How can I become stronger without extra muscle mass?

In the first weeks of your gym career, your muscle strength increases, but you do not immediately get bigger muscles. How can I become stronger without building up a lot of extra musclemass?

The short answer: the amount of musclemass does not say everything about the amount of muscle strength. Musclemass is a major predictor of musclestrength, but factors such as efficient exercise, focus, years of training and good control of the muscle fibers are crucial for muscle strength.

Better management and coordination

The most important reasons are better control and a more efficient movement. To make a movement or lift a weight, your brain releases a nerve stimulus that leads to a musclecontraction. This goes through a number of steps, namely:

  1. The brain emits a signal in the form of an electrical stimulus that is transmitted through the nerve pathways (motor neuron).
  2. This electrical impulse arrives at the muscle fiber via motor units.
  3. Because of the impulse the muscle pulls together and your body makes a movement.

Musclestrength is determined by the force of the nerve stimulus and the activation of the number of motor units in relation to the muscle. There are muscles that are controlled with few motor units, for example the eyelid with a ratio of 20 motor units per muscle fiber. The legmuscles, on the other hand, have a ratio of 2000 motor units per muscle fiber. This makes it a more powerful effort.

Is it possible to increase the strength of the signal and the activation of the number of motor units?

Yes, probably. Several studies show that training with one arm leads to better strength performance in both arms. This while the other arm is not actively trained. The researchers believe that better nerve control plays an important role.

More efficient movement

In addition to a better control of the muscles, after a while you also learn how to perform an exercise better. Actually the management and improvement of the movement go hand in hand. By doing a repetition very often over a longer period of time, the body becomes better and better in a movement. This means that it is looking for the most efficient path to perform the movement.

Personally, I think this is one of the nicest elements of strength training. After a few months you see that people make a more fluid movement. An exercise such as the squat suddenly looks much easier because the body knows how to control the muscles, has more balance and has found a more efficient movement path.

You can also see this when you train too hard and can not maintain the correct posture anymore. Your body compensates to complete the exercise anyway. Other muscles then take over to be able to carry out the movement.

The type of muscle tissue

People but also muscles mutually have a different muscle fiber composition. The type of muscletissue determines how much muscular strength or muscle endurance an athlete has. Do you have proportionally more type-2 muscletissue in your leg muscles? Then it is likely that you will become stronger with the squat more quickly and are less good in a duration run of 2 hours. The ratio of the type of muscletissue can be partly trained, but is also largely predisposed.

Attachment of the tendons

The attachment of the muscle also determines musclestrength. The more attachment points the muscle has with the tendon, the more power is transferred. In general, a longer muscle can generate more muscle strength than a muscle where the attachment point is closer to the origin. The longer the muscle is, the more contractile elements, so the muscle can generate more musclestrength for a movement.

Compare, for example, the muscle strength that your upper legs can generate with those of the triceps. Your upper leg is much more powerful in absolute numbers because it is a larger muscle. In addition to the volume, the place of attachment also determines the strength. The further the point of attachment is at the endpoint, the stronger it is.

The size of the muscle

The advantage of more musclemass is that as an athlete you have more muscle volume to perform a movement. Just like a car with more horsepower that accelerates faster if you do it at the right time.

Just like musclestrength and mobility, musclemass is something that does not come easy. Musclebuilding takes months to years before you have really made big steps.

The production of musclemass is determined by a number of factors, namely:

  • A good training schedule with a constructive training load;
  • A suitable diet plan with sufficient protein;
  • Sufficient rest between the training sessions.

You make musclemass if your protein synthesis is greater than the breakdown of proteins in the muscles. This requires a lot of discipline and consistent training over several years.


Psychosocial factors

In addition to the physical factors, there are of course also mental aspects that play a role. Think of mental fatigue, self-confidence and social support from your environment and possible training partner. These factors also affect your strength performance and your training progress.


The amount of musclemass does not say everything about the amount of muscle power. Musclemass is a major predictor of musclestrength, but factors such as efficient exercise, focus, years of training and good control of the musclefibers are crucial for musclestrength.

So how you look does not say anything about your muscle strength!

Do you want to train with an expert and become an IRON MAN!? Check out our Iron Man program or check out our free trial lesson!

oefeningenhoofdpijn tijdens het sporten