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Hypertrophy vs. Strength Training

Are You Weight Training For Strength, Size, Or Both?

When you start your weight training journey, you often assume that you will get bigger and stronger all at once. While it’s true that you can gain size and strength simultaneously, the training required to get optimal results for either goal is different. You can get better results when focusing on weight training for strength, or hypertrophy (size) independently.

There are many different ways to train, and it all depends on your goals, so the first question you always need to ask yourself is what do you want to get out of your weight training?

There are three main options that I’ll discuss in this article, training for strength, training for hypertrophy (size), or trying to combine the two training methods to get reasonable but not optimal results for your two different weight training goals.

Strength, Hypertrophy, or Both For Weight Training?

You can say that strength athletes focus on powerlifting, Olympic weight lifting, or potentially strong man style training. You can still look good and get big using these training methods, but that is not the goal, so there is minimal focus on that area within the workout programs.

As an athlete focused on size or aesthetics, you will likely need to be following a bodybuilding workout plan, with the primary goal to gain muscle size. Strength is only a secondary component in bodybuilding workout plans.

What’s The Difference Between Strength And Hypertrophy Training?

The main difference between strength and hypertrophy training is the volume you do or can do. Volume is dictated by your training method through the number of repetitions (reps) you perform an exercise and how many times you perform those reps, called sets.

You could perform ten repetitions of an exercise such as bench press, then wait 1 minute, and perform another ten repetitions a total of three times, which means ten reps for three sets.

The alternative would be to perform 3-5 reps of a heavier weight with longer rest between your sets. This allows you to lift heavier because you don’t have to perform as many reps, and your longer rest will enable you to recover better.

The more reps and sets you do with a shorter rest period means the weight you lift must be lighter than if you perform fewer reps and sets with longer rest periods.

Let’s look at the specifics of strength and hypertrophy training.

Training For Strength With Weight Training

Strength training requires you to focus on lifting heavy weights and progressing to heavier weights, and this style of training requires less volume and longer rests to lift a lot of heavy and put more load on your muscle and central nervous system (CNS)

Your training shouldn’t focus on lifting the maximum amount of weight every single lift as that will overload your CNS and make progression slower and much more difficult. Instead, you need to be focusing on increasing the weight towards your maximum to boost it and get your muscles and CNS used to heavier weights slowly.

The types of exercises for strength training are similar to hypertrophy training but emphasize compound or primary lifts with variations on those lifts and fewer accessory movements such as bicep curls.

Your accessory exercises should focus on improving specific weak points in your strength training, such as forearm strength, which allows you to have better grip strength when lifting heavyweights. You can also focus on variations of your primary lifts that target a specific weak point in your primary lifting, which ultimately will allow you to lift more weight.

Strength Rep and Set Ranges

Your primary lifts should be limited to around 10-20 reps during your session, and those should be broken up to about 2-4 reps per set while focusing your lifting at approximately 80-90% of your maximum on that specific exercise.

Your rests should be long enough for you to recover to at least 90% of your optimal lifting ability, which is often 3-5 minutes for your primary lifts of the day.

Accessory exercises should drop the weight down to 60-70% of your maximum and focus on 15-20 reps, but make sure you don’t perform too many accessory exercises and use it as a way to improve your primary lifts rather than another exercise to perform. 2-3 accessory exercises per session should be enough to help but not overload your body.

Training For Hypertrophy With Weight Training

Hypertrophy requires more reps and sets with lighter weights, but that doesn’t mean you should be lifting the lightest weight possible for the most reps possible.

Your body requires stress or a reason to get bigger because it wants to be efficient, and big muscles are not efficient as far as your body is concerned.

If you put the right amount of stress on your body through heavyweight for enough reps and sets, then your muscles will grow bigger to handle the load.

Ensure you are performing the full range of motion when working out for hypertrophy so that your entire muscle is utilized.

