TRUE strength building

What are your top tips for building strength and endurance rather than simply size. Anyone have web sites for reference? Any techniques you swear by?

"Combat COnditioning" by Matt Furey

For strength with little or no size:1. High sets, low reps (1-6).
2. Basic, compound exercises.
3. Heavy but managable weight.
4. Rarely train 'on nerve,' ie don't go to failure often if at all.
No websites I can think of, but several books on maximizing strength come to mind. All of these at least address gaining strength without gaining weight:Dinosaur Training by Brooks Kubik
The Development of Physical Strength by Anthony Ditillo
Power to the People! by Pavel Tsatsouline
Rock, Iron, Steel by Steve Justa
I expect Shawn Menard's upcoming book to be added to that list also.

There's no rep scheme quaranteed not to add any mass on a still growing or previously untrained body. There's also little quarantee that any rep scheme WILL add mass to a mature or much-trained body. The trick is to observe yourself: If your weight goes up, cut calories a bit, and observe. If calories are too low to keep cutting, cut back on volume and frequency.....Reasons not to add mass: 1/Growing out of your division, especially if the division is tougher. 2/ having an extensive wardobe. 3/Thinking that the girls won't go for a bulkier guy..(some guys are as self-conscious about their muscle as others are about being obese.)...Strength training is performance training, performance of the lift in question. You can get quite a bit stronger at a lift without it enhancing any other strength. The only quality that transfers to all activities is the strength training that also might add some mass, if the mass is 'waiting' there to added.

nice post mmark - especially the last bit about improving strength and specificity/carryover!

Thanks for the info guys. Does anybody here practice anything such as gymnastics (free-standing or otherwise) etc? Another question - what exactely are calisthenics?

Well said MMark. It must be about time that we buried
notions such as x reps builds strength and y reps builds mass.There is so much individual variability with different rep ranges that the received wisdom about such matters is really quite meaningless in my opinion. I really wish it were as simple as saying that I will do 1-5 reps and get strong and 8-12 and get big. Life is not that easy I am afraid. MMark is also right in saying that more weight lifted equals greater lifting "strength" and not necessarily greater mat strength. The most significant variable on the mat is size. There is not in my opinion a significant difference in mat strength between weight trained and non weight trained individuals, other things being equal. Adding 50lbs to your deadlift may not make a difference to your mat strength; adding 10lbs of lean body weight almost certainly will.

How about isometrics? Ive read that these increase strength greatly without big size gains. Any opinions?

specificity again! isometrics have been shown to primarily increase static strength at the angle/position that the "hold" was performed in. not sure what carryover this will have.

Agreed, Lee. The original question involves no mass gains, so consider this; a young Mark Coleman, as yet to touch a weight, who manipulates his diet and training so as to be a powerlifting champ at his
non-increasing bodyweight, (let's say 170 for the heck of it). The systemic adaptations and perfected skill at lifting could result in personal bests that approach what the real-life Coleman handles,(we're theorizing a VERY dedicated power man!), but the 170 pounder, while perhaps strong enough to surprise bigger man at first, would not have power-producing lean tissue to adapt to the open-ended requirements of fighting....I keep coming back on this because it seems that, (in addition to the reasoning listed on my post above), there is a line of reasoning going around implying that strength without mass is somehow more virtuous. I believe that we should all be as strong as our genetics allow, which requires getting all that skill and nerve involvement to power all the lean tissue possible. If your girlfriend/wife hates big guys, ok, and if you're actually winning/ making money at a lighter weight, no argument, but in fact, what your doing is the opposite of complete strength training if you're avoiding becoming as strong as you can.

Sorry , Lee but I cannot agree with you.

1. Your make reference to the alleged popularity of swiss ball training as a means of training in an unstable dynamic environment to overcome the problem of transferability. I think that this is rather a dubious assertion. I am not convinced that it is as popular as you allege or that it has solved or come close to solving the problem of specificity. On what evidence do you say that it achieves this result and why does it do any more than exerting your muscles to their maximum capacity in sport specific fashion on the mat?

