Strength v. Hypertrophy


Oct 2, 2023

 by Tyler Watling
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How are these two defined? What are the best training protocols for each? Which one should you be doing? Can you do both at the same time? Continue reading to learn all the answers to these questions.


Many people are unclear about what each one is and how to properly train for it, yet these are 2 of the most common goals when resistance training. The clearer a goal is when starting a program, the higher the success rate will be. Therefore, understanding the difference in these 2 adaptations and the proper concepts behind them will be very beneficial to you.

Like any program, adherence is the number one key to obtain results. Neither of these adaptations can be achieved if there is not a consistent program outlined that you can stick to. Set smart goals for yourself, know your limits and pick a program that works in conjunction with those factors.


Defining Strength and Hypertrophy:

Strength:

  • This is a functional adaptation
  • Outcomes of strength training result in the muscle fibers improvement to contract and produce a greater force output without necessarily changing their size
  • The force production is a result of the muscle fibers improving their firing rate and synchronization with proper technique
  • Training for strength improves bone health through the higher load-bearing work. The stress on the bones results in the cells being called to action to rebuild them. This results in a reduced risk of osteoporosis and fractures
  • Strength training is the best combatant to neuromuscular aging and helps protect against age-related cognitive decline

Hypertrophy:

  • This relates to the SIZE of the muscle. Does not directly relate to function.
  • Generally dependent on training volume and intensity. Force production is not the main goal.
  • Training to or close to failure is a major key.
  • The proteins within the cell get thicker causing the cell to grow and make room for them. This cell growth results in the size of the muscle fiber growing. All leading to an increase in muscle size

Training Protocols

Strength:

  • Strength training is fairly straight-forward: move some heavy weight with proper technique at max speed. A simple guideline is the “3-5 Method”
    • 3-5 days/week
    • 3-5 exercises
    • 3-5 sets
    • 3-5 reps
    • 3-5 minutes of rest
    • 3-5% progressive overload
  • This can be scaled based on your schedule and goals. From 3x3, 3 days/week all the way to 5x5, 5 days/week.
  • The exercise selection should focus on compound movements and be done first in the workout.
  • Working sets should be done at 70%+ of whatever your 1 rep max is.
  • It is preferred to train to technical failure vs. pure failure (when your form starts to break down).
  • Better to have days dedicated to certain muscle groups to avoid overload/overtraining.
  • 1 and 2 rep sets are also acceptable, but these are more taxing on the central nervous system.
  • Warmup needs to be whatever it takes so that you can move as optimally as possible. Dynamic movements are ideal.

Hypertrophy:

  • Volume and intensity are more important than sets and reps.
    • 5-20 reps seem to provide best results though.
  • 10 working sets per muscle group per week.
    • 15-20 sets are ideal for max growth.
  • Rest periods range from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Higher load = longer rest.
  • Focus on weak areas to promote balance. Overly-developed muscle groups can be limited to abut 5 sets per week for maintenance.
  • It is important to work as close to failure as possible. You want to have 1 maybe 2 reps left in the tank at the most at the end of every set.
  • Start workouts with your weak areas and most complicated compound lifts. Move towards developed areas and accessory lifts towards end where not as much energy is required.
  • Because the goal of size development is not as precise as force output, you can mix in a variety of compound/isolation lifts along with a balance of unilateral/bilateral ones.
    • Plyometrics and Olympic lifts are not as useful for eliciting hypertrophy gains.

Which One is Best for You?

Hopefully by now you understand what the two adaptations are and with this information you can make that decision. Do you want to move as much weight as possible? Do you want to increase your 1 or 3 rep maxes? If so, then we would put together a strength training program.

Or are you more focused on aesthetics? Are you looking to get some more muscle definition and aren’t really concerned about how much you’re lifting? Well then hypertrophy training is going to be your ideal choice.

Size does not equal strength. My legs are evidence of this… A very sore subject, we will leave it at that.


Can You Do Both at the Same Time?

So, you want to get bigger AND stronger? Shocker… The short answer is yes, you can do both at the same time. Personally, this this the type of program that I use and one that I recommend in order to obtain balanced results.

Within most strength training programs there will inevitably be some muscle growth. Also, within hypertrophy programs there will be some muscle strength increase. There are a large number of benefits and overlap between these two adaptations so designing a program to target both is possible. If you have a specific goal of strength or hypertrophy then you know what the protocols are for optimizing each. However, as you widen the scope of your program to include both, the results of each will most likely come at a slower rate or not reach peak levels. With that being said, below are some protocols that will help you develop strength and hypertrophy in a single program.

  • Start with lower rep, higher weight compound lifts
    • 4-8 rep range
    • Exercises like deadlift, bench press, bent-over row
    • Rest periods of 1.5-2.5 minutes
    • Progressive overload should focus on weight increase
  • Move into middle of the pack rep ranges for unilateral work to focus on balance
    • 8-16 rep range
    • More dumbbell and stability work
    • Rest periods decrease to 1-2 minutes
    • Progressive overload focused on sets/reps and working close to failure
  • Finish off with burnouts and working the muscles to exhaustion
    • 16+ reps
    • Accessory movements/muscles that can be safely worked to failure
    • Easier to do on your over-developed areas because they can handle the higher intensity
    • 30-60 seconds of rest, goal is to empty the tank

This type of program ranges from low rep movements where the weight is our main concern to higher rep activities where we are not as much concerned about the weight, but just getting as much volume in as possible.

I will openly admit my bias here. This is the outline that I have used in my own training for some time now and I have seen fantastic results in both adaptations as well as using it at a lower intensity in maintenance phases. I vary the exercises selection and set/rep counts based on specific goals, but until I find something better this is what I will be sticking with. If you’ve ever wondered “What would Tyler do?”, now you know.

Strength and Hypertrophy are 2 of the most common adaptations desired when resistance training. I have outlined what each is, some of the protocols in order to achieve them and what some criteria for selecting between the two. Finally, I have presented a sample for how one might combine them to stack their results.

If you are looking for more information on these topics then reach out to me on Instagram or schedule a free intro session where we can discuss how to maximize your performance.