I received the following question in response to a recent video I posted on my YouTube channel about an exercise called the Sit-up Stand-up, which is a great calisthenic exercise.

His question is an interesting and very common one about muscle mass versus strength and designing the right program for your specific needs.

ZestyManifesto: Hi! Does increasing your muscle mass, in turn, increase your max strength? I’m quite confused as to if I should be using a circuit format for increased muscle mass and a higher metabolic rate or the station format to improve a specific primal pattern.

I’m a rock climber at the performance level of exercise and I really would like to figure out how to progress past this plateau of not feeling strong enough.

How Does Building Muscle Mass Increase Max Strength?

Photo courtesy of Larry Lamsa under Flickr Creative Commons. License.

Muscle mass versus strength

Increasing your muscle mass generally increases maximal strength, but only to a certain point.

This can easily be observed by the fact that even the BIGGEST bodybuilders in the world are not even nearly as strong or powerful as some of the top female Olympic lifters!

There are bodybuilders, for example, who can deadlift over 600 pounds in training, but wouldn’t even come close to winning a powerlifting competition where competitors have a much higher “maximal strength,” particularly relative to body weight.

Here are a couple terms you will benefit from understanding:

Absolute Strength: This is how strong someone is regardless of their body weight. The people in this class, generally, are your big men who may weigh 300 pounds, and deadlift or squat 1,000 pounds.

Relative Strength: How strong someone is and how much they can lift relative to their body weight.

Some examples of high relative strength athletes are rock climbers who can do multiple single-arm chin-ups with “one finger holding the bar!”

Eugen Sandow, the father of bodybuilding and one of the strongest men in the world nearly a century ago, could do astonishing things such as doing backflips while holding onto 35-pound weights in each hand, one-finger pull-ups on stage and breaking chains tightened around his chest.

Sandow weighed 210 pounds and was just under 6 feet tall. (Gymnasts probably have some of the highest relative strength levels of all athletes.)

Here is your complication as a rock climber: If you increase strength along with muscle mass, there comes a tipping point where your strength/power isn’t enough to accommodate the additional