my figure. I was impressed because in the past, the more I trained the bulkier I looked and the bulkier I became the more awkward my clothes fitted (I don’t know how anyone else feels about this, but having to buy a size up just because my arms or thighs couldn’t fit in the clothes was a personal fashion nightmare). Another gain from training at F45 was seeing changes! I had hit a plateau in my training before joining F45, where results in my physique stagnated and improvements slowed. It was to my delight to find something which actually transformed my body in a new way!

What made the difference at F45 was the combination of moderate to high heart rates, the continuity of the work to rest periods, and the consistent use of weights and resistance (of course). Circuits are about sustaining a level of intensity throughout. Resistance and weights is what helps to increase the challenge of the movements, which otherwise would be hard to achieve without.

What I hadn’t thought about before was how weights and resistance used in a circuit format equates to training for muscle endurance versus muscle hypertrophy. Training for muscle hypertrophy (or bulking) is what I had previously done when using weights. It involved low repetitions, longer rest periods, and therefore relatively low heart rates. I finally realize it wasn’t about the weights, rather it was about how I was using the weights which left me bulky before. The combination I am accustomed to now is where the magic happens! Circuited weight and functional training is where it’s at!

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