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Muscle definition versus strength

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created January 17, 2011 at 2:07 PM

I have been religiously doing weight lifting exercises for quite some time. While my muscles (particularly arms) are looking good and when flexed feel nice and hard, I still have no strength. I can't do one push up and wouldn't even attempt a pull up. What is the difference between having muscles and being strong, and how do I get stronger?

95eda9fa0cec952b482e869c34a566b6

on January 17, 2011
at 07:14 PM

In Sisson's book, he shows you how to progress through various stages to arrive at doing regular pushups and pullups. There are accompanying demonstration videos on YouTube. Keep on trucking!

7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

(18701)

on January 17, 2011
at 06:23 PM

My trainer was adamant that I never do knee pushups. I know your question wasn't about learning to do pushups, but if that is a goal, I really feel making yourself do them is the best way. You might feel silly just doing one, or even a 1/2, but you'll have 10 sooner than you think! Pushups are one of the very best exercises in my opinion, I get a lot of compliments on my shoulders/arms and I think it's entirely due to pushups.

0c0c5c65612425e497b7231c21516943

(1354)

on January 17, 2011
at 04:36 PM

I can do knee pushups and wall ones. I agree that the real ones are just different and hard!

7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

(18701)

on January 17, 2011
at 03:37 PM

I honestly did best just making myself do a REAL pushup. At first I could only do one, but I quickly added them. My sister could only do a 1/2 of pushup and had to start from the top and let herself down slowly and was eventually able to push herself up. I do believe that wall/incline pushups help, but I think knee pushups use different muscles and they have been letting girls get away with those for far too often.

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6 Answers

3
89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on January 17, 2011
at 02:30 PM

Deidre,

A push-up and certainly a pullup are not necessarily beginners exercise, and failing attempting one of these exercises now does not mean you have not gotten stronger since the beginning of your training. Let my try to explain.

Let us take a lat-pulldown exercise, which is rather similar to a pullup. Let's say you could lift 35 kg in the past, and now you can lift 50 kg, that would be a major improvement. But it could be that this great improvement still does not translate into doing a pullup (e.g. if your bodyweight is 55 kg).

Same with the push-up.

So how do you get stronger? By doing weight lifting as you do, but try to monitor progress. And don't train to much.

I don't know what your baseline condition is, but Mark Sisson has a pretty good free e-book (if you subscribe for his free newsletter) on primal fitness. Worth checking out.

95eda9fa0cec952b482e869c34a566b6

on January 17, 2011
at 07:14 PM

In Sisson's book, he shows you how to progress through various stages to arrive at doing regular pushups and pullups. There are accompanying demonstration videos on YouTube. Keep on trucking!

2
7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

on January 17, 2011
at 06:54 PM

I think the biggest difference in building muscles that look good and true "strength" is actually learning to use the muscles. The weight lifting really just trains the muscle to do that one movement. Real life things like rock climbing, playing sports and just lifting heavy things trains the body to do those things.

In addition to your weight lifting, even adding body weight exercises while lifting things like sandbags or milk jugs can help your body learn different movements. Possibly also playing a sport or taking a different type of sports class could help you with this. A boxing class or a bootcamp class or honestly, whatever you can find in your area that interests you. You have to take the muscles out of the gym and USE them. I am really hoping to go to a MovNat seminar here in Chicago this year for this reason.

2
9a3307dc00af6a76af1aa31cedf9156e

(418)

on January 17, 2011
at 05:50 PM

It would probably help to know a couple things before answering this question: 1. What exactly does "weightlifting exercises" ential? 2. How long is "quite some time"? 3. What was your starting platform? i.e. "I am 50 lbs overweight, I want to lose the weight and then start getting stronger" vs. "I am at a normal BMI, I just want to get healthier, stronger, and tone my body" 4. What is your endgame? Being able to do 50 pushups nonstop does not meaon one is "strong" per se. Conversely, a "strong" person who can move a lot of weight might not have great difinition or overall "muscular" appearance. So what exactly are you aiming for? Also a side note, female anatomy does not lend itself well to bodyweight exercises that rely heavily on the chest and shoulder girdle. For instance, strict pullups are often difficult for many women who have been athletes most of their lives.

2
1cbb6b2a813475d6c0b17fd5e898dc50

on January 17, 2011
at 02:58 PM

Here is a link to a post about strength vs. muscle gain. Rusty Moore at The Fitness Blackbook knows his stuff.

2
4b97e3bb2ee4a9588783f5d56d687da1

on January 17, 2011
at 02:56 PM

Working up to Pushups.

  • Wall Pushups. Just like it sounds, do these until you can do 20 reps non-stop.

  • Incline Pushups. I recommend back of your couch. 20 reps non-stop.

  • On Your Knees!. till you can do 20 reps.

  • On One Knee. 20 reps each leg (some people can skip at this point)

  • Pushups! workup your rep count, and eventually you can move to reverse incline(raised feet/weighted etc)

Working up to Pullups.

  • Chair/Band Assist. Use a chair and put one leg down, push only as much as you need help. Alternately, bands can provide minimal counter resistance.

  • Lowering(Negative Pullup). Jump up(or step off a chair) and then slowly lower yourself down.

  • Lat Pulldowns with proper form(all the way to chest)

Strength is subjective, what do you want to do? Whats your goal? Goal setting is the best way to achieve desire.

0c0c5c65612425e497b7231c21516943

(1354)

on January 17, 2011
at 04:36 PM

I can do knee pushups and wall ones. I agree that the real ones are just different and hard!

7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

(18701)

on January 17, 2011
at 06:23 PM

My trainer was adamant that I never do knee pushups. I know your question wasn't about learning to do pushups, but if that is a goal, I really feel making yourself do them is the best way. You might feel silly just doing one, or even a 1/2, but you'll have 10 sooner than you think! Pushups are one of the very best exercises in my opinion, I get a lot of compliments on my shoulders/arms and I think it's entirely due to pushups.

7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

(18701)

on January 17, 2011
at 03:37 PM

I honestly did best just making myself do a REAL pushup. At first I could only do one, but I quickly added them. My sister could only do a 1/2 of pushup and had to start from the top and let herself down slowly and was eventually able to push herself up. I do believe that wall/incline pushups help, but I think knee pushups use different muscles and they have been letting girls get away with those for far too often.

1
018e690f1359b1ead532307d8a828e22

on January 18, 2011
at 02:44 AM

What is the difference between having muscles and being strong, and how do I get stronger?

I don't want to get wrapped up in semantics, but really that's all we have to work with in this form of communication so let's try to address the question based on how you have defined your terms.

  • "having muscles"

my muscles (particularly arms) are looking good and when flexed feel nice and hard

  • "being strong"

I can't do one push up and wouldn't even attempt a pull up.

  • "get stronger"

religiously doing weight lifting exercises for quite some time

If I'm following correctly you've discovered that what you have been doing to get stronger has produced muscles but not strength.

(I hope I'm not coming across as sarcastic - I've been trying to find a way to be as objective as possible when contributing to communities such as this and other online based groups)

I tend to agree with Brian's advice to clarify your terms and set specific goals. If strength to you means being able to do 10 push ups and pull ups does it really matter if I or anyone else thinks that strength means something different? Following this logic if you are looking to get stronger (based on your definition of strength) working on a progression such as that mentioned by Stephen-Aegis would serve the purpose of achieving your goal quite well.

Best of luck!

Jeremy

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