The Strength Deficit: Do You Need A More Powerful Engine Or A Bigger One?

There comes a point in the bodybuilding road so to speak where every athlete has to make a choice. Try this simple method to gain muscle or lose weight...
There comes a point in the bodybuilding road so to speak where every athlete has to make a choice. Every program that has worked up to now - seems to have stopped working. Every exercise that you used, no longer seems to produce the same pump.

One of the questions the athlete should ask, is - what exactly is it that is preventing me from moving forward? And how do I determine what path to choose next?

The "Holy Grail" of training so to speak has always been - to strip off fat, and build muscle and strength simultaneously. This is truly a difficult task. A better system in my opinion is to pursue one goal with absolute passion until you reach it. This is always more effective.

Build Muscle & Lost Fat?

Can you build muscle, build strength and burn fat at the same time?

Yes I believe so. However we can more effectively do all three if we devote entire training cycles to each separately. For example - 4 weeks of strength training, four weeks of hypertrophy and four weeks of fat loss seems to always be more superior than 12 weeks of trying to do all three.

How do you prioritize each method though? While it's fairly easy to determine whether or not you should be losing fat or not - just look in the mirror, if Fat Bastard from Austin Powers is looking back at you - it's time to diet.

As for hypertrophy and strength - that's a little more difficult to determine. Strength v size is a different matter, because the reason you may be weak, is because of a lack of muscle. The reason you may not be big enough - is because you can't handle enough load. It's almost a circular argument.

More strength can usually translate to more muscle because you'll be handling heavier loads when you go back to hypertrophy training. More size can often lead to strength gains because you have more muscle helping you to lift.

So, The Question Remains...

Should you be trying to get stronger, or should you be trying to put on muscle, or perhaps both? Most bodybuilders want size whether or not strength comes with it. Most relative strength athletes want more strength and no size. The rest - in fact - the typical reader of this website, usually wants a mixture of the two. But how do we decide which to do, or more specifically which we should do to get the most benefit from our efforts.

Well, rather than just toss a coin and decide how about letting Mr. Sports Science geek present a more scientific way to determine your training objective? This is where knowing your Strength Deficit can be extremely beneficial.

Simply put - are you using all the muscle you currently have - i.e. you need more muscle, or are you not even applying the muscle you have i.e. you need to start doing more nervous system low rep work?

Take the following steps in your next workout:

Select a compound exercise that you are completely familiar with - e.g. squat, deadlift, bench etc and warm up progressively to your 1RM attempt (a good rule of thumb is to do a mini warm up set for every 50lbs you plan on lifting) - note your maximum poundage. It is important to ensure that the attempt is taken at a relatively slow tempo so go with a 401 for now.


Calculate Your One-Rep Max (1RM)

Weight Lifted
Reps Done

= One-Rep Max

95% 1 RM
90% 1 RM
85% 1 RM
80% 1 RM
75% 1 RM
70% 1 RM
65% 1 RM
60% 1 RM
55% 1 RM
50% 1 RM


Enter the amount of weight you lifted (Lbs/Kg) and the number of reps you completed. Your One Rep Max (1 RM) will appear at the bottom left, and your various percentages of 1 RM will appear on the right side.

A question I've been asked repeatedly by you, the readers has been - what do you mean by Tempo? I apologize for not having answered this before:

Tempo refers to lifting speed. The first number is lowering, the second is pausing in the bottom position, and the third is lifting. So a 401 tempo would be a 4 second lowering, a zero second pause and a 1 second lift. (If the letter X appears - it refers to eXplosive - go as fast as possible).

After resting approximately ten minutes add 10% to the bar and perform a 4 second eccentric or negative (hence the slower tempo above). The spotter should lift the bar and assist in racking it with as little effort on your part as possible.

Rest approximately three to four minutes and then add the same weight (the original 10%) to the bar. Repeat as above. Continue with this program until you can no longer perform a controlled four second eccentric.

Now - here's the key - compare the maximum lifts to each other. If the difference between your RM concentric (the maximal amount you can lift) and your RM eccentric (the maximal amount you can lower under control) is greater than 30% - then you need to concentrate on low rep strength work. Basically your body is not utilizing the muscle it has - and needs to learn to recruit as many fibers as possible in the lifting phase by doing some more neural type training.

If the difference between the lifts is less than 30% - then basically you are recruiting all the muscle you have - in effect you are lifting almost as much as you can lower (you can always lower more than you can lift) and if you want to get any bigger or stronger - you're going to need to build some new muscle - so get your average rep into the hypertrophy zone.

What Rep Ranges Do I Recommend?


    Strength zone should be 6-8 reps, hypertrophy should be 10-12 reps.


    Strength zone should be 3-5 reps, hypertrophy should be 8-10 reps

Advanced (three years or more of solid training):

    Strength zone should be 2-4 reps, hypertrophy should be 6-8 reps.

Also, with my intermediate and advanced clients, I usually prefer to maintain the strength or hypertrophy component, with one maintenance set per workout. For example, one of the exercises in an advanced strength workout may look like this:

Barbell Squat

    4 sets of 2-4 reps
    1 set of 6-8 reps
    1 set of 10+ reps to failure

An advanced hypertrophy example would be as follows:

Barbell Squat

    1 set of 2-4 reps
    3-4 sets of 6-8 reps

So I don't completely ignore any rep range or training quality in any phase. I simply put them on maintenance. This is typically known as vertical integration.

And there you have it - a very simple method to give your own training a more specific direction. Try it out - it might make a huge difference in your results and in your physique.

Until next time, train hard and train smart,