Monday, March 7, 2011

Strength Training and Muscle Building

“Strength is absolute. It’s unequivocal, you either have it or you don’t. You can call upon it and use it or you cannot.”
-Dr. Ken Leistner

Let’s get one thing straight – strength is always a good thing. Getting stronger is like putting money in the bank, and like money, you can never have too much strength. If you have strength, you will find a time to use it, if you don’t have strength, you will find a time you wish you did.

Everybody should be doing some form of strength training. If you are not making an effort to strengthen your body, you will get weaker. Even children learning to walk are on a progressive strength training journey; from crawling, to walking, to running and jumping – kids get stronger. In healthy older adults, the only thing that separates them physically is their muscle and strength; posture, frailty, energy levels and ultimately their ability to live independently are all largely based on strength. Assuming you fall somewhere in between child and senior, you should be training for strength as well, if for no other reason than you’re going to be old one day too! It’s in your best interest to enter into the golden years with some muscle and strength because it’s going to be on a rapid decline after you get into your 50’s.

Muscle building is a little bit different than strength training; bigger muscles doesn’t necessarily mean stronger muscles, and getting stronger doesn’t necessarily mean getting bigger. The actual size of a muscle has a lot more to do with non-contractile properties than it does functional strength, and building bigger muscles has a lot more to do with the individual and the way they eat than it does their training alone.

Generally speaking, muscle building requires a high calorie, high protein diet with a heavy dose of the male hormone testosterone. The more testosterone you have the more potential you have for muscle building. Women, children and older men will find it very difficult to build muscle. Years of hard training and an animal like appetite is what it takes for the average man with good genetics to build significant muscle, so ladies need not be concerned about “bulking up.”

Unfortunately many women are still under the impression that lifting weights will cause them to “bulk up” and they miss the incredible benefits of strength training. Somewhere along the line the idea of “toning” came into vogue which focused on “shaping” a muscle instead of building it and making it stronger. Understand that you cannot shape a muscle other than making it bigger and to “tone” you need more muscle AND less fat. High repetition, light weight, low intensity training is an ineffective way to do either.

Take a look at the picture below. All of these women are professional athletes and with the exception of the bodybuilder and the long distance runner (neither the “toned” look most women are after), they all have similar levels of bodyfat. With that in mind, the only difference in “tone” is the amount of muscle they have. The weightlifter, Tara Nott, though certainly muscled, is not as big as the bodybuilder but she is much stronger. She’s the only American to win a gold medal in Olympic weightlifting in the last 50 years and she can lift 220lbs overhead. You can imagine how many years of hard and heavy training she put in at the US Olympic training center to build the muscle she has. It did not come over night, in a couple months or even a year. Tara has been lifting limit weights for over a decade. The bodybuilder, Kim Chizovsky, has been lifting weights for a similar time period but competes in a sport where anabolic steroids (read: testosterone) are not tested for. It’s safe to say that it’s “unnatural” for a woman to build so much muscle.

The take home message here is that muscle and strength is not built easy. It takes long hard hours in the gym over a period of years to build either, and the training and dietary regimen is totally different. It’s good to be strong – it makes you harder to kill (all cause mortality). Tone is the absence of fat and the presence of muscle in a relaxed state, and bulking up is not something women should worry about.

“Here’s an amazing photomontage that appeared in the unfortunately short-lived Sports Illustrated for Women many years ago. It features a selection of female Olympic athletes from different sports. That’s right — Olympic athletes. You can’t really be in much better shape than this. I think it speaks for itself.” – Mistress Krista of
(Click the picture to be directed to Krista’s article “Why Don’t You Look Like a Fitness Model”)