Applying the Theory of How to Build Strength without the Size

In the article, “The Theory of How to Build Strength without the Size,” we focused on the theory behind how you can get stronger without getting bigger. Now that you know more about how your body and strength training work, the FizzUp trainer will tell you how to apply the theory with real-life examples and different ways you can use it in your workouts.


Imagine you’re having a really hard time pushing your car down the street all by yourself, so you call four friends to come help. In this situation, you and each one of your friends are like independent motor units.

Now imagine that only two of them are actually trying to help you, and the other two are pushing the car in the opposite direction. This isn’t happening because your friends (motor units) are kidding around, but because you don’t know how to work together yet. Your brain has to be conditioned to activate all your motor units and force them to work together in order to create a much stronger contraction. Simply put, you can have a lot of friends (muscle mass), but if they don’t know how to work together as a coordinated unit, you’ll never be as strong as someone with fewer friends who know how to work together as a team.

build strength without the size 01If you want to push your car without calling more friends to come help you (bigger muscles), the friends who are already there need to learn to act together and at the same time with maximum strength and speed. When you work out, you need to activate as many muscle fibers as possible. Your brain has to practice activating motor units all at once. Otherwise, you’ll never be as strong as you could be.

Strength training also involves tweaking your motor patterns; in other words, your technique. For instance, you want four of your friends to push your car up a steep road as a coordinated unit. The more friends there are to push hard at the same time, the easier it will be. Similarly, the easier it is for your brain to activate coordinated motor units, the more strength you’ll be able to exert.

In fact, when you take two people who have the same weight, the one with the better technique and the most experience will be able to generate much more strength. Imagine what would happen if you pitted Serena Williams against an amateur tennis player of the same size!

Regular exercise increases the total number of motor units that contract a muscle. That’s to say, those with a trained physique activate more motor units than beginners because they can apply more tension on their muscles in less time.


Your technique

The first thing to do in order to build strength is to master the exercises. This is when you should start to question your technique. Think you could still whack a tennis ball with the most possible strength without holding the racket right? That’s the same idea. The key is to pay close attention to how you go about your workouts. Click here for tips from the FizzUp trainer for an exercise done right. The better you do the exercise, the more effective it will be.

Weight and speed

Once you’ve mastered your technique, you need to engage in activities that activate as many muscle fibers as possible and as quickly as possible. Doing so will activate a maximum number of motor units:

  • Work out using maximum effort and/or heavy loads with maximal speed intent when you do the movement.

To build your strength, you need to use maximal and submaximal intensity that’s at least 80% of your 1RM (one repetition maximum). This percentage represents the minimum threshold for building strength. For example, a low number of repetitions x a high load per set = more strength.

build strength without the size 02In terms of speed, you have to generate as much as you can with every repetition in order to exert maximum power. Remember, power = strength x speed. Boosting your speed ultimately helps you become more powerful and therefore, stronger. To activate motor neurons, you have to give the exercise all you’ve got in a little time as possible.

FizzUp trainer’s tip: If you’re more advanced, you can try plyometrics by adding exercises such as explosive push-ups, chin-ups and squat jumps and exercises with weights such as one-arm dumbbell rows and bench presses to your routine. The goal is to create maximum speed by using maximum explosive strength.


Remember to work on your various muscle weaknesses that could be hindering your ability to exert strength, such as your abs and calves, rhomboids and rotator cuffs. Your body is a like a chain and your muscle groups are like the links. If you pull the chain trying to break it, it could have extremely strong links, but it will break anyway if one of them is too weak.

Sure, these muscles probably aren’t the ones you’re thinking about the most when it comes to building strength, but they have a low potential for muscle growth, which is great for maximizing your strength without the extra muscle mass. This approach is a must if you want to get stronger and reduce your risk of injury as an extra advantage.

build strength without the size 03A muscle has to be strong to be big, but a muscle doesn’t have to be big to be strong. Muscle gain mostly depends on the type of workouts you do and the food you eat. Strength depends on your nervous system, recovery and the muscle mass you already have.

Now you’ve got the knowledge you need to get the results you want. So watch what you eat, do weekly weigh-ins and keep an eye on your performance. Tweak your workout and your diet if needed to boost muscle strength and keep muscle growth to a minimum.

Further reading

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