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How to Gain Strength Without Size (Are you serious bro?)

Christian Pinedo


Gain Strength Without Size

If you want to learn how to gain strength without size and looking like a power-lifter, then you’re going to want to read this article. Here are some key takeaways:

  • If you want to get stronger without getting bigger, then you want to focus on heavy lifting without pushing to failure.
  • Myofibrillar Hypertrophy is the type of growth you want to focus on. Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy helps build muscle, but it also increases the size of the muscle without making it that much stronger (you don’t want this). 
  • Rusty Moore, who specializes in helping people get stronger without getting bigger, recommends a two-day split. That means alternating between Upper and Lower Body workouts. Read on to learn more.
How to Gain Strength Without Size
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Before I begin, let’s get this out of the way.

If your goal is to look like this:

how to get lean not bulky
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This post isn’t for you.

Note: If you are a woman who wants to add a lot of size to your physique, then this post isn’t for you either.

If you’ve uttered such sentences like:

  • “I need to buy work pants for cutting and bulking seasons.”
  • “I enjoy working out, but my legs tend to get too big. My legs won’t fit in my jeans.
  • “I can’t fit into my pea coat!”

You’ve come to the right place.


This post is for men and women who want to gain strength without adding size to their current physique.

At the end of this article, I’ll describe a full workout plan that you can follow 😀

For example, men would instead look like Brad Pitt in Troy than his enemy above:

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A good example for women would be Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow:

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Instead of looking all bulky (and undefined), men and women want the sleek, yet, strong look.

Let’s go over how to achieve this and why it’s an important goal for some people.

Why Would Someone Want To Get Stronger But Not Bigger?

Sounds odd, doesn’t it?

Getting stronger but not bigger.

Why would someone want to achieve this?

There’s actually a ton of people who’s goals are exactly that.

Actors have to get stronger without getting bigger for their role.

Think of James Bond.

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He can’t have massive legs and a huge chest if he wants to fit into those jeans.

He has to look (and be strong), while still fitting in sleek, stylish clothing… (LeanWithStyle anyone?).

For some of us, we just don’t want to look like a power-lifter.

Myself included.

I don’t want to look like a power-lifter, but I do want to be strong and lean.

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I implement yoga 2-3 times a week into my strength training routine to keep my leg strength and mass that I already have.

I don’t want HUGE legs, and this is how to get slim legs without bulking up muscle in them.

That being said, I still train with heavy squats and deadlifts, but NEVER to failure. More on this soon.
Christian Pinedo

I want to be able to lift a lot of weight, but still be able to fit into my clothes.

It’s all about relative strength!

I’d rather be able to lift 225 for reps at 185 lbs than at 205 lbs.

So what can you do to start gaining strength without size?

First, we’re going to talk about how to avoid gaining size in the first place.

Then, we will talk about which style of training is best for gaining strength without size.

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How To Avoid Gaining Size

1. Train For Strength

strength without size
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How do you make a muscle firm and defined?

You must generate strong contractions whenever you lift weights.

If you cannot, then you will have weak, almost flabby, looking muscles!

To generate strong contractions you must train for strength.

The way to train for strength is to lift heavy.

Some of you are probably asking
“Won’t lifting heavy build bigger muscles?”

I’ll answer this in more detail in a second (the short answer is yes, but not if you lift heavy AND to failure).

2. Avoid Lifting To Failure

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If you lift heavy AND lift to failure, your muscles will try to compensate by increasing muscle size over time.

A lot of people who train to failure also don’t rest too long between sets (if they do, god forbid it’s more than 30 seconds).

This type of training will get a lot of blood pumping to the muscle, thus making it look bigger but not stronger (in most cases).

This process is called the “Pump,” and many people are obsessed with it.

When you get the “pump,” your muscles look bigger…but only for so long.

This is the prime-time to take an Instagram Selfie 😀 because you look bigger than usual.

Pump” style training will result in getting bigger without getting much stronger.

Training to failure also has some negative impacts on training, in general, such as:

Training to failure leads to something called Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy (more on this in a second).

This is why you should avoid lifting to failure if you want to gain strength without size.

The Two Types Of Muscle Growth

To answer the question of “Won’t lifting heavy build bigger muscles?” we must discuss the two types of muscle growth (aka Hypertrophy).

