I’ve heard it countless times before. I don’t want to be strong I just want to look good. When someone is improving their physique they are getting stronger no matter. Muscles grow by gradually increasing stress over time. Strength and muscle go hand in hand.
I see this a lot with women. They shy away from resistance training hoping that pink dumbbells and cardio are the answer to getting the physical appearance they want. What women actually need to get the physique they want (toned butt and thighs) is to add muscle those parts of the body. So that means getting strong in some form of squat and deadlift. Strong is the new sexy.
Many people forget that even while training with a higher rep range (e.g. 12-15 reps) you are still getting stronger providing you are progressively overloading your body with stress. This will still increase your absolute strength. Squatting the same weight for 6 months without adding weight/reps to the bar will not make your legs grow. They will just look the same. Adding weight over time, regardless of rep range, is what will make your legs grow.
Chasing strength also means that your working towards a goal. Working towards a goal means that you will be progressively adding stress to your body, meaning your body is making adaptations. Lifting heavy weights helps build type 2 muscle fibres which are most associated with hypertrophy. Besides, working towards goals is more fun and will keep you engaged for the long term.
Even the top pros were doing this in the early 70’s. People like Arnold Schwarzenegger realised the importance of chasing strength. Sure he was taking drugs, but the principles remained the same, he realised that getting strong on exercises equated to bigger muscles. He didn’t do 15-20 reps in all his training; he mixed in a variety of lower rep work. Competing against a training log and getting stronger is the best thing you can do for your physique.
Research also shows that lifting heavier while dieting helps preserve muscle. When dieting, you are at more risk to losing lean body mass, which is obviously something you want to avoid. Your body is also going to eventually slow down metabolism to try and conserve energy. Muscle is a costly resource, so your body will want to use the hard earned muscle you have built. The human body always tries to maintain homeostasis. To do this it will use as little energy as possible and will fight off losing body fat first. The best way around this is to continue to lift heavy weights. Your body will have a better reason to hold onto the muscle by placing the same stress/ demand that got you there in the first place. Working towards maintaining (or even gaining muscle if your newer to training) throughout a dieting period can also help mentally focus on your workouts.
The biggest guys and the women with the best figures are often the strongest. They recognise that striving for strength is essential to success. Get your training notebook out and make it your mission to get strong.