Why We Train for Strength to Achieve Mass Gain (Part 1 of 2)


I will always promote the idea of getting stronger, first and foremost.  This requires me to show normal gym rats why they should train to get strong, and why they shouldn’t emphasize the high volume bodybuilding approach that they mimic off other dudes in the gym or read in all of the muscle magazines.  I am not slamming bodybuilding routines; in fact they can be very valuable and I still use them in my program. But what I am saying is that for those of us not trying to compete in a bodybuilding show, high volume training sessions should only be a very small portion of our training program.

Alright, now that that is out of the way, lets kick this thing off!

Base Strength

Training for strength kinda seems like a no-brainer.  After all, lifting weights at the gym is allegedly called strength training.

But how I see people train most of these days is far from it.  In reality, what I usually see is people lifting like bodybuilders (85% or less than their one rep max in high volume sessions) in order to get a more visually pleasing body.  The vast majority of us are not bodybuilders!  So why are you training like one?!?!  Nothing wrong with trying to look good and get bigger, but there is a better way to go about it.

strength training

Increasing your “base strength” levels will lead to long term mass gains and can be accomplished by simply training to get stronger.

Base strength is the low end level of any given person’s strength ability, like the weight a person can do, for say, 20 reps without warming up.  So if a guy can squat 600lbs at max effort, his base strength may be squatting 300lbs.

Ok, so what does having great base strength mean for mass gain?

Well, if you are like most smart lifters, you follow some form of periodization, usually a strength phase followed by a hypertrophy phase.  And if you are simply trying to get bigger or get a more impressive physique, you are probably emphasizing the hypertrophy phase.  Perfectly logical.

However, lets think about this in a different way.  Training for mass gain you are operating at 85% or less of your one rep max for reps of 6-12 a set for the most part.  But what if your 85% could be done with much more weight?  Wouldn’t you put on more mass because you are using more resistance?  You betcha!!

At the end of a 12 week cycle, who is going to have a bigger chest?  The guy who can bench 225 for 12 reps a set, or the guy who can bench 185 for 12?  The 225 guy obviously because his base strength levels are much higher.

Make sense?  This is why I emphasize training for strength.  The more we improve our base strength, the more weight we can use during hypertrophy training, meaning the bigger we can get.

Lesson learned?  Do not neglect the “strength” part of strength training.  Cut down the reps, crank up the resistance, and train like an athlete.  You must train to get stronger, regardless of your overall goals.  Strength is the foundation for which all fitness achievements are built upon.

Stay tuned for part 2 over the weekend, where I give bodybuilding its credit as a supplemental tool to your training program!  I will also give you a pro-con list to these 2 vastly different training approaches.



Food For Thought

There is also a flip side to this concept but I have yet to see it tested or proven one way or another.  If an athlete can improve his base strength levels by 50lbs (for example increasing his bench from 200lbs to 250lbs), will his absolute max strength improve as well?  Will training for base strength lead to an ability to surpass previous one rep maxes?

I suspect the answer is no, but the body is an amazing thing.  This may be something I evaluate in the future and try on myself.


7 thoughts on “Why We Train for Strength to Achieve Mass Gain (Part 1 of 2)”

  1. Great site so far. (just got here.) Interesting article, but I’m not sure how to put it into practice. I guess I am one of those “high volume” guys. I’ve been known to do 15-20 sets for a given bodypart (such as legs). I like to wake up sore the next day. So I add sets til I’m pretty sure I’ll be sore the next day. Then, I’ll add more if needed to get back to the soreness. I know Tiki Barber advocates a “strongman” type of routine, rather than a bodybuilding one. I guess what I’m saying is I like the concept, just not sure how to do it.

    1. Hey John!

      Thanks for visiting.

      All you need to do is cut your reps down to 5 or less a set (doubles or singles if you are going really heavy). I only do one or two exercises per body part per session, and my workouts are split into upper and lower. Only do compound exercises. I rarely do any isolation movements.

      Follow our daily workouts on the right side of the homepage (with the exception of this week since we are actually doing high volume). 75% of the time I take the strength approach and it works. After a while, you can switch back to a high volume for a month or two and then back to strength. Continually rotate your programs. Try it out and let me know if it works for you!

      — Tank

  2. Sounds good. I’m going to try it and see what happens. What should I do about my forearms and calves? Where would they fit into a routine like this?

    1. If you lift heavy enough, you don’t need any direct forearm work. If you want to challenge them even more, get a pair of FatGripz and add those to the bar whenever you are pressing. Those will make a big difference. I’ve never done direct forearm work and have gotten awesome results. Farmers carries will help with that too.

      As far as calves go, if you train like an athlete would, you don’t need any direct workouts there either. We pull sleds, do lots of box jumps, broad jumps, etc. Jump around like you do when you were a kid, throw in some hill sprints, and you should be good to go!

      If you are going to try it out, keep in mind nothing is a quick fix and you need to stick to it for a while, meaning at least a few months. Add weight to the bar every workout, build up your strength, and then a couple months form now, do a month of “bodybuilding”. You should be able to rep out with heavier weight than before, and I bet you see some awesome results. Keep getting stronger my friend, thats the name of the game!

      1. Take before and after photos too if you get a chance. I’d love to see your results and will also help you gauge your own progress.

        Email me anytime and I’ll be glad to help you along the way.

        — Tank

  3. Great site, thanks for the responses. I recently got a sled and harness and it’s made a huge difference. I can’t believe how hard it is to pull. Should I try to pull it a short distance with a heavy weight, or a longer distance with lighter weight? How many “sets” of sled pulls should I do? For my other strength training, I’m going to try and work in a 5 rep range and only do about 4 sets per bodypart and see what happens. I’ve been doing some long workouts, and I’d love to make it short and sweet so maybe I could take a day off in the middle of the week. Good idea, or bad idea? Thanks for all your help, Tank. 🙂

    1. You can vary it between short and long, heavy and light. When you go lighter, try to go faster so you can become more explosive and work on your speed as well. Also, pull it backwards, meaning you are facing the sled and walking backwards. It kills your quads!

      As far as sets go, just listen to your body. I normally do them at the end of my workout, and depending on how far I’m going, we do upwards of 6 sets.

      I’m glad you are going to try the 5 rep range! But keep in mind, you should do more than 4 total sets. Warmup sets do not count, so if you are following our rubric, you may not be able to see that. Some days if my body is being stubborn and not warming up, I may end up doing like 10 sets of something. But only 3-4 of those are hard ass working sets. Really crank up the weight and I bet you make some huge gains. I have one guy that I’ve added 100lbs to his bench in less than a year!

      And yea, rest is good. I workout on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. So 2 good off days a week. Rest is important and you can’t neglect it.

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