In today’s world of progress pictures and instagram-driven workouts, it seems like everyone wants to be the biggest and strongest person in the gym. Yet strength training is significantly different than training for muscle growth aka hypertrophy training. This becomes apparent when you witness the heavy loads that a power lifter moves during a training session compared to that of a bodybuilder. It makes you wonder how a smaller athlete can have the power to out lift a bigger bodybuilder with huge muscles.
So can you build both strength and size at the same time?
This article is a comparative review of strength training Vs hypertrophy training and explains the basic difference between both types of training. It also provides the answers questions such as:
- Is hypertrophy good for strength?
- Can you gain strength with hypertrophy training?
So if you are wondering which type of training will suit you best, then this article is for you. By the end of it you will understand the exact difference between strength training and hypertrophy training.
Muscular adaptation and weightlifting
Resistance training and weightlifting are known to result in muscular adaptations whereby your muscles become bigger and stronger. So far exercise-science has identified and proposed mechanistic theories of muscular adaptation, these are:
- Mechanical tension – refers to the amount of tension applied to muscles when they both expand and contract.
- Metabolic stress – refers to the oxidative stress caused by the accumulation of exercise-induced metabolites such as lactate.
- Muscle damage – refers to disruptions of muscle cells and integrity of the myofibrils.
Any single one or combination of these three factors can result in muscular adaptation whereby skeletal muscles are stimulated through exercise, to grow and expand in size (hypertrophy), and to also increase in their capacity to do work.
It is generally recognised that adaptations in strength are best achieved by performing lower rep ranges, heavier loads, and by employing longer rest periods in between sets. In fact, typically training in a 1-5 rep range elicits the best responses in strength adaptations.
Repetitions and metabolic stress also appear to have a linear relationship and are directly proportional to one another. That is, generally speaking, the lower the number of repetitions the lesser the metabolic stress, and vice versa. Therefore strength training elicits a lesser metabolic stress relative to hypertrophy training.
Lower volume and more frequent workouts also appear to better support strength adaptations. If you favor strength over size do the majority of your training in a 1-5 rep range using a principle of progressive overload; increase your load, if possible, every workout, until you feel you need to back off.
Hypertrophy is the increase in cross sectional are of skeletal muscle fibers and therefore refers to muscle growth. When your muscles grow they of course become stronger, however the hypertrophy rep-range is distinctly different to the hypertrophy rep range.
6-12 repetitions known as the “hypertrophy rep range”, is employed by many a competitive bodybuilder to help them build extreme muscle size.
Muscle hypertrophy happens in 2 distinctly different ways:
- Sacroplasmic hypertrophy – refers to expansion of a muscle cell through extracellular components such as liquids and glycogen
- Myofibrillar hypertrophy – refers to the increase in cross sectional area of myofibril sliding protein filaments.
Thus sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is the volumisation of a muscle cell, whereas myofibrillar hypertrophy is the increase of muscle proteins that contract and expand as the muscle does work. Therefore myofibrillar hypertrophy gives rise to strength increases, whereas sarcoplasmic hypertrophy does not.
It appears that both sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and myofibrillar hypertrophy are inextricably linked, thus each type does not have a particular rep range, rather a combination of both will naturally occur as your muscles adapt to the loads that you exert them to.
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy can also be achieved through the use of cell volumising supplements such as creatine.
It is important to note that stimulating adaptation is one thing and in order for hypertrophy to take place, it is important to consume an adequate amount of quality protein to enable a positive nitrogen balance. Simply put, without the necessary protein, muscle protein degradation may exceed muscle protein synthesis. Such an imbalance will retard hypertrophy and muscle growth.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN); “an overall daily protein intake in the range of 1.4–2.0 g protein/kg body weight/day (g/kg/d) is sufficient for most exercising individuals”.
Is hypertrophy good for strength?
Muscle hypertrophy refers to muscle growth, which includes the increase of both contractile muscle proteins and extra-cellular fluids. Because extra-cellular fluids are separate in function to the contractile elements of the muscle cell, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy does not benefit strength but may offer additional benefits in endurance.
Conversely, myofibrillar hypertrophy, that is the increase in contractile muscle protein filaments, does benefit strength gains simply because it is the sliding protein filaments that enable your muscles to generate force and do work.
Since sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy cannot be specifically separated, it can be summarised that hypertrophy overall, is good for strength.
Take the pectoral muscles of the chest for example, imagine your maximum bench press was 100lbs when you first started working out. After a year’s training, let’s say that you were then able to increase your maximum bench press to 200 lbs. You could imagine that your pecs would now be significantly bigger, that much is obvious. Therefore building muscle also builds strength.
There are no absolute boundaries as such, that completely separate strength training and hypertrophy training repetitions. For example, following a 5×5 strength training program will still result in a degree of hypertrophy; although adaptations will be more in the favour of building strength. Conversely, training in a bodybuilding style and employing a rep range of 6-12 repetitions, along with taking briefer rest periods, will also yield a degree of strength gains.
Depending on your goal, you may want to mix up your training and employ a number of different rep ranges in each of your workouts, so that you build a combination of both size and strength. You could also utilise periodization, whereby you create a long-term training plan and divide according periods of the year into strength, hypertrophy and endurance phases.
Whether you want to get bigger or stronger, weight training and resistance training can also help protect against muscle atrophy associated with aging. Weight training stimulates muscle protein synthesis and therefore regular sessions can be beneficial for sarcopenia sufferers. In fact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommend strength training for older adults.