Getting Stronger Without Getting Bigger

Q: "Hope all is well. I started reading Neo-Classical Bodybuilding, and I'm learning a lot of important aspects on how to come up with the ultimate bodybuilding program. The book is great!

"Recently, I've been eating a little less than normal given that I was gaining too much body fat. I have an ectomorph body type, and I've been losing the weight like crazy. My arm size decreased by ¼ of an inch in about a week. The funny thing is, is that I'm constantly lifting more weight every workout (I keep track of how many sets and reps I do for each workout). I workout 4 times a week: Sun, Mon, Wed and Friday. 

"I did what you suggested your readers to do in Strength and Physique: The Articles. I chose 3 different exercises for a muscle group and spread the exercises throughout the whole week. So, every workout, I attack the muscle using a given exercise I chose from the 3 I picked for my program. The reps and sets for each exercises change every workout to recruit different muscle fibres. This works fantastically!

"Seeing that I'm getting stronger from workout to workout, shouldn't my body be getting bigger instead of smaller? Eating a surplus of the right calories is key to getting big, I know. But doesn't getting stronger correlate with getting bigger?

"Your help is much appreciated."

Take care,

My Answer: Hey Jason, great to hear you're making excellent progress. To answer your question, does increased strength directly equate to increased size? No, not necessarily. You can be stronger and not gain size at all. This is why there are weight classes in powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting.

Gaining muscle is contingent upon 2 things: the right stimulus (weight training) and the right building blocks (diet). The Strength and Physique programs are increasing your strength, but without the extra calories and extra protein, you will not get bigger. You'll certainly get more toned and lean, so your physique will still be impressive.

But if you want to have impressive muscular size, then you'll need to up the calories and protein. I understand that you want to avoid getting too fat, but you'll need to focus on one goal at a time. What I suggest is to follow the ZigZag Zone diet mentioned in SPV2: Neo-Classical Bodybuilding for 2 weeks, then follow a lower calorie diet for 2 weeks. Alternating in this way will help you focus on one dietary goal at a time and will help you make better gains in the long run.

Q: "I read your article on titled Hypertrophy Training for the Ectomorph, and it really struck a note with me. I'm a 21 year old university student, 74 inches tall, 188 lbs. My whole life I've been athletic but never have had any real muscle to my body.

"This August I started weightlifting with a friend and gained about 13 lbs (going from about 175 to 188), and I would like to reach 200 lbs, possibly 210 at the most. As of late October/early November I started noticing my gains were small, if none, but I kept lifting anyway.

"Last night I read your article, and I am going to try the 10-8-6-15 approach, specifically the one you recommend: squats, bench press, lateral raises, V-bar pulldowns, dumbbell curls and close grip bench press. I have some questions though about this: How long would one do this routine?

"I figured in my head that 6 weeks would be optimal for this. I would be doing this three days a week, also including 2 extra exercises that would be rotated throughout the week. I'll also rotate the order of the 6 core exercises throughout the week.

"Basically on Monday I would do the core 6 exercises, but include shrugs to target my traps and seated calf raises to hit my calves. Then on the 2nd day I would include cable flys to help with chest and cable rows for my lats/middle back/bi's etc. On the 3rd day I would include preacher curls and lying triceps press, repeat for 6 weeks, switching up the order every week to keep it fresh.

"This is the routine I'm thinking of, but being a bodybuilding rookie I would like some advice and guidance. Thanks for reading James, I appreciate any and all help. Sorry if this has been hard to read."


My Answer: Ideally, you wouldn't follow a program longer than 3 weeks. You can follow it for 6 weeks, but the exercises would have to be switched up from workout to workout. Here's what you do:

Instead of adding 2 extra exercises (like you propose), just substitute all of your proposed exercises once a week, preferably in the 2nd workout. Adding 2 extra exercises would lengthen the workout and defeat the purpose of the program itself: brief, intense and frequent workouts to induce hypertrophy.

