Training for Strength vs Building Muscle


I’m writing this article on a topic that often comes up in the gym. It’s based on strength training vs building muscle. Whereas the two go hand in hand, how you train will determine which of the two is prominent. Much of what we’re going to discuss is based on explosive reps vs controlled reps.

A lot of people relate heavy weights and lower reps to powerlifting. There’s a lot of truth to that. But it’s not so black and white.

315 lb Bench Press

Moving Weight from Point A to B

Although I am wanting to gain some strength, my goal isn’t just to move a bunch of weight from point A to point B. I admire powerlifters but I’m not genetically gifted to lift super heavy weights. My ultimate goal is to build muscle.

Obviously heavy weights do indeed overload the muscle, which in turns makes you both bigger and stronger. This is why so many top bodybuilders swear by heavy weights, and many have a powerlifting background. But there’s a ‘huge’ (pun intended) difference in just moving weight around vs performing reps that will help you build the muscle tissue.

Explosive Reps for Strength

Let’s use bench press for example. If your goal is strength, you want explosive reps. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll drop the weight to your chest, but for the most part, your goal is to simply move the bar from point A to B.

You’ll still build muscle, but the strength gains will be dominant over your muscular development and body composition. And that’s the goal, to promote strength gains. You’re not as concerned with your physique with this type of training.

Controlled Reps for Muscle

If you want to build muscle, you need controlled reps. This means taking more time of the descent of the rep. You’ll also use less explosive power to move the weight back to the starting position.

Controlled reps takes out any momentum and ensures you’re making your muscles do the work. You won’t get as many reps and won’t be able to lift as much weight this way. But this will help you build bigger muscles. Strength gains will be a mere side-effect.

Explosive Reps vs Controlled Reps

So who wins the battle of explosive reps vs controlled reps? In my opinion, controlled reps are the way to go when using heavy weights. Whether your goal is to merely get stronger or to build bigger muscles, controlled reps is also a good way to prevent injury. By controlling the weight, you’re locked in mentally and focuses on the movement.

The amount of control you use throughout each rep can vary depending on your personal goals. If you’re a powerlifter or training for strength, you won’t use as much. But you still need to control the weight on the descent. At that point you can then use explosive power to move the weight. This technique is used in sports training, especially football.

For bodybuilding where you want to force your, muscles to grow bigger, you’ll use more control. You’ll also want to feel the muscles work pushing out (using the example of bench press). Explosive power will be minimized. The goal with changing your body composition is forcing your muscles to do all the work with little to no momentum.

Instead of going back and forth on explosive reps vs controlled reps, you can cycle the two techniques. This is something I’m a huge fan of. You could go through 3-4 weeks of strength-focused workouts using explosive reps followed by 3-4 weeks of bodybuilding style workouts using controlled reps. In essence, you would get bigger and stronger.

Train with Passion,