Our lad Tim hit us up on facebook:

“I’m new to the gym game and I was wondering what is the difference between training for strength and training for size? Could you shine some light on the situation?”

I was like, “shit yeah! I get to talk about a bit of the stuff behind the results.”
Why what we telling you to do works so well…
That’s the stuff which gets me hard man!

But I was never going to just reply to just Tim, I’m not like that mate. I wanted to give you all the info too!

Essentially I’m a Santa Claus for the gym

No an accurate representation.

My first point when it comes to training for size vs training for strength is that it’s not one or the other, it’s more like how much of each. So even if you’re training primarily for strength you’ll still put on a bit of size and vice versa .

Most of you are in an amazing place in that because you’re new to this you’re going to get exaggerated results with everything you do. Make sure you take advantage of this!

With me still right?! Ok, let’s dig a bit deeper.

Muscle Efficiency


Training for “strength” focuses on increasing the coordination of your muscles when they fire and increasing it’s ability to contract.

Whilst this guy isn't big (he's under 56kg), he has great muscular efficiency
Whilst this guy isn’t big (he’s under 56kg), he has great muscular efficiency

This muscular coordination can be broken down further into coordinating each muscle firing on it’s on (intra-muscle coordination), or a group of muscles firing together to produce the force (intra-muscle coordination).


Intra-muscular coordination is how big a percentage of muscle fibres in a muscle can be used at one time – stronger people have learnt to use more of their muscles.

Inter-muscular coordination is how well you can use all your muscles together.


These adaptations are primarily neural, so they won’t cause as rapid muscle growth.  All these adaptations don’t involve the muscles themselves growing, just being more efficient. How the muscles will grow is a different process.


Muscle Hypertrophy

Hypertrophy is the name for making muscles bigger, training to achieve this is a case of three factors:

  • how heavy (mechanical tension)
  • how long you’re doing an exercise for (the time under tension)
  • the total build up of micro-tears in the muscle (metabolic stress)

If you are to build muscle, you must counter these three factors with a higher rate of muscle protein synthesis (eating, sleeping and recovering properly)

Here's some hypertrophy for you (no homo)
Here’s some hypertrophy for you (no homo)


To explain this more we’ll look at these two different methods in a gym program:

For strength training, you need to challenge your body in such a way that it has to learn to work more efficiently.

You may have heard that rep ranges for strength go from 1 to 5 reps per set. That’s only partly true.

Here’s how I look at it, you’re training primarily for rugby rather than pure strength (powerlifting etc).
This means that your strength training needs to improve rather than hinder your rugby performance. Training consistently at a weight which you can only lift once or twice at a time will eventually fry your central nervous system. We’ve mentioned before about how you need your CNS to be firing to get stronger, so doing this won’t make you stronger.

Use 1 rep and 2 rep max lifts to demonstrate strength not train it.

Use 3’s 4’s and 5’s to train strength without drilling yourself into the ground and affecting your rugby! Now when you see a gym program saying 8 sets of 3 reps (probably not for beginners) you know you’re looking at strength training.

On the other hand hypertrophy work in programs often focuses on those three factors, the weight must be:

  1. light enough that you can lift it for about 60 seconds (time under tension)
  2. heavy enough to cause micro tears (mechanical tension)
  3. be lifted enough times that you start building up metabolic waste and by-products (metabolic damage).


To get this you could do light sets of 12 reps, this is what the average joe does in the gym right?! But then think about it, most average joes doing this in the gym are small, and stay small… why?!

Two reasons, firstly the weight isn’t heavy enough for muscular tension (so you don’t get hypertrophy in the first place), and secondly, the weight is so light that you don’t get stronger – think about it, the stronger you get, the more weight you should be able to lift for the above 3 points and therefore the bigger you’ll grow.


So if we switch round the other example for strength, when you see a gym program saying to do 3 sets of 8 reps that means means you’re most likely doing hypertrophy work. Most people will take around 7 seconds per rep (or 3 seconds down, 3 seconds  with the last second on the turn around) which is a lot of time under tension,  8 reps is a low enough rep range that you can use sufficient weight and it’s tough enough to build up muscle.

Again, this is focussing on hypertrophy whilst getting a decent bit of strength gain. If you’re looking at training for both, then there’s a sweet spot for you somewhere in the middle.

Hopefully this gives you a bit more info about the differences in strength training and training for size, and how to work it for rugby. To take the thinking out of it and get rugby-specific programs that are aimed to you and your goals, you should consider joining our Academy today.

Click HERE to see more