2.It is not my "thought" that increased lifting strength cannot produce greater mat strength, rather it is my observation from more years on the mat than I care to remember that there is not a significant strength difference between weight trained and non weight trained grapplers, other things-size,training time,ability, etc -being equal.

3. I do not accept your point about Mark Coleman and with respect do not follow you logic but you surely cannot be seeking to put forward any theories about strength training and mat performance based on your assumptions about one individual's capacity which may not be totally derived from weight training?

4.You say that lifting strength raises the maximum capability of a trainee which then needs to be applied sport specifically. If these are your observations-rather than mere assertions- then I must accept them but they are not mine. If an individual is experienced in exerting his existing muscle mass in specific grappling fashion then in my experience the ability to lift more weight-at the same size- will not significantly affect grappling strength.

5. My point remains that lifting strength per se is not a significant variable in on the mat performance. Muscular size is.


this is getting interesting (at least for me!) and might be one for the achives.

keep at it guys!

Ali, Herts - any input?

comments? off the cuff, sure....

I have no idea how to quantify the popularity of swiss balls, but the circles I travel in seem to be much more aware of them becaues of Paul Chek, and to the extent some impressionistic input might indicate... they've showed up at a university gym and a couple of commercial gyms I've been to in recent years, and I don't ever remember seeing them there before. There are also presentations done and conventions dealing with them, but those seem to come from Chek or one someone who got into because of him (Staley...)

On lifting strength: well, are we talking about 1RM strength? in what? the powerlifts? fast lifts? Are strength qualities accounted for? Speed-strength, strength-endurance, strength-speed.... all of which can be worked differently. Does grip strength count? Also, might it make a difference for beginners, who presumably have a larger strength deficit, than for people who have lifted at least a little while? Or beginning wrestlers vs. experienced? Is it possible that the "size matters more" is simply an artifact of someone having already developed a certain amount of neural efficiency at a current size, and thus they HAVE to go up in size to also go up in strength? Which brings us to a question of conflation of "observed" variables....

On size/strenth: how do you equalize? was the person who got bigger through lifting at the same level as the person who didn't, and now equal in ability that they are the same "size"? Is one stronger? I'm not sure how you can observe the qualities so separately, unless you're talking about one person, now stronger but no bigger, is not "better". Well... again, strength qualities is an issue, whether the training was sequenced in such a way to make the training "specific" as Lee said (which gets into a lot of debates about Eastern European training methods). Also, other things being equal, getting bigger will accompany getting stronger. It's possible that this won't be true, especially short term, but by and large they do go together, if not in a 1:1 ratio at least in some fashion. So if getting "bigger" makes someone better, I'm not sure how I'd observe the size increase separately from the strength increase. Sure if someone's bigger but not stronger on a particular lift you could say that.... but all lifting takes a bit of practice the learn the movements, and it would have to be a "new" lift, presumably.... the strenght increase would be visible after a very little practice. If the person got bigger through lifting, then chances are they got stronger on some of the lifts. If they got bigger through simply grappling and eating, then the increased strength is there, but not going to be immediately visible with a barbell.... yet it would be visible soon enough. The strength-learning curve would be much steeper for the bigger person.

Again, unless we know for sure someone got bigger without getting stronger..... I'm not sure how we'd know that.

Other than that, to suggest size mattered and strength didn't would suggest bodybuilder/hypertrophy methods were optimum for wrestlers. Does anyone think that?

and yes, there are plenty of other thoughts on this "making strenght specific" idea, from general and supplementary exercises to strength-quality specificity to actual sport-specificity..... but that gets into the whole periodization/cylcing/complex training debate, and that's book-length.

So... disorganized thoughts, indeed. But first and foremost, I don't think terms are too clearly defined, and I don't think the variables "observed" have been adequately separated to make too much of a claim about what "matters". I do think strength matters, but.... how much, for whom, etc. depends on a lot of other factors, and sequence of training.

Afterthought on Swiss balls....

whether they're popular or not.... Chek makes all kinds of claims about their usefulness in 'instability training'. Mel Siff's book, "Facts and Fallacies of Fitness" has a wonderful 2 page article debunking some of those thoughts.... and there was endless talk on the Supertraining list on this issue. I tend to fall into the Siff camp on this one.... I think there are some very cool things you can do with a Swiss ball, but really the most of the stability tricks people practice on them are overrated at best, and in many cases much worse.

