Training for Strength vs. Hypertrophy Training

When you decide to start a new training regimen, there are a lot of options you can take. Some people train simply to get stronger, while others train because they want to “look good naked.” While we've all heard about strength training before, many of us have not heard of hypertrophy training. So let's take a look at the difference between the two. 

Hypertrophy training is used by people  who intentionally want to gain additional muscle mass or see the size of their muscles increase. While strength training is designed to improve your endurance and strength. We personally see four different parameters that differentiate hypertrophy and strength training. The parameters include differences in the following: loading, volume, progression, and exercise selection.

Loading differences:

Training for basic strength can be achieved by performing sets within the 3-6 reps per set. On the other hand, hypertrophy can be achieved when performing sets in a much more comprehensive range, somewhere between 5 and 30 repetitions per set. Another thing to consider when applying proper loading is fatigue management. It's essential to be aware that training with heavy loads within the 5-6 repetition range will involve much more fatigue. It will not be sustainable relative to training with lighter loads within a higher rep range ex: 10-20 reps.

Volume differences:

Strength training is both more fatiguing per set, and requires less total cumulative fatigue at any point for best results. This means that when using heavier loads and training for strength, you will need to use less volume because of the overloading that comes with each load. 

Hypertrophy doesn't generate as much fatigue per set, nor does it require as much psychological preparedness. This means you can push the volume higher because it doesn't cause as much strain on the central nervous system, tissues, etc. Hypertrophy sees higher stimuli with higher volumes than strength training, while strength training requires less stimulus via volume and more stimuli through load.

Progression differences:

First off, we want to mention that in order to see proper adaptation, the body needs to slowly work toward overloading. When making progressions with the goal being training for strength, you want to increase the load and not increase sets and reps. On the flip side, when training for hypertrophy, you can make slight increases in load, but you should prioritize increasing volume via more sets and repetitions.

Exercise Selection:

When the main goal is to train for strength, compound exercises should be the primary focus. Compound movements involve several joints and can often be loaded the heaviest. Single joint isolation exercises poorly stimulate strength, but can be a great resource for stimulating hypertrophy because you can push volume with a lesser degree of fatigue.

If you want both strength and hypertrophy development, follow these guidelines:

  • Prioritize compound and free weight exercises
  • Perform compound exercises within the 3-6 repetition range
  • Perform accessory/isolation exercises within the 6-12 repetition range
  • Keep volume moderately low, somewhere between 4-6 sets per muscle group per session
  • Progression should be primarily done via increases in weight, not reps

Here is an example of an ideal training session:

  • Do 2-3 mesocycles (3-6 week blocks) of hypertrophy training within the 6-15 rep range, keeping compound exercises in the 5-10 rep range at the beginning of each session. Followed by a deload!
  • Then do 2-3 strength training mesocycles within the 3-6 rep range keeping volume low. You may keep some isolation/accessory work in the mix and train within the 6-12 rep range, but make sure to have the compound exercises be the priority.
  • Take a 1-3 week active recovery phase to control for fatigue and tissue damage.