First we have to define strength, because it can have two meanings. One, it can refer to endurance or how long you can work a muscle before it reaches failure, or two, it can refer to its ability “to exert force,” meaning how much weight it can lift. In this article we are talking about a muscles ability to exert force.
The answer to this question is yes and no. How’s that for a convoluted answer! Let me explain.
Yes, from the fact that you normally do get stronger when you build muscle, and no from the fact that you can build strength and not get significantly bigger muscles. Because there is an overlap between the two training methodologies, some increase in muscle mass usually occurs when training just for strength.
Regardless if you are training for strength or building muscle, how you do these three things determines your goal outcome:
Type of Training Routine
Routines generally fall into three categories: full body split, upper/lower body split, or body part split. A typical full body split routine would be working your entire body Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and off the rest of the days of the week.
An upper/lower body split could be an upper body workout Monday and Thursday, a lower body routine on Tuesday and Friday, and off the other three days of the week.
If you are training to gain strength, then most likely either the full body split or upper/lower split will be the best for you. Definitely not the body part routine.
Number of Repetitions and Intensity
Generally speaking to gain strength, you want to do fewer repetitions using more weight than you would if you were building muscle mass – referred to as training intensity. To gain strength, you’ll want to train in the 1 to 8 rep range. Once you can do 8 reps of an exercise, add weight to drop the number of reps you can do. Adding weight gives you “room to grow” as you work up to max reps again.
Duration of Rest Periods
If you are training for strength, as your training intensity increases so does the duration of your rest periods. Your rest periods should be in the 2 to 5 minute range between sets. People training to build muscle mass train at a lower intensity (meaning less weight), but do more repetitions usually in the 5 to 12 range.
So you can get stronger without having a significant increase in muscle size by choosing a full body or upper/lower body split training routine, doing fewer reps with heavier weight, and resting between sets for 2 to 5 minutes. These are starting points and you’ll have to adjust each item as necessary depending on the results you are seeing (or not seeing).