Ali- I really do not not really know where to begin with your departure from your usual coherent and logical writing style! However, my response is as follows:

1. I think that we are agreed that the merits of swiss ball training are at best unproven and their alleged popularity doubtful. Unlike Lee I have not seen the benefit of being introduced to the world of "multiple force vectors" by swiss ball training and I think that he overstated his case in this particular instance.

2. I do not maintain that strength does not matter. It clearly does. I never suggested that size mattered and strength did not. I am also not arguing that you can get bigger without being stronger. I believe quite the opposite. I am really addressing the issue of transferability of weight lifting "strength"-defined by the maximum amount of weight you can lift in any particular movement to grappling strength.

3. My observations Ali-and I fully accept that the methodology is poor but apart from observations made over a long period of time there is little else available-are firstly, that at the same weight and other things being equal the weight trained individual does not have a significant strength advantage over a non weight trained individual on the mat. We all would like to believe otherwise I am sure and that the right weight training regime will lift us above the strength of mere mortals but the real world is not like that. Secondly, that a mere increase in an individuals ability to lift more weight-presumably due to neural factors -has little carry over to on the mat strength.
Thirdly, that a significant difference in mat strength occurs through an increase in size. I do not know if you grapple but despite your scepticism if you take a population of grapplers I feel confident that you can claim that it really is "size" that "matters."


nice points from Peter - as usual!

The challenge in translating "lifting strength" into
"mat" strength lies in the fact that almost all typical
weightlifting exercises are nothing like the motions,
durations, and positions experienced while grappling.
Looking at the bench press, for example, we never
encounter a situation where we lay on our back and
"press" the opponent straight up into the air evenly
with both hands. Instead, the grappler, presses with
one arm, pulls sideways with the other, performs a
twisting situp, and pushes with one leg-- ALL AT THE
SAME TIME!! It is easy to see why the relatively
isolated strength achieved through lifting does not
directly apply to performance on the mat, where there
are many more components of exertion which must be
coordinated into a fluid motion.

This is one of the reasons for the popularity of the
swiss ball/core exercises and similar types of workout
schemes. These incorporate multiple tensions and
simutaneous motions during the performance of an
exercise. Although still limited compared to the
"live" opponent experience, these methods introduce the
trainee to the world of body tension maintenance,
multiple force vectors, and dynamic balance adjustment
while allowing a progressive resistance scheme to the

While I agree in principle that practice and
advancement in certain lifts does not guarantee
increases in "mat" strength, I do not agree with the
thought that increased lifting strength cannot produce
greater mat strength. It is a matter of how well the
individual trains to incorporate his greater strength/
neural recruitment capability into his grappling
ability. Anyone watching as Mark Coleman drives into
an opponent seeking a takedown will realize that there
is more strength available there than that of a
non-weight-trained individual. My point is that
lifting strength raises the maximum capability level
for a trainee. How close the trainee aproaches their
theoretical limit is a product of their sport-specific
training which would allow them to assimilate the new
strength into their performance. We should therefore
focus our questions in this arena toward the
examination of drills, etc. which enhance grappling
performance when greater lifting strength is available.



everyone who has contributed here so far has made interesting and (to varying degrees according to one's perspectives) valid points.

for myself, I can see reason in Ali's points regarding methodology and "quantifying" results. however, this assumes a "scientific" basis and wonder, with so many variables, whether this is TRULY possible? even many of the most respected s&c "experts" will admit that there's as much "art" as "science" in devising effective regimes.

my own views on this swiss ball stuff is that to some extent it's quite "faddish" and yet another way for certain people to make a living/justify themselves, etc. perhaps there is a valid place for their use in rehab routines but, myself, I'm rahter sceptical of their real value to an athlete.

to some extent it strikes me that perhaps both Peter and MMark's beliefs revovle around the generally accepted (and even scientifically proven) theory that "a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle" - or at least POTENTIALLY?

so, if your weight training results in the hypertrophy of additional muscle mass, you will then still need to train the nueral paths of this muscle to be able to be effectively recruited for use in your specific activity.

if your strength training is neural-based, resulting in lifting heavier weights in the core lifts but without an increase in muscle mass, then these performance improvements are due to increased neural efficiency specific to those nerve pathways?

