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The Rundown on Hypertrophy vs Strength
Whether you’re heading back to the gym after a long break or about to enter the weight room for the first time, figuring out what to do once you decide to hit the gym can be daunting.
If you are searching for an exercise plan, you’ve likely run across two main types of weight training: hypertrophy and strength training.
Although both are incredibly beneficial, they each have different goals.
While hypertrophy training focuses on making the muscles larger, strength training aims to make the muscles stronger.
In this article, we’ll give you the rundown on hypertrophy vs. strength training to help you decide which one is best suited for your fitness goals.
THE ROLE RESISTANCE TRAINING HAS ON MUSCLE MASS
Resistance training — also known as weight training — can help improve physical performance, self-esteem, mental health, bone development, and heart health.
It is also the best way to increase muscle mass and improve body composition.
Each time you lift weights, you place stress on your muscle tissue, causing tiny tears or “micro-tears” in the muscle fibers.
After these tears are formed, your body then repairs and adapts the muscles to better handle the stimulus that caused the damage. Over time, this process builds muscle mass.
When you start lifting weights, you will likely notice increased muscle size and strength.
However, once you become more advanced, you’ll eventually want to shift your focus toward either gaining strength or muscle mass based on your unique fitness goals.
This makes it important to know the difference between training for strength and training for muscle growth.
HYPERTROPHY VS STRENGTH QUICK FACTS
- Hypertrophy training mainly focuses on developing your muscles to maximize muscle size.
- Strength training focuses on improving your ability to produce force and lift heavier weights.
- Lighter weights with more repetitions are used in hypertrophy training.
- Heavier weights with fewer repetitions are used in strength training.
- Strength training involves more compound movements that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously.
- Hypertrophy training focuses on isolating one muscle group to help it grow.
Here, we’ll break down what hypertrophy training is, why people use it, and how it differs from strength training.
WHAT IS HYPERTROPHY TRAINING?
Hypertrophy training, also known as muscle hypertrophy training, is training with the intent to build your muscles to be as large as possible. It focuses on progressive overloading — gradually increasing the volume of work placed on the muscle — to help increase the size of your muscle fibers in areas that you train the most.
Unlike a strength training program that involves lifting heavier loads with fewer reps, hypertrophy training involves more reps with lighter weights and an overall increase in training volume. The rest period between sets in a hypertrophy training regimen is generally less than three minutes.
According to research, the combination of high volume, moderate to light loads, and shorter rest intervals can also increase the levels of growth hormones and testosterone. This can lead to increased protein synthesis and decreased protein degradation.
Hypertrophy workouts focus on several different isolation exercises that only work out certain muscle groups. For example, on leg day, you might perform a few different lower body exercises to target leg muscles.
Many people trying to add skeletal muscle mass are also more likely to incorporate machines in their workout than someone training for strength.
Exercises you may see in a hypertrophy training program may include:
- Lat pulldown
- Barbell curl
- Leg press
- Alternating dumbbell curl
- Builds lean muscle mass
- Increased muscular strength and power
If you are training for an aesthetic purpose of larger, defined muscles, hypertrophy training is your best bet.
Despite the goal of muscle building, many lifters will also initially see an increase in strength and power. However, it’s important to note that an increase in muscle size will not always result in increased functional strength.
One study looked at thirty previously resistance-trained young males. Researchers found that six weeks of high-volume resistance exercise led to an increase in skeletal muscle fiber content of as much as 23%.
Interestingly, they discovered most of the gains were due to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which refers to increased muscle volume without strength gains.
Next up, we’ll break down what strength training is, why it's popular, and how it's done.
WHAT IS STRENGTH TRAINING?
As the name implies, strength training refers to lifting weights with the goal of increasing the amount of force your muscles can put out or the amount of weight you can lift.
Similar to hypertrophy training, strength training also focuses on progressive overloading but focuses on increasing the amount of weight lifted instead of volume. Overall, it has a lower training volume compared to hypertrophy-style training. It also has more extended rest periods.
An example would be performing at 85% of your one repetition maximum, performing five reps per set, with eight total sets. The rest period between sets is 3 to 5 minutes.
Pure strength training is almost always centered around free weights. Most strength training programs will involve compound exercises such as:
- Pull up
- Bench press
- Clean and press
- Bodyweight exercises
People strength train for various reasons, but the goal is always building strength and getting stronger. For example, an older adult may want to build strength to carry groceries upstairs, while a powerlifter wants to increase their bench press to win a competition.
- Reduces body fat
- Increases bone density
- Increases metabolism
When combined with a healthy diet, strength training can decrease body fat levels while preserving lean body mass. This can increase the total calories you burn in a day and help you achieve a toned, lean body physique.
Strength training can also increase bone density, which can help protect against injuries and age-related bone loss when we get older.
THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO
If you notice, the movements and type of equipment used between strength training and hypertrophy training are very similar. However, the two have a few distinct differences.
Differences between hypertrophy vs. strength include:
The training volume, or the number of repetitions and the total number of sets in a workout, is higher in hypertrophy than in strength training sessions.
The amount of weight lifted is lighter in hypertrophy than it is in strength training.
Strength training allows for more extended rest periods than hypertrophy training.
WHICH ONE'S FOR ME?
Strength and hypertrophy training are both beneficial and effective.
Neither one should be considered to be superior to the other. In fact, many athletes utilize both training methods throughout the year as their goals change.
Generally speaking, if you’re looking to maximize the size of your muscles and aren’t focused on increasing the amount of weight you are lifting, then you may benefit from a hypertrophy training plan.
Conversely, if you want to maximize the amount of weight you can bench press or simply want to feel stronger and reach maximal strength, a strength training plan may be best for you.
A person who is new to resistance training will likely add muscle mass and strength when they begin lifting weights without much planning. However, if you want to choose, consider hypertrophy training first to focus on building muscle strength and size.
Starting out by lifting at your maximum capacity on a strength training plan can cause your form to suffer, which can lead to muscle and joint injuries if you aren’t careful.
Both hypertrophy and strength training styles are important.
They are often combined to increase strength and muscle simultaneously.
However, if you want to focus on one particular exercise program, you can make adjustments and adapt your workout to reach your goal.
Whether you’d like to focus on gaining muscle or getting stronger, it’s important to provide your body with optimal nutrition, rest, and stay consistent to see the best results.