Strength and hypertrophy are often lumped together in conversations around training. That’s because there is heavy carryover between methods used to attain both of these results. BUT there are fine differences and that’s what today’s episode will cover. If hypertrophy – aka muscle growth – is your main goal in comparison to strength, or strength is your priority, today’s monologue should be helpful. And I’m stoked to cover this one with you.
My programming is a mix of strength and hypertrophy but I am personally in a hypertrophy specific training phase and will be for the foreseeable future. Strength training – true strength training requires a high mental load in my opinion. There is no going through the motions. It can be a lot – a lot of time, a lot of brain space, and a lot on the joints. It’s simply not what makes the most sense for my current postpartum season. While I am pushing strength in some of the movements in the program I am following, most of my focus is hypertrophy. So, you should be able to identify through this episode what I am personally practicing in my training.
We’re going over six aspects of training and the differences in their application to training based on hypertrophy vs strength
Let us begin.
These differences come down to load in relationship to volume. While hypertrophy can certainly be a byproduct of absolute strength training, strength will likely be lower volume (sets and reps) and with higher loads, therefore higher RPE.
Warm up sets for strength training or select exercises in hypertrophy training ensure that you prime the body for the proper load for ALL working sets. Meaning we don’t leave anything on the table – wasting working sets with loads that are not challenging enough.
Pre-fatigue is used to pre-fatigue the muscle groups you’re focusing on that day in a more hypertrophy based program. If doing lower body with a knee and quad dominant bias, then maybe some light hero squats or quad extensions might be used before the main lift begins.
Warm up sets may or may not be needed. But are definitely suggested and needed for strength training.
Training absolute strength requires longer rest periods in order to demonstrate repeat strength and get the most force out of your muscle fibers.
As mentioned earlier, hypertrophy can be trained across a large spectrum of volume and load – therefore rest periods. You could see NO REST all the way up to 120 seconds depending on the set and program prescription. I can see reason for both. Either way, actually scheduling and following rest is a great way to be sure you’re working hard enough during working sets. You should NEED the rest in order to complete programmed sets and loads.
I do not have research to back this but should truly find some because tempo is all the rage right now and it’s funny because I have been talking about it as serious missing piece in programming for years.
It will not magically fix programming or get you gains but it’s important nonetheless.
For strength, following a controlled tempo is going to be beneficial for training the SKILL you’re pushing the adaptation of strength in.
For hypertrophy tempo is plays the role of increasing time under tension and possibly better muscle fiber recruitment. We can create a constant muscle contraction with tempo, which is highly effective for hypertrophy training. And not so effective for strength training.
We love the topic of range of motion. In general it’s beneficial for longevity to train in some capacity through your end ranges. ALWAYS training under ALL loads is not going to be your best bet.
Gaining strength across all ranges is going to increase overall strength. It is also going to give you potential to recruit more muscle fibers.
If training absolute strength, shorter range of motion is most beneficial because it lowers the time under tension and obviously requires less distance traveled in moving the load. But like I said, training in SOME capacity for larger ranges will likely have positive carryover to absolute strength in shorter ranges.
For hypertrophy, if you can stretch a muscle and keep it under tension, you’re playing the best game for growth. Because like I said, we can access and call upon more muscle fibers with this approach. Its why you also see body builders hitting a muscle group from many different angles. That’s all about fiber recruitment. Which is the main goal of hypertrophy.
Hypertrophy: 2 days per week
Strength: Every 5-7 days but can certainly be more often
There is no EXACT must follow rule here. But there do seem to be best practices. And training age does play a role here. I follow professionals who training lower body 5 days per week and they can handle that volume + recover because they’ve been professionally building their work capacity, strength and skills for 15 years. Would not suggest for most people.
Studies suggest that for hypertrophy, training the same muscle group at least twice per week is best for maximizing hypertrophic effects.
For strength, you certainly don’t want to go longer than 5-7 without training a skill and stimulating the muscle group used when performing said skill – often bench, deads and squats. But you could train all three of these skills three days a week and be fine as well. It then becomes a game of managing volume. More than one way to skin a cat.
These were very finite differences but they DO make difference in your training adaptations. So take them for what they’re worth, and happy gains.
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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.
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