Hypertrophy vs Strength training
Many people visit our gym and ask the question of 'Hypertrophy vs Strength training' so we explain the differences and which one is right for you

The differences between a Hypertrophy and Strength training explained

Hypertrophy vs Strength training

I have previously talked about how you can quantify the training volume needed for hypertrophy here although many people that visit our strength training gym in Taren Point also ask about the differences between hypertrophy and strength training.

So here is an explanation to help uncover some of the myths

What is hypertrophy

Muscle hypertrophy is the increase in muscle cell size. Increases in muscle size can be both via the contractile and noncontractile components of the muscle (areas that do and do not contribute to muscle contracting)

 

What is strength training

Strength training (also referred to as resistance training) is training in an efficient way to induce measurable increases in strength and/or hypertrophy. Strength training increases muscles’ force-generating capacity, allowing an individual to overcome external forces.

 

What are the key differences between hypertrophy & strength training?

Strength training – generally focuses on performance-based outcomes – Strength (the maximum amount of force a person can lift). Power involves moving a force at a high velocity. However, muscle hypertrophy can still occur from strength training, even if it’s not the primary goal.

Hypertrophy training – generally focuses on increasing the size of the muscle, with performance outcomes being secondary.

Characteristics of strength training – may involve lifting heavier weights at lower repetition ranges (5 or under), as strength is intensity-dependent. If someone wants to increase their strength, lifting at intensities closer to their 1RM (85% and above) will generally be the most efficient. Training volume (total number of sets) is less important for strength gains.

Characteristics of hypertrophy training – may involve lifting moderately heavy weights at medium to higher repetition ranges (5 to 25). Increasing muscle size is primarily affected by training volume (total amount of sets performed per muscle group per week). However, lifting somewhat close to failure (3 to 0 reps shy of failure) also appears to be important for increasing muscle size.

 

How can you get coaching or advice about what hypertrophy is right for you?

SPC Performance Lab offers coaching at our gym or online

 

Is it better to Train for strength or hypertrophy?

One isn’t better than the other, it depends on your goals. Are your goals primarily based on how you look/muscle mass or performance based?

 

Does hypertrophy build muscle or strength?

Hypertrophy training is efficient for building muscle, but strength can also increase doing hypertrophy training. It could be more efficient than strength training.

 

Does strength training build hypertrophy?

Strength can increase in the absence of hypertrophy. However, progressively lifting heavier weights can eventually lead to building muscle size.

 

How often should you train strength vs hypertrophy?

This is a complex question, and it depends on the person’s goals. There is no right or wrong answer. Someone can do purely hypertrophy training without strength training. However, someone who wants to maximise their strength should likely do phases of hypertrophy training to build muscle as muscle size appears to be related to increasing strength – The more muscle someone has, the greater potential they have to produce force.

 

Why am I getting stronger but not bigger?

This is a complex question and there may be many variables contributing to why this is occurring. For an answer which is specific to you, reach out to the coaches at SPC Performance Lab 

Some reasons you may be getting strong and not seeing increases in muscle size;

  • You’re not doing enough training volume (total sets per week) – Growing muscle appears to be volume-dependent. The higher the training volume, the greater the hypertrophy (up to a point)
  • You’re not eating enough calories – Growing muscle is optimised when eating in a surplus.
  • The exercises you are using do not put the muscle in its most lengthened position – Training muscles at long muscle lengths appears optimal for increasing muscle size. For example, doing very deep squats, which lengthens the quadriceps will be superior for muscle growth versus half squats.

Explaining sets and reps in hypertrophy

How many reps is best for hypertrophy? 5-25 is generally best. Too heavy or light is not efficient.

Is 3 or 4 sets better for hypertrophy? There is no best, volume is individual dependent. Some people need more volume to grow, some less.

Is 6 or 8 reps better for hypertrophy? It doesn’t make a difference. You should use a range of repetition ranges between 5-25 reps

Is 6 sets of bench press too much? There is no best, volume is individual dependent. Some people need more volume to grow, some less.

Is 10 sets of 10 too much? There is no best; volume is individual dependent. Some people need more volume to grow, some less. For most people, this is overkill in a single training session as the muscle will likely be maximally stimulated with much less than ten sets for a single exercise. You’re probably better off splitting the training volume over two or more days.

Is 18 sets of biceps a week too much? There is no best. Volume is individual dependent. Some people need more volume to grow, some less. The general recommendation for muscle growth is 10 to 20 weekly sets per muscle group. However, you must consider that exercises that indirectly train the biceps will contribute to the overall weekly volume. For example, training back will also train the biceps. So doing 18 direct sets on biceps in conjunction with exercises, which also train the biceps may be overkill.

However, sometimes you may do a muscle group specialisation phase whereby you perform high volumes on a single muscle group for a short time. It is not recommended to do muscle specliasion phases for an extended time, for example, longer than 8-12 weeks. High volumes come with increased fatigue and you may increase the risk of sustaining an overuse injury if performing high training volume for too long.

Is 1 set to failure enough for muscle growth? There is no best. Volume is individual dependent. Some people need more volume to grow, some less. However, for most people, 1 set to failure can result in muscle growth but may not be optimal. Multiple sets are generally better for muscle growth compared to single sets.