So let's just say you chose Wednesday to substitute all of the exercises? Your workout would look like this:

Thighs- Deadlifts
Chest- Cable flyes
Back- Seated cable rows
Biceps- Preacher curls
Triceps- Lying triceps extensions
Calves- Seated calf raises

I suggest deadlifts instead of shrugs. The deadlift will work both your thighs and your traps.

Q: "Can arms be trained with the 5x5 method without resting in between? I did hammer curls today that way, and it felt good and didn't take long:

5 reps with 17 kg
no rest
5 reps with 15 kg
no rest
5 reps with 12 kg
no rest
5 reps with 10 kg
no rest
5 reps with 9 kg

"Is this a good training method to follow for a long time? It gives a good burn and, as I said, is very quick. I have done hammer curls according to this pattern for a month, and it feels OK. If I follow a training program, is it wise to do chin ups 3 sets to failure 5 days a week? I did chin-ups today 3 sets to failure and I hardly felt any fatigue afterwards. To tell you the truth, chin-ups don't seem very effective. I could only take 3 full chin-ups although my biceps aren't that bad."


My Answer: What you're doing are descending sets, otherwise known as drop sets. It is a very effective training method, but you will either get used to it or burn out on it. It's best to do it once a week to avoid either stagnating or overtraining.

You can get used to any technique or exercise, no matter how traumatic it may seem at first. This is part of the reason why chin-ups aren't doing anything for you: you acclimated to the exercise, because you've been doing a few sets of it 5 days out of the week. You're doing small doses of chin-ups (3 sets) spread out across the week.

Plus, chances are you're doing chin-ups with a narrow underhand grip. That is the second easiest chin-up variation to do. So if you're doing it that way, then you won't feel much in the back or biceps. Pull-ups with a wide overhand grip will stress your lats more, but you still won't feel it in the biceps. Not only this, but if you can only do 3 chin-ups, then your total is so low (3 sets x 3 reps = 9 total reps), that you're not stressing the lats or biceps much at all.

Q: "I just finished reading your article on how to properly cut up. It was an extremely good read. I’ve been bulking up (went from 185 to 200) since July 1st. Previously, I had cut weight from 220-ish to around 185 from February to July. After gaining some good muscle mass, I’d like to get rid of some excess before I start to bulk again. This is the first year I’ve been really serious about bodybuilding of any sort. I’m 27.

"I had a few questions about the routine. Mainly, the cardio and dieting part. How much high intensity interval training (HIIT) should I be doing? Twice a week? Leaving 2 days for rest? And what should my diet consist of? I’m 6’2” around 200 right now. What should be my target calorie intake?"

Thank you!

My Answer: You can do HIIT twice a week, that's fine. With regards to calorie counting, I don't practice calorie counting and I don't have my clients practice calorie counting either. The calories take care of themselves through proper food choices. Rather than worrying about minutia, it's easier to make decisions through a general dietary strategy. In my book, I recommend a Paleo Diet as a solid strategy in dieting.

But if you like counting calories, then has plenty of calorie and nutrient calculators, so check them out.

Q: Hi my name is Nick, and I have read your article a couple of times on, the one about Training for the Ectomorph, and I was just wondering how long would it take before you see results?  Because I see so many things about training: some say do 3-4 exercises per muscle group and do one group a day. But then there is your article, and the routine at bottom I have been trying for 3 weeks or so. And I am just wondering when I should decide if this program is not right for me?


My Answer- There are a number things we need to address here:

  1. What do you mean by results? If results means you are visually and measurably bigger, toner or more muscular, then you should be seeing something by now. Some change , however slight, is a result. You will not be freakishly big in 3 weeks, no matter what training program you do. But if you're not getting ANY result, then something is up and you are doing something wrong.
  2. What were you doing before the 10-8-6-15 program? If you were doing another program prior, and you weren't gaining on that program either, then you know something is definitely wrong. It's hard for me to give you advice, because I'm not there to assess everything you're doing, whether it be exercise form or diet or whether you're sticking to the program parameters. If you're not gaining some kind of muscle tone or size on the 10-8-6-15
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