Do you think there is a difference between training for maximal strength versus training for maximal size?
Yes and no. In the one sense it is very important to have a strength focus to your training. Why? Because the heavy, low rep strength work stimulates growth of the contractile proteins – known as myofibrillar hypertrophy. This is the real lasting, “functional” muscle. Overloading a muscle with progressively heavier weights over time is the key to real gains in muscle. Get stronger with sufficient volume and adequate calories and you’ll get bigger. There’s no two ways about it. So the two tend to go hand in hand in the sense that bigger muscles are generally stronger and stronger muscles are generally (but not always) bigger.
However, there is a distinction that needs to be made as well. There is a difference between training for maximal size and training for maximal strength. A person after maximal gains in size wants to make that specific muscle do as much of the work as possible. He wants maximal tension placed on the targeted muscle. The person after maximal strength doesn’t really care about this. He cares more about the the weight moving – more about the synergistic effect of all muscles he can recruit to get the weight up. He doesn’t care what muscle contributes the most, as long as the weight goes up.
Basically the person chasing maximal strength tries to lift as much weight as they can. The person after maximal muscle still wants to lift as much weight as he can, but he wants to try to make the muscles work as hard as they can.
It’s not always about just getting strong on a basic exercise. What if for example you’ve got these big strong shoulders and triceps? They’re obviously going to take over on the bench and the end result is your pecs get short changed. You often see this – guys with big delts and triceps but pec development that lags behind. Getting stronger on the bench isn’t necessarily going to make this person’s chest grow. Shoulders and triceps? Most likely. This person needs a different strategy in order to get maximal tension on his pecs.
Stronger muscles basically give you more potential for bigger muscles since you can then subject the targeted muscle to greater tension – assuming the targeted muscle is what gets the tension.
So what you might find is that for some big movements, the targeted muscles are getting adequate tension and are doing the work you want them to do. In other movements, your biomechanics might be such that the muscles you want to respond aren’t getting hit adequately. For example, the aforementioned bench press example. Another example might be taller individuals and full squatting. In these cases, you’ll likely need to do some additional work (another more effective compound exercise or even some isolation exercise done as a secondary movement) on a more targeted exercise while still managing your overall training volume.
So as you can see, training for strength versus training for size is both similar and different at the same time.