SPC Performance Lab provides a free gym trial so that you can see if we are a good fit for your workout goals. No catches, no gimmicks, no contracts. Just try our gym out

Do bodybuilders go to failure every set?

No. Failure training is generally used strategically. For example, stopping a few reps shy of failure on very fatiguing exercises like squats and deadlifts and going closer or to failure on less fatiguing exercises like bicep curls.

 

How many times a week is optimal for muscle growth?

Training frequency does not appear to affect muscle growth gains. Research has shown that training a muscle group x1 per week versus multiple times per week does not appear to show any differences in muscle growth. However, splitting training volume over at least 2 days per week may be more optimal to be safe.

 

 

How close to failure is hypertrophy?

It is currently not clear how close to failure you need to train to optimise hypertrophy. Likewise, how close to failure to optimise hypertrophy may differ depending on the person’s level of training experience, exercise being used, and rep range. However, to give some recommendations, generally, 3 to 0 reps shy of failure is likely optimal for maximising hypertrophy. But again, stopping shy of failure or going to failure will depend on some of the previously mentioned points.

 

At what age does hypertrophy stop?

Hypertrophy doesn’t stop. Someone who is untrained and begins lifting at 80 years old can still see increases in muscle size. However, someone training their entire life may find it harder to gain muscle from approximately 50 years old and above. However, the age at which hypertrophy starts to slow down will differ between individuals.

 

 

What happens if you only do hypertrophy?

You will grow big muscles but may not necessarily be as strong as you could be.

 

Do you lose strength with hypertrophy?

Strength is specific to the training stimulus. If you want to get good at squats, doing squats will be the best for increasing squat strength. If you want to get good at lifting heavy weights for one repetition, doing heavy weights for low reps will be best for increasing strength in the lower repetition ranges.

The further away you get from the thing you want to be strong at, the less adaptation carryover you will get to that thing. For example, leg presses will have better carry-over to increase squat strength than leg extensions.

Losing strength when doing hypertrophy training will depend on how the program is structured. You can still get stronger whilst doing hypertrophy-specific training. Likewise, you can still gain muscle on strength-specific training.

 

 

What is the best routine for hypertrophy?

This is very individual-dependent and cannot be answered. Please get in touch with the coaches at SPC Performance Lab to discuss this, we even offer a free trial or free consult.

But some training variables that should be considered when looking for a routine –

  • How much training volume is done per week per muscle group? Is it too little or too much? A general guideline is 10-20 sets per muscle group per week to optimise muscle size (again, this is a general recommendation and is individual-dependent). Also, we will need to consider exercises that train muscle groups indirectly. For example, bench pressing also trains the triceps.
 
  • What rep ranges are being used? – Generally, a wide range of rep ranges between 5-25 is ideal. Using a variety of rep ranges appears most optimal for gaining muscle
 
  • How long are the rest times? – Use a rest time that is long enough so that when you get to the next set, you have minimal fatigue carryover from the previous set.
 
  • How close to failure is the person going to per set? – It is currently not clear how close to failure you need to train to optimise hypertrophy. Likewise, how close to failure to optimise hypertrophy may differ depending on the person’s level of training experience, exercise being used, and rep range. However, to give some recommendations, generally, 3 to 0 reps shy of failure is likely optimal for maximising hypertrophy. But again, stopping shy of failure or going to failure will depend on some of the previously mentioned points.
 
  • What exercises are included in the program? – There is no one best exercise to maximise muscle size for a particular muscle group, and it is best to use a variety of exercises. Generally, exercises that can take a muscle to its longest stretched length will be optimal for increasing muscle size.
 

 

Is lifting heavy bad for hypertrophy?

Lifting under five reps may not be optimal for muscle size as the volume is low. Likewise, lifting very heavy may generate a lot of fatigue.

 

 

Is it harder to recover from hypertrophy training or strength training?

High-volume training, as done in hypertrophy training, appears to create more significant deficits in recovery than strength training. However, this will differ depending on the person; some may recover quicker from strength training, and others may recover faster from hypertrophy training. Likewise, recovery will also be dependent on how the program is designed as a whole. For example, a strength training program with a lot of volume (sets per exercise) will likely be more fatiguing than a hypertrophy program with low training volume.

If you have any more questions then you can contact us to organise a free consultation, take out a free gym trial or simply visit our powerlifting gym to see what we can offer & how we can help you reach your goals.

Paul Attard
Paul Attard

Paul is the founder and head coach of SPC Performance Lab. Paul has been coaching since 2014 and has worked with all different types of people. From first timers learning the basics, all the way up to the experienced power-lifting competitors.

He tailors his approach depending on the needs, goals and experience of the individual. Paul has extensive theoretical and practical coaching experience.

- Masters of Sports & Exercise Science (Strength & Conditioning)
- Bachelor’s degree in Exercise & Sports Science with First Class Honours
- Competed and won multiple natural body-building shows & power-lifting competitions.
- Held an Australian power-lifting record.

Free advice

SPC Performance Lab is a gym in Taren Point in the Sutherland Shire, Sydney NSW. It is a private gym that offers strength training, powerlifting and body building training. The gym is open 24 hours, 7 days a week with membership options that include casual or regular visits.

Paul also provides a choice of personal training one on one or the option of online coaching.

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