Bigger Is Not Better

This is the time of year when many throwers are in their “hypertrophy” phase of training where the focus is on increasing muscle mass. As I mentioned in my interview with Vern Gambetta, the concept of building a base in the off-season is a bit outdated for elite athletes. So is the related concept of hypertrophy. To put it simply: bigger is not better.

It is a time honored tradition for men to work on getting bigger muscles. But bigger muscles are not necessarily better for the throwing events. You need more powerful muscles and, contrary to popular belief, the two do not go hand in hand. Bodybuilders have notoriously large muscles, but their power is nothing compared to Olympic lifters even in the lighter weight classes. I read a study yesterday concluding that changes in fat-free body mass (i.e. muscle) has no significant correlation to distance for rotational shot putters.


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8 replies
  1. TB
    TB says:

    No controls? All they proved was that it’s possible to improve without gaining lean-body mass, or that Greek training fails to increase LBM, or that practice can improve your throw.

    I share their belief, but they drew their conclusion out of thin air.

  2. Bosko
    Bosko says:

    It all depends on the level of the athlete. Considering that there are different types of muscle hypertrophy, i.e sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar, where sarcoplasmic is at most part a product of bodybuilders training (an increase of non-contractile parts) and myofibrillar is growth of muscle fibers, gains in myofibrils. Not all fat-free mass is the same. Muscle hypertrophy that is more on the myofibri side is directly correlated with absolute strength potential. That is why there are weight classes in weightlifting. For most average throwers, gains in absolute strength are correlated with results. Especially in shot putters. There is a non-parametric relation (as defined by Zatsiorsky) between an absolute strength in a movement such as let’s say bench press (as an arm extension) and a maximum velocity of a movement such as shot put. In simpler terms, stronger athletes move light objects faster. Up to a certain point of course. And that I believe is your point.

    Getting bigger or stronger is pointless for elite athletes. The absolute strength levels required for their event are already there and gaining more muscle mass won’t help with anything.

    • Martin
      Martin says:

      @Bosco: Thanks for the comment. My main point is that athletes should have a clear goal when they are weight lifting. They should know what they are aiming for and how they will do it. Following any old training program just because other people do it is not a good philosophy.

      As you say, muscle mass can be correlated to absolute strength potential. But does that mean that a quarter of the year should be spent in a hypertrophy phase, as many throwers do? You can build muscle mass during normal training phases too. The muscle can grow along with its strength. In addition, many people seem to focus on size because they feel it has a correlation to absolute strength. As you say, it just has a correlation to absolute strength potential. And then that potential has a correlation to maximum velocity of the implement (although sometimes that correlation doesn’t exist since the weight lifting movement can be very different from the competition movement). There is a difference, and athletes need to know and understand that. In other words, bigger (by itself) is not better. You need to convert the bigger into something better. Smaller muscle can be more powerful than bigger muscle, so make the most of what you have first.

      I do think that most elite athletes are strong enough, but that is not what I am focusing on here. If athletes want to get stronger, they should do it in a way that gets them stronger, not just bigger and it should get them stronger in a way that is useful. Every athlete does weight training and every athlete aims to get stronger, myself included. My goal is not to lift a house, but I still want to get stronger and I am able to do that effectively without a hypertrophy phase.

      @TB: My thoughts exactly. I am surprised at what types of studies can get published. But, like you, I share their belief so used it as a talking point even with those problems.

      • Bosko
        Bosko says:

        @Martin, I agree. The whole Matveyev yearly model of preparation-transition-competition should only be applied to beginner athletes. Dr B says that in his book: “it became clear that general preparation creates the “base”, “foundation” only in the
        training of novices and low level athletes”. But unfortunately, that model of training is still present with elite athletes. I see it in Serbia in all events. Programs go high volume/low intensity -> high intensity/low volume, with really neglecting the competitive exercises and special strength in the off season. They aim for two peaks during a year and that’s it. And they often miss them, as evident in major competitions. Kolasinac, our shot putter that was last in the Daegu final has 50 kg on Storl in major lifts. He bench presses 240kg like it’s nothing. And yet he hangs around 20.40-20.50 for three years now.

        So, like you said, weight training needs to have clear goals, transfer-oriented goals I might add. Is getting 10 kg more on his bench press going to transfer on his throwing? No. Then why work on it? Why have phases that are based on hypetrophy and absolute strength in lifts that no longer have a positive correlation with their event? Get stronger by all means, but stronger for the shot, not powerlifting. For me, it’s a simple logic, but they don’t see it. Under Bondarchuk, Kolasinac would go over 21m already. I’m sure of it. He has such a potential, it will be sad watching it fade away.

  3. TB
    TB says:

    How funny to read the post that came after yours today on the ring.

    I think it’s important to build up a base, too- a base of good throws with the technique I’m working on, and a base of even better throws with lighter hammers. (I’m not elite, so I can just add strength later on if my comp hammer is lagging what the lighter hammers predict)

  4. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    “Second, while there were some very good throwers involved, none of them qualified for this year’s world championships.”

    I think that if you were to see a difference it would be more clear with younger/less experienced throwers. At the elite and even “very good” levels they are fighting for inches while someone throwing 50-60 ft can get big burst from stuff like this. While you list this as a problem with the study I actual think it helps it. If you don’t see any noticeable improvement there I doubt someone like Storl would see much of anything either.

    @Bosko. I disagree that form of periodization should be used at all. Beginners should focus on beginning, learn the lifts and get to a general level of fitness, however long that takes and I don’t know anyone who got there in 4 weeks, the length of most of those cycles. Intermediate athletes won’t find much use with it because it focuses on everything rather than what they need work on or their strengths so both gain equally rather than tackling one hard. Elites will find no value in it because you start from zero every season rather than building where you left off.

    I like the concept of periodization but the current model just doesn’t work.

    • Bosko
      Bosko says:

      @Jeff When I say beginner athletes, I don’t mean absolute beginners that never did any kind of training in their life. Beginners or novices are those that are starting to specialize in a chosen event, that already have a general level of fitness and coordination established, clear goals and aptitude. That categorization might not be as common in US, but it is present in European systems (it was actually a basis in East German training system).

      I would never even mention periodization to absolute beginners. They are not peaking for anything, their progress is continual with basic training. I hope we understand each other now.

  5. Brandon Green
    Brandon Green says:


    Have to agree with Bosko for the most part. From what i understand myofibrillar hypertrophy can increase force potential a great deal(even a small amount of hypertrophy) but results depend on where on the body this mass is acquired as well as the ability to use the increase in absolute strength n a technical and expolsive event.


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