Strength vs Hypertrophy Training

While many people don't see the difference between strength and hypertrophy training, it turns out the two approaches are very unique.


Most notably, the two can occur independently from one another, and just because you’re making progress in one domain doesn’t mean that you’ll also improve in the other.


To help you understand the two better, we will take a look at strength and hypertrophy training, how they differ, and why a single approach won’t optimize both. 


Let’s dive in.


Muscle Gain Training Rules for Success

Hypertrophy training is about manipulating the variables for optimal growth, regardless if that also results in strength gain. Research so far has identified several things we need to keep in mind when trying to build muscle:


1) Training volume.

Research finds a strong link between the amount of work we do and the muscle growth we can experience (1). In general, over ten weekly sets per muscle group seem optimal for growth.


2) An adequate frequency.

Besides doing enough work, research also suggests that training each muscle group twice per week might lead to superior hypertrophy (2). One potential reason could be the relatively short muscle protein synthesis elevation (3). So, by taking advantage of it more frequently, we can experience better growth.


3) Various intensity zones.

There is no single rep range that leads to superior growth. It all comes down to volume accumulation and the trainee’s ability to stimulate their muscles with enough repetitions. 

So far, research finds that intensities of 50 to 80 percent of one-repetition maximum seem optimal. Doing sets in a range of repetition zones allows you to cause adequate metabolic stress and mechanical tension, hopefully resulting in optimal growth (4).


4) A varied approach to exercise selection.

Most muscles benefit from a varied approach, so doing at least two or three movements is always beneficial for stimulating a greater percentage of motor units and hopefully developing your muscles in a more balanced way. For instance, horizontal and vertical rows for back, and incline and flat press for chest.


What Does Strength Depend Upon And How Can We Improve Ours?

Unlike hypertrophy, strength gains follow different rules. Simply put, if your goal is to bench press more weight instead of optimizing chest growth, you need to abide by the below:


1) A more frequent exposure.

Skill plays a role in our ability to lift heavy weights, and research finds that more frequent training can result in better gains. Specifically, two to four sessions for each movement appear better than just training it once a week (5).


2) A high enough training intensity.

To get stronger, you need to teach your body how to move heavy weights. So, you should include several sets of over 75 percent of your one-repetition max throughout the week (6).


3) Decent amounts of volume but aiming for quality practice.

Strength gains come from controlled exposure and enough practice with the lifts you want to improve. So, instead of pushing yourself to your limits on each set, aim for quality repetitions and go home to recover (7). If your workout calls for 5x5, do that and call it a day, even if you can do more.

This is important for developing neuromuscular efficiency, becoming more skilled at the lift, and even building some muscle. Remember: Too much fatigue from any single session is not good (8). You still have to go back to the gym a few days later to repeat that effort. If any workout exhausts you, it will prevent you from training with a high enough frequency.