Purpose: This study assessed variability in muscle size and strength changes in a large cohort of men and women after a unilateral resistance training program in the elbow flexors. A secondary purpose was to assess sex differences in size and strength changes after training.
Methods: Five hundred eighty-five subjects (342 women, 243 men) were tested at one of eight study centers. Isometric (MVC) and dynamic strength (one-repetition maximum (1RM)) of the elbow flexor muscles of each arm and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the biceps brachii (to determine cross-sectional area (CSA)) were assessed before and after 12 wk of progressive dynamic resistance training of the nondominant arm.
Results: Size changes ranged from -2 to +59% (-0.4 to +13.6 cm), 1RM strength gains ranged from 0 to +250% (0 to +10.2 kg), and MVC changes ranged from -32 to +149% (-15.9 to +52.6 kg). Coefficients of variation were 0.48 and 0.51 for changes in CSA (P = 0.44), 1.07 and 0.89 for changes in MVC (P < 0.01), and 0.55 and 0.59 for changes in CSA (P < 0.01) in men and women, respectively. Men experienced 2.5% greater gains for CSA (P < 0.01) compared with women. Despite greater absolute gains in men, relative increases in strength measures were greater in women versus men (P < 0.05).
Conclusion: Men and women exhibit wide ranges of response to resistance training, with some subjects showing little to no gain, and others showing profound changes, increasing size by over 10 cm and doubling their strength. Men had only a slight advantage in relative size gains compared with women, whereas women outpaced men considerably in relative gains in strength.