Hypertrophy Rep and Set Ranges

The weight you use can vary but should be light enough that you can perform all reps and sets, which could be a total of 20 - 40 reps for your main lifts on a single day, such as bench-press deadlift, squat, and overhead press. As you progress, your weight should be increased so that you can continue to put stress on your muscles.

For example, you may want to perform three sets of 12 reps for a flat bench press with a weight of about 60-70% of your maximum bench press. As you progress, you can change that to 3 sets of 8 reps with a weight that is 80% of your maximum bench press. This will stimulate muscle growth, and as you get used to the weight and it’s no longer your 80% max, you increase the reps back to 12 and then continue the cycle.

Your rest time is also an important factor and can be modified to make the training more stressful on your body, but rest periods for your primary lifts should be around 1-2 minutes.

Accessory exercises such as bicep curls can have higher reps to around 20 per set. So you could be doing 10-20 reps for 3 sets of bicep curls, with a rest period of between 30-60 seconds.

Your body will adapt to the weight and reps that you use, so you need to continue putting additional stress on your body, increasing the load and modifying the reps and sets as you do so.

Can You Build Size And Strength At The Same Time?

Absolutely, when you first start weight training, you will add on size and strength relatively quickly, but that progression starts to slow as your body adapts, and your newbie gains stop being as impressive after about one year.

You can continue with your training that focuses on both strength and hypertrophy, but you won’t be able to get the best or fastest results by doing so. If you want to look big or you want to get stronger, you’ll need to review your training to optimize it for those goals.

If you don’t want to pick strength or hypertrophy, you can continue focusing on both but should be looking into a power-building workout plan, which will try to incorporate both strength and hypertrophy at the same time, but give you a better plan of attack on how to do it well.

What Is Powerbuilding?

Powerbuilding attempts to incorporate elements from both bodybuilding and powerlifting into a single workout plan in an attempt to look good by increasing your size, but keep your strength and try to build your strength up.

You may be focusing one day on strength and another day on hypertrophy, or you may be using a weight, set, and rep range that tries to build some strength while being enough volume to stimulate muscle growth.

One of the very basic power-building workout routines is the 5x5 workout. In the 5x5 workout, you perform five reps of five sets at a 70-80% maximum weight. You will perform the primary movements, and many of your accessories will be for specific body parts, such as bicep curls and tricep extensions, rather than focusing on accessory exercises to improve weak points in your primary lifts.

Do I Need Any Specialized Weight Training Equipment?

Whether you’re training for strength or hypertrophy, you can benefit from a few simple but effective pieces of training equipment that will enhance your fitness journey and make it a little easier or better for you.

Convenient and Absorbent Towel

Start with a quality gym towel such as the Tuckin Towel; you may be grabbing a bathroom towel as your fitness towel and lugging it around the gym, which isn’t effective at keeping you and the equipment dry. If your hands don’t stay dry, then equipment can slip, and if you leave sweat marks all over the equipment, you may not be too popular in the gym.

Tuckin Towel is excellent for fitting over benches and staying in place so you can focus on your training, and it’s small enough not to be an inconvenience while trying to move around the gym quickly.

Water Bottle

Get yourself a large water bottle to stay hydrated while sweating away with high-intensity training so you don’t have to keep going to the water cooler, which may not be close, and may have lines adding more wait time than your training allows.

Additional Helpful Training Equipment

Aside from your water bottle and gym towel, there aren’t any required pieces of equipment, especially if you’re training safely and within your ability.

However, it’s often helpful to buy equipment as your weights get heavier and you start spending more time in the gym. Check out some of the more common training equipment to get you safe:

  • Weight belt to protect your back and potentially increase the weight you can lift.

  • Wrist straps to protect and encourage correct form, especially when bench pressing.

  • Weight lifting gloves can assist with your hands ripping open when the weights get a lot heavier.

There is a lot of other training equipment that can be helpful or is just gimmicky. Just remember to think about anything you buy to see if it’s really needed. Take a look around the gym and see what others are using. You’ll often find that the best athletes are just using fitness towels, water bottles, and weight belts.

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