When it comes to talking about technique and strength, I’m primarily going to be discussing the four foundational, general barbell movements in strength training. This is the Press, the Bench Press, the Squat, and the Deadlift. As a beginner you are likely much stronger than you think. You are also much less coordinated than you think, which is why that strength is fairly meaningless. Your body has not yet learned the cues to properly recruit muscle during crucial parts of the lift, and you need to learn them. The first part to getting stronger is actually just getting better at the lifts.
Technique is more important than strength. Russian Powerlifting Coach Boris Sheiko, coaching 39 world champion athletes himself, holds to this philosophy as well.
An additional benefit of stable motor patterns is that they scale better under load. Sheiko refers to this as “extrapolation”.
Put an unstable pattern under stress and it won’t go very far until it breaks down since it’s already “broken”. Meanwhile, the stable pattern can be stressed much further until it deteriorates.
One of the questions people usually have about Sheiko’s programs is why the programs rarely go above 85% of 1RM. Extrapolation is part of the explanation.
If you get better in a technical sense at doing the Squat, you will have a much easier time adding weight to the bar and thus getting stronger. If you never learn proper technique, you might add weight to the bar but you’re going to hit a glass ceiling fairly quickly. A Squat will crush you, a Deadlift will destroy your lower back (or tear a bicep depending on how you hold the bar), a Bench press has a whole array of ways to break your body and spirit, and an Overhead Press is also creative in how it will break you. Thus, it is important to always be improving form while moving weight up as proper form allows. Getting stronger has many facets, but one that cannot be ignored is the technique the makes that strength possible to manifest.
As a beginner, increasing your muscle size actually does very little to increase your raw strength output. It will be more important the more advanced you get. This should be pretty straightforward. If you are a beginner, increasing your muscle size will mean close to nothing if your motor patterns for the lifts are not well established. This will become all the more clear when you pay attention to who is lifting what in the gym. I’ve met people who were 240 lbs Deadlifting maybe 400 lbs. I’ve also met friends at 175-180 lbs Deadlifting 600 lbs. The simple fact is that if your goal is to get stronger then muscle size will only matter once you get to near perfect levels of mechanical execution. As a beginner, you likely have a good amount of raw strength. You just need to train it in accordance with proper mechanics.