You'll see it said a million different ways on countless fitness or strength programs: Build muscle! Get strong! But what if the size of your muscles didn't have as much to do with strength as previously thought? Could Arnold Schwarzenegger have been Mr. Olympia with less bulge and more beanpole?
That might be hard to say. But researchers have recently authored a paper in the journal Muscle & Nerve that argues for re-examining the decades-old assumption that big muscles caused by exercise do not, in fact, increase strength.
They found, after reviewing existing literature, that there is simply a weak correlation between changes in muscle mass and muscle strength after training. A bodybuilding trainer might want to pump you up, but it doesn't mean the bigger your muscles swell the stronger you are. And, in fact, that might not matter to you, if you're more after the look than the strength.
The authors also point out that this has been shown in high- and low-load resistance training: While you might grow stronger from a higher resistance load, you're not necessarily going to bulk up more significantly. And after stopping training, your muscle mass decreases but you still maintain muscle strength.
So don't get too caught up with having the biggest guns in the gym. If you're going for strength, bigger doesn't always mean better.