The first type: Myofibrillar Hypertrophy (MH).

The second type: Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy (SH).

You want to put the majority of your focus on the first form of muscle growth (MH).

MH is the type of growth that is a result of lifting heavy weights for low reps (3-8 reps).

MH forms hard, dense muscles without adding MUCH size.

Please note that lifting any type of weight in any rep range will result in SOME growth. You can’t expect to gain 0 inches to your frame.
Editors Note

SH is the type of growth that is a result of lifting lighter weights for high rips and training to failure.

People who train to failure get their muscles as a form of SH.

In short, if you lift to failure, you will get bigger muscles.

“It doesn’t matter if you lift for 3 reps or 15… if you train to failure, you create the potential for growth.”
Rusty Moore – Fashion Model Trainer of Visual Impact Fitness

So avoid it 🙂

How To Gain Strength Without Size Guidelines

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Brad Pitt represents Myofibrillar Hypertrophy and the big guy is Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy

Alright, let’s recap everything we know up to this point about muscle growth.

  • If you want bigger (not necessarily stronger) muscles, train to failure, and do it often.
  • If you want to get stronger without adding muscle size, avoid training to failure every so often.
  • Train for strength and lift heavy while avoiding failure.

Earlier, we spoke about how generating strong contractions results in hard, dense muscles.

Lifting heavy allows our muscles to contract harder than lighter weights ever could.

To avoid lifting to failure while lifting heavy, Follow These Guidelines:

Any workout split works best, but Rusty Moore recommends a two-day split:

Day 1: Back, Chest & Legs

Day 2: Shoulders, Arms & Abs.

Train 4 days per week and follow these guidelines.

  1. Choose 2 Exercises For Each Muscle Group– The first exercise should be a compound lift.– Compound lifts include the Bench Press, Deadlift, Overhead Press, Squats, etc.
  2. Use a weight that is 75-85% of your 1 Rep Max (1RM) – This is a weight you know you can do for about 8 reps.- ex: If 225 lbs is your 1RM on Bench Press, 170 lbs is about 75% of that.
  3. For each set, stop at 4-6 reps. – By stopping short of 8 reps, you avoid lifting to failure.- You also are lifting heavy relative to your 1RM.
  4. Rest 2-3 Minutes Between Sets.– By resting a bit longer between sets, you allow yourself to generate strong contractions each set.
  5. Complete 3-4 sets of this exercise.


  1. If you want bigger [insert muscle group here], then train to failure for the last 2 sets. Once you achieve your desired size, stop training to failure.
  2. If you want smaller [insert muscle group here], drop all training for the [muscle group] or cut the sets in half.

Rusty Moore’s ‘Strength Without Size’ Program For Men

For a while now, I’ve been following Rusty Moore’s Visual Impact Muscle Building Course.

Who is Rusty Moore?

He is a former trainer and coach of fashion runway models for Men & Women.

The primary goal of these models was to get in amazing shape without increasing size too much (aka. the main purpose of this article).

He has created two programs, one for men and one for women, to achieve this goal.

For Men, Visual Impact Muscle Building helps you achieve the ultimate physique without adding too much size.

Whether you have a lot of fat to lose or if you have to pack on some pounds, Rusty’s course comes with it all. 

Here’s what Rusty says about his course for Men:

“If you want to add muscle and you are after the lean “Hollywood Look”, this course will teach you exactly what needs to be done to accomplish that…

This course teaches a completely new and innovative approach to putting on muscle in a way that ensures you won’t wind up looking like a meathead.”

Rusty Moore’s ‘Victoria Secret Model‘ Program For Women

 Here’s what Rusty says about his course for women:

“There is nothing wrong with wanted to be fit while still looking 100% feminine.

I can show you exactly how to get in tremendous shape, look and feel better than ever, without adding excess muscle.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve mastered the technique of “slightly increasing muscle tone” to a body part while “decreasing the size” of that same body part.”

Check out his programs.

You won’t be disappointed!

– Chris

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Christian Pinedo

Hey there, Christian here. I'm a former fat guy who just wants to help you succeed in your fitness journey. I share my own experiences and experiments right here on this site. Let me know how I can be of help by leaving a comment below. If you want to learn more about my 50 lb weight loss journey, click here.

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