The extent to which this will transfer over to other activities may well be individually specific - but is unlikely to be comparable to gains resulting from performance of totally specific movements. Deads, squats, cleans, etc., are not sports- specifc movements unless you're an olympic/powerlifter.

my own thoughts and experiences tend to support the basic concepts of Peter and MMark, and are largely based around a view that something is either "specific" or it's not; "almost specific" just doesn't cut it! many years training (and much "wasted" effort) also support a lot of what Peter says and, unfortunately, that is as much as I can offer - subjective opinion and not "scientific fact".

so weight train to hypertrophy additional muscle and sport-specific train (rolling/sparring/drilling) to make that extra muscle useful seems a reasonable approach.

apologies if what i've posted is not too coherent! of course there's so much more to say, and a lot more that this excellent discussion and exchange of ideas/opinions could encompass.

i'm grateful for the opportunity to read and participate. thank you all.

good post MrWolf; I'm not demanding scientific objectivity except insofar as claims made might require it. I agree there's art here.... my point is more along the lines of saying that it's not clear what claims are being made for strength being or not being 'transferable', and that simple observation may be too simple to be real observation ;-) Terms like 'strength' have many components, and to conflate them all into an increase of the powerlifts (or analogous movements) is not going to tell us much. Comparing two guys who happen to be the same size NOW, where one of them got to be that way because of weight training, also won't tell us much.

One-shot case studies, "I am or am not better after getting X amounts stronger on Y lifts...." would tell us more, even though that remains very much on the "art" side, and rather several steps away from "science" as we generally use the term.

The only things I would demand quantification on really are claims that make no sense without it. "Are Swiss balls more popular than they were 5 years ago among athletes?" Well, that's a purely quantitative question. Without quantification it's guessing. I don't know the answer, and don't much care. I see them more, as I say..... so it appears to me they're more popular. But that just says something about who I hang out with, nothing about the world of athletics at large. And it's really not important to me if swiss balls, or wrist rollers, or kettlebells, or anything else is particularly popular at any given time. But if you want to know if it is, you need some quantification.

I think you summarize a lot of things very well MrWolf, though I'm not sure about the "almost specific" idea being pointless. People may really increase a high jump from doing heavy cleans, or improve squat performance from doing deadlifts.... yes, the neural pathways on the latter exercises must be worked for this to come to full fruition, but it's not so specific that neurally-based training ONLY works for the specific groove. In other words, just dong deads, my squats go up. Not as much as my deads do, but certainly some. Of course I knew how to squat already....

So I'm not sure about this. But in any case, yes I think hypertrophy is something you should strive for unless there's a weight-class issue preventing it, and myofibrillar hypertrophy ought to be more useful than sarcoplasmic hypertrophy in most instances.

Further, neural gains fade faster if not based on hypertrophy gains. This is what the periodized or various other ways of cycling strength training workouts is based on.

btw, MrWolf, once again YOU got me into this thread, LOL. I was going to stay out because ... even if I appear contentious I don't meant to be. I think there's a lot of defining of terms that has to be done before any reasoning can be done in groups.... and my questions about all of this were meant to say I didn't think such common language was apparent yet. If the claim is that lifting more in powerlifts doesn't seem to be directly transferable to the mat, based on looking at people who are the same size..... but seeing someone get bigger seems to have an effect on the mat.... well, that's not much of a claim is it? I'd be surprised if anything else were the case. This still doesn't tell us anything about whether training with barbells is useful for wrestling. It just tells us that training for powerlifting within a given weight class isn't very productive. There are a lot of other things to do in the gym besides that....

To really make sense out this conversation would require a whole lot of going back to square one and defining terms, defining what's being observed, deciding exactly where the strength/size differences are separable and where they're not, defining strength qualities.... none of these are quantititive issues, just linguistic issues. What are we talking about?

Your own last post brought together a fair amount of the previous discussion into something like a common language. I'm still not sure about the specificity of neural pathways in strength increases being SO specific, but.... I already said that.