Muscle Size Proportional to Strength?

September 16th, 2007 by Paul Johnson

The ultimate goal of male bodybuilders is to increase muscle size as much as possible. We all have heard theories from bodybuilders about what causes strength and how it relates to muscle size. Is strength gains necessary to gain muscle or is muscle gains needed to gain strength? or perhaps science suggests there is no connection between muscle size and strength? Read on to find out the answer.

Studies have shown that muscle tissue has similiar "strength" in all people of equivalent sizes. They measure muscle size by cross sectional diameter and then testing the power output of a muscle fiber. If this is the case, then why do some people of similiar muscle size seem to be vary widely in strength during training?

Strength during actual weight lifting, is a result of a variety of factors. When you are an experienced powerlifter/bodybuilder, your weight training experience has adapted you to have a stronger neural connection. This allows you to be stronger than lesser experienced individuals. The type of training you do also can effect how strong these neural connections get. For example, people who do lower reps and heavier weight, can get stronger than those who do higher reps and lighter weight.

Some people are also naturally stronger per unit of muscle, due to anatomical differences. There have been studies showing muscle attachments can determine your natural strength. In other words, some people naturally start at a higher strength level before even lifting their first weight.

You may have heard it said here and elsewhere, that increasing strength ultimately leads to muscle gain. We know this to be false from experience, as we all know those skinny hardgainers who get much stronger, but never seem to gain a pound of muscle. Olympic gymnast often get much stronger without gaining substantial amount of mass. The increase in strength without muscle mass, is due to lack of calories in the hardgainers and very low reps and high weight in the olympic gymnast.

There is a limit how much strength you can ultimately gain without size. This is why you won't see small guys in any powerlifting competitions. One thing that will always be true, is if you gain muscle, strength will ALWAYS follow. If each muscle fiber has the same amount of strength, then the more you gain you should have a proportional increase in strength. If you aren't getting stronger, then you aren't gaining significant muscle. Sometimes strength can plateau because of lack of sleep or a hectic schedule, but in the long run you should get stronger if you gain muscle. Therefore, strength gains is probably the best indicator of actual muscle gains when trying a supplement or steroid, to see how well it works.


It can be kind of confusing to keep track of everything, so let's summarize it. Each pound of muscle inherently has roughly the amount of strength regardless of bodytype, training, or sex. Your strength during training, is the result of muscle size and anatomical differences and training experience. Muscle gains always lead to strength gains, but strength gains do not always produce muscle gains.

  1. vickram on October 28th, 2008

    extremely helpful article, tyvm!

  2. J.m.b. on July 25th, 2009

    This explains why people of smaller size were stronger than me in the past..