Strength Or Size - Which Is More Important To Train First?

April 29th 2019

Should you train your strength or size first? Which is more valuable? If you have been following most of the articles on my blog, I heavily emphasize strength training. It is one of the fundamental training principles that all lifters must take very early on in their journey. However, does size not matter? Training for size is not a bad option as well; you cannot have strength without gaining size. The two support each other and can allow you to take your fitness level to the next level. So, let us find out if strength or size should be trained first.

One school of thought, strength before size

Most training programs perform strength before size because of one or a combination of the following reasons:


  • Being more effective with your time
  • Staying more focused on your progress
  • Better quality of life
  • Hard to get bigger if strength is a limiting factor
  • You need to lift more weights for size, which requires you to gain more strength


For most general strength training programs, like Starting Strength and Greyskull LP, strength was always the focus. From the minute you bought the books, you already committed to your quest for strength. Here are a couple of reasons why many lifters and strength coaches focus on strength before size:

1. Being more effective with your workouts

For example, both strength athletes and bodybuilders will train squats. However, strength athletes may look to do heavy squats, let us say 315lbs for 3 sets of 5 reps. A bodybuilder may want to do lighter squats at 185lbs for 3 sets of 10 reps. Who do you think will end up with bigger legs? Probably the strength athlete. What about more strength? The strength athlete.

There is no secret behind all the different training programs. Train heavy and make your workouts challenging.

2. Staying more focused on progress

In a more bodybuilding oriented program, lifters tend to take it easy and go by “the feelz” often. They would rather focus on how their bodies are feeling rather than try to push their limits and increase their work capacity.

With strength training, you will always be tasked to make progress. Whether you are ready or not, the weights do not care. You will make progress or get crushed by the barbell.

3. Beginner strength programs mimic everyday movements

There is a reason why many beginner strength programs focus on the squats, bench press, overhead press, and the deadlift. These basic compound movements allow you to train your functional strength and make your quality of life better. Joint stability and proper motor patterns are taught before doing isolation exercises so that you can better make use of your time.

4. Hard to get bigger if your strength is a limiting factor

There is an analogy that I found online somewhere that I found pretty accurate. Imagine that you have a glass of water. The amount of water represents your size. The glass holding your water is your strength. If your glass container is not getting bigger, you have a cap on your size potential. So, the only way to really increase your size is to also increase your strength.

5. In order to lift more weights, you need to get strong

How does muscle grow? Your muscle grows when you are able to move weights in the gym to break down your muscle fibers. In order to move a lot of weight in the gym, you need to be strong. In order to be strong, you need to gain strength by doing a strength training program.

Why size before strength

There are many lifters and internet keyboard warriors that will tell you why doing strength before size is a good option. However, that is just one half of the story. Is there any benefit to do size before strength?

I.You can do both

If you are challenging yourself with compound exercises while doing 3 sets of 8-12 reps, this is strength training. You are pushing your body to a new threshold. As long as you try to increase weight every session or week, you are increasing in strength. It may be more difficult to increase weight over a very long period of time. However, you can change different parameters other than your weight such as reps, sets, and resting times.

II. Your goals matter

If you have a desire to being aesthetic, you should pick a program that best helps you achieve that goal. This would probably be a bodybuilding style program. With that plan decided, it really does not matter what other people may think. What is most important is that you are being consistent in the gym and working on shaping your body like a Greek sculpture.

Is there an opportunity to combine both strength and size in my training?

Of course! There are many programs that can combine your goals for both. What is probably most important is that you understand what your goals are. Next, we can figure out the best training routine to get you to your goal.

You may also notice that many programs that claim to help you with both size and strength will be primarily focused on strength. Many of the workouts will be tough and will focus you to improve. This is one of the core principles behind these hybrid goal programs; yet, they are effective because lifters put in hard work and time in order to grow. For more technical terms, some lifters may refer to this a “powerbuilding.”

There are another way lifters can usually combine these goals by doing periodization, where during one training block they can focus on strength first. Then, they can focus on size in the next training cycle. Training cycles can vary between a few weeks to a few months, depending on your programming. This is a classic example of doing strength before size while still combining both these goals into one training regimen.

Final Thoughts

It would be ideal if you train strength before size. It is just a better use of your time while you can also gain some size as well. At the same time, do not neglect your goals. If you have zero interest to get strong and a crazy desire to get shredded, by all means, pick a bodybuilding program to train with. Life is too short to do things “the right way.”

Pick training programs and principles that will suit your journey towards getting stronger. It is really the only way you can ever be alive.

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