Will Becoming Too Muscular Make You Slow and Stiff?

By on October 18, 2022

“Can you be too strong?”

It might sound like a nonsense question, but I think it’s an interesting topic to explore.

On the face of it, the obvious answer might be no. Being too strong is surely like being too wealthy, or too healthy, or too happy.

I’m the first to argue that you can be strong while still being fast. The notion that getting too strong will slow you down seems like little more than a convenient excuse not to train hard, to me.

Strong

But perhaps we should reframe the question. Too strong for what? Too strong compared to what?

I believe that you can be too strong for your own good. And that this comes down primarily to your strength relative to other properties.

If your strength has run ahead of all other aspects of your training, then it is no longer a benefit: it becomes a detriment. Your strength may even be hurting you.

Muscle Without Tendon Strength

A great example is having very powerful muscles but NO tendon strength. This is something we see often in steroid users – seeing as tendons don’t respond to steroid use in the same way and the muscles can, therefore, rapidly pull ahead.

Not only is this leaving potential performance gains on the table, it’s also introducing a high risk of injury as you lift large amounts of weight for a certain number of repetitions. The muscles can hold out, but the tendons cannot. They give up and tear.

Tendon strength

And, of course, this simply wouldn’t be an issue if you were strong enough to get to that point in the first place.

Strength Without Technique or Mobility

The same thing can happen if you have a lot of strength without technique and without mobility.

This is where I found myself, for a time, between the ages of 22 to about 29. During this time, I had stopped martial arts and rock climbing, stopped running, and focussed purely on bodybuilding. My “day job” was writing, so I spent the rest of my time sitting hunched over a laptop.

I was carrying a little more bodyfat than even my relaxed attitude would have preferred.

Towards the end of that period, I was carrying a little more bodyfat than even my relaxed attitude would have preferred.

At that time, I couldn’t even get into a deep squat with my heels flat. I was constantly putting my lower back out. I had a bad knee for two years.

A lot of this came from heaving huge weights up with bad form and at the wrong angles. I could do a good five reps of 50kg in each arm on the dumbbell press, but the way I picked up and put those dumbbells back was a recipe for an injury.

Squatting

I’m actually weaker on that and other lifts now, but my overall performance is much better.

Going into a deadlift variation after sitting all day meant that I wasn’t activating my glutes correctly. And their lagging strength definitely contributed to a few of those lower back injuries.

In general, being able to lift a huge amount of weight opens up more opportunities to hurt yourself. The more you can lift, the more careful you need to be.

And if you have chronic bad posture and form due to lifestyle factors, it’s really worth fixing that before you go attempting to lift gigantic amounts of weight!

Strength Without Endurance

Muscle is metabolically taxing.

This is great news when it comes to burning fat and getting leaner. It’s also simply heavier and thus more work to move around.

It’s NOT such great news when it comes to endurance. Muscle will cause you to get tired faster if you haven’t also put in the work to improve your cardio and your work capacity.

Suddenly, that muscle becomes a hindrance in a sparring match or game of mostly any sport.

Treadmill

Also, for climbing the stairs.

To avoid this, you need to build strength while also building systemic cardio AND muscle endurance as needed. As I’ve talked about before on this channel, endurance can also be domain specific. We can increase blood flow and mitochondria for muscle groups individually.

So, make sure you use a combination of higher rep AND lower rep to build strength WITH endurance. Even if that means you get a little less of each.

All these systems must work in tandem.

Strength Without Explosiveness

In a similar manner, we also need to ensure we have adequate explosiveness to go with that strength.

Max strength means you are capable of lifting an awful lot when you grind through the movement. This is not the same as rate of force development, or explosiveness. In other words, it is not the same as power. And you aren’t necessarily able to tap into that explosiveness quickly.

Tired

It is possible to increase your explosiveness by around 50%, according to the research.

And again, because muscle is heavier, adding a lot of it can slow you down. For example, jumping is going to be harder if you’re heavier without also building explosive potential.

To begin with, the strength gains will counteract the added weight. That is to say, you will be able to jump higher from using squats alone to begin with. But when you combine heavy weight training with explosive training – even just by focussing on bar speed for a while – you can get the best of both worlds and significantly increase jump height.

Strength Without Control

Something else to consider is that strength without control can also be a detriment. In particular, you need to be able to isolate the muscles you want to contract and relax the antagonist muscles.

Ever seen someone big and bulky try and punch a bag? Often, they just look stiff and awkward. Of course, this isn’t always the case. Mike Tyson can hit a heavy bag just fine and look quick and powerful doing so! This, of course, is because he has practiced using his considerable muscle for that purpose. Over time, he’s created efficient neural pathways that allow him to contract the right muscles and simultaneously relax the antagonists. Moreover, he’s able to contract the muscles in the correct sequence to drive power from the foot, through the body, and into the fist.

But if you’ve only ever practiced lifting weights, you’ll likely find you’re overly accustomed to simply contracting. To creating effort throughout the entire body. This is where

Closing Comments

All this is to say that while strength itself isn’t a bad thing, it CAN become a detriment if you train it at the expense of all else.

Your muscle mass is only detrimental if you don’t have the technique, endurance, and mobility to match. And if you haven’t practiced using that power in an explosive manner.

Strength Tired

Strength, on the other hand, becomes an issue when it is wielded without common sense and maturity. When big muscle and a bigger ego encourage you to make massive lifts that you aren’t ready for, the results can be disastrous.

It seems that Spider-Man was right, once again. With great power, comes great responsibility!

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

3 Comments

  1. Dimensional shade says:

    Its sad seeing the blog get less and less comments…

    Anyways thank you so mutch Sinicki for adding this to the blog,some of us prefer reading over watching!

    • Elliot Loughman says:

      Same with you man. I’ve been dopamine detoxing for 6 years now and this place is my sanctuary. I enjoy reading now more than ever. And I feel like I retain the information better when I read.

      Thanks Adam

      Best regards Elliot

    • NotRobb says:

      Dido! Thank you so much for the time and devotion you give to this site and to the thousands that take this kind of work for granted. Love everything you do, Adam, wish you the best! Can’t wait to tune in for the next article.

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