Key differences between strength and hypertrophy training.
Posted by Shaun LaFleur on
Too Long, Didn't Read Version
- Loading Differences: Strength requires heavier loading and can be performed in the <5 rep range. Hypertrophy can occur at most rep ranges, but since heavier loads create more fatigue, it's generally better to train with light to moderate loads for hypertrophy.
- Volume Differences: Strength training causes more overall fatigue and thus can't be performed with very high volumes. Hypertrophy has a strong dose-response relationship to total sets done and should thus be programmed with higher volumes.
- Exercise Selection: For strength, choosing exercises that are specific to strengthening the lifts that a lifter wants to strengthen is very important, while hypertrophy only requires that the targeted muscle(s) is stimulated enough to reach near failure, thus allowing much more flexibility in exercise selection.
- Frequency Differences: While not always the case, strength programming typically involves less overall frequency due to lower volumes and hypertrophy training is programmed with higher frequencies to make volume accumulation easier.
In this article we will discuss some of the key differences between strength training and hypertrophy training. While you can do both at the same time, you can't maximize both at the same time due to training volume and intensity requirements of each. Contrary to popular belief, they exist as a give and take relationship. Maximizing strength will mean hypertrophy will decrease and vice versa.
For strength training, the heavier you train the more powerful a strength stimulus you will trigger. Hypertrophy, on the other hand, is simply a side effect of taking a muscle near failure, which can occur in nearly all rep ranges. Because hypertrophy has a strong dose-response relationship with volume (total sets done) and because heavier loads produce a lot more fatigue making it harder to accumulate a lot of volume, it is typically recommended to train with moderate to light loads for hypertrophy so that you can accumulate more volume with less training fatigue.
A good recommendation for strength would be to train at and below 5 repetitions, while hypertrophy can be optimized at a much larger range of repetition ranges, such as 6-30. For hypertrophy, loading will be mostly preferential beyond this range.
Volume requirements for strength and hypertrophy are one of the major reasons why they can't be optimized at the same time. Because our bodies have a limited capacity to recover, we can only do so many sets per week. The heavier we train each of those sets, the more fatigue it will generate, meaning you'll need to perform less overall volume when training very heavy. The maximum amount of strength oriented volume you can recover from is typically near the minimum amount of volume required to make minimal hypertrophy progress.
Because training very heavy limits your ability to perform a lot of training volume, it directly limits your ability to maximize hypertrophy. Since hypertrophy can be caused in nearly any rep range, you'll want to shy away from really heavy training to maximize how many sets you can do per week.
A recommendation for hypertrophy training is to start by doing 10 sets per muscle group. Doing more than this will cause more hypertrophy, but as you increase sets you will experience diminishing returns and risk doing too much. For strength, you'll very likely want to shy away from pushing volume too high, though exact volume recommendations are difficult and will be highly individual.
When most people train for strength, they usually have a specific lift that they want to get stronger on. Because of this, exercise selection for strength training is usually very specific to the intent of getting stronger on that specific lift. For example, if you want to get stronger on the bench press, then your training will consist of bench press variations and accessory movements that strengthen the muscles involved in the bench press, such as the pecs, delts and triceps. Strength training will have a much larger focus on big compound movements such as the Bench, Squat and Deadlift, with less focus on accessory and isolation movements.
For hypertrophy, any movement that stimulates the targeted muscle is adequate. To grow a muscle, it simply needs to be stimulated enough to be taken near failure, which can be done with a much larger variety of exercises. This allows for greater flexibility in exercise selection. As long as you can stimulate the targeted muscle adequately without pain or discomfort, it's a good exercise to include in your programming. Because volume accumulation is the main goal, hypertrophy has a stronger emphasis on smaller accessory and isolation movements, which generate less fatigue than large compound movements.
Because you need to maintain higher intensities to maximize strength progression, and because you'll get stronger faster when strength training, adding weight to the bar is the most common form of progression for strength training. As you gain strength, the load you were using before will no longer be heavy enough to keep you in the correct intensity zones to maximize strength. Adding sets won't get you closer to your one rep max and adding repetitions can cause you to fall out of the heavier rep ranges, which is why adding load is typically preferred.
Because hypertrophy has a strong dose-response relationship to total sets done, increases in volume in the form of adding sets is a common method of progression. Load and reps can also be added in order to maintain a close enough proximity to failure to cause hypertrophy as you grow and become stronger, but the main focus for hypertrophy is volume accumulation.
Frequency differences between strength and hypertrophy are mostly due to their differences in total volume required. Because strength requires less overall volume, strength focused routines are commonly programmed with less weekly frequency. Hypertrophy, which requires higher volumes to maximize, will commonly be programmed with higher frequencies.
For strength training, hitting a muscle 2-3 times per week is common. For hypertrophy, this can be anywhere from 2-5 times per week (sometimes more). These are not true across the board as there are outlier programs that may be high frequency strength training or lower frequency hypertrophy training, however these are the most common ways each is programmed due to practicality.