by Ashley Kailing on September 27, 2021
Increasing your strength or muscle mass has one obvious solution: Add some type of resistance training to your workout routine.
However, there are two specific ways to train in order to maximize either strength and/or muscle mass.
In this article, we will go over two different training adaptations, discuss how to utilize each one and figure out whether hypertrophy training or strength training is best for someone new to lifting.
HYPERTROPHY VS. STRENGTH: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE & WHAT DO THEY ENTAIL?
Hypertrophy training refers to exercising with the sole intention of growing your muscles. (i.e. making them look bigger)
Strength training on the other hand, improves the efficacy of the neuromuscular system, which means you are training to develop true strength.
This means that someone could look big, but not be the strongest person.
For example, a professional bodybuilder may have all the visual characteristics of being strong, but when compared to a powerlifter or strongman competitor their true strength would typically be less.
This is not to say that a bodybuilder is weak by any means, but rather to show there is a difference in the way the muscles look and what they are being used for.
One type of training is used more for aesthetics and the other for power.
Since both types of training have a different outcome, they have a different type of training method as well and will require different levels of volume and intensity in order to achieve the proper result.
So, what does that mean? Well, let’s break it down.
VOLUME = Total weight lifted during a training session
It is calculated by sets X reps X weight.
Example: You perform 5 Sets of Barbell Deadlifts
Set 1: 5 Reps @ 140lbs = 700
Set 2: 5 Reps @ 185lbs = 925
Set 3: 3 Reps @ 220lbs = 660
Set 4: 3 Reps @ 240lbs = 720
Set 5: 2 Reps @ 265lbs = 530
Total Volume = 3,535
Volume can be an important thing to track when you are training consistently and looking for strength gains, but more importantly for hypertrophy results.
INTENSITY = Energy you put into a workout or exercise
A method for finding intensity is to utilize an RPE scale (Rate of Perceived Exertion)
The RPE scale refers to how difficult you find a set to be on a scale of 1-10. The higher the rating (the more difficult the set feels), the higher the intensity of effort. Working sets will typically fall within an RPE of 6-10.
So, how does each type of training work and what do intensity and volume have to do with each method? Let’s find out!
HOW TO UTILIZE STRENGTH TRAINING
Here is where intensity plays a huge factor. For strength-oriented goals, both intensity of the load and intensity of your effort are important. The closer to your one-rep max you lift, the stronger the strength stimulus.
The general focus for strength training is: HEAVY to MAX weight with relatively LOW reps, LOW to MODERATE sets (i.e. 2-5 Sets,1-6 Reps) and 3-5 minute rests between sets.
Here we are looking to overload your central nervous system, but in the right way. When lifting in general, our brain sends signals (Neurons) out to our muscles and tells our muscles to contract. When we lift heavy however, the number of signals (Neurons) increases and in turn, recruits more small muscle fibers to work.
When focusing on low reps and heavy to max weight, you are making your body familiarize itself with this loaded tension and teaching it how to properly use these new muscle fibers. This extra weight and load, not reps, being put on the body is what leads to the actual strength progression in a lifter.
You may still be wondering about size? After all, many people often think that the heavier you lift, the “bulkier” you will be? Especially with a 3-5 minute rest…...you must think I am crazy!
But is that the truth? Will taking these rests and lifting heavy make you gain weight or look bulky? Well, let’s look into hypertrophy training and see!
HOW TO UTILIZE HYPERTROPHY TRAINING
Hypertrophy is where volume increases and intensity slightly decreases.
The general focus for hypertrophy training is: MODERATE to HEAVY weight with relatively HIGH reps, HIGH sets (i.e. 4-6 Sets, 8-12 Reps) and 60-120 second rests between sets.
This type of training typically does not offer much additional strength, it offers size.
The continuous reps with relatively hard weight causes microtrauma to the muscle, making it break down and leading to microtears.
DON’T WORRY OR LET THAT SHY YOU AWAY FROM LIFTING!
These microtears are a good thing!
When muscles are torn and fatigued during a lift, they need time to repair and rest….and while that happens, they grow….and when your muscles grow, they do not grow so fast that you need to go up a whole clothing size in just a couple weeks. 😉
Instead, the growth is slow, very slow and it takes a lot of patience, time, and consistency. This is why it takes bodybuilders ample amount of time to get the size and shape they are looking for.
Going back to the question right before we entered the hypertrophy section….does strength training make you bulky? No, strength training alone will not make you bulk up.
(The amount and quality of food we consume is a whole other story, but we will save that for another day!)
Hypertrophy training on the other hand…..WILL
STRENGTH VS. HYPERTROPHY: WHICH ONE DO I TRAIN FOR AS SOMEONE WHO IS NEW TO LIFTING?
First off, do not worry too much about picking one over the other until you have been training for at least 5-6 months. When you first start going to the gym to lift, your body is new to all these stressors being added to it, so you will be able to add strength and/or muscle mass doing relatively anything, as long as it involves some sort of resistance training.
If you want to delve into one type of training over the other to start, start with the basics of strength training. Teach your mind and body to connect, making those neurons more receptive to the movements, muscles, and the new stresses being added to the body.
Ultimately, your body needs to learn how to stabilize joints and muscles first, in order to move on to hypertrophy training, which will require more conditioned muscles to withstand the higher rep ranges.
As you can see based on a new lifter, each type can be intertwined and actually complement each other.
But, for those who have been lifting for a while, I hope this article gives you a better understanding on the difference between size vs. strength, so that you can design a more appropriate and effective training program that fits your goals.