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Strength vs Hypertrophy

By @shaunstafford

When people first talk about the results they want in the gym, they always seem to want to get bigger and stronger… closely followed by getting ripped… and all at the same time!

If I could tell you how to do all that in a simple and concise manner, I would be a very rich man indeed.

So let’s take a deeper look at getting bigger (Hypertrophy training) and getting stronger (Strength training) instead.

Strength Training can loosely be defined as training the body to be able to move more weight over a specific movement pattern, within a prescribed amount of time. This means is that you are training the body to be able to pick up and put down heavier and heavier shit over time… it’s that simple.

Whereas this will have some cross over adaptation into your body becoming more muscled, the main training stress and adaptation will take place within your central nervous system (CNS). Your body will become neurologically more suited to generating a more powerful output for your chosen exercise…

To tap into this style of training you have to take your reps low and start to push the weight you are lifting up towards your 1 Rep Max (the weight you can lift once and only once for a specific exercise). This usually takes the format of some of the bigger compound exercises, such as Bench Press, Squat and Deadlift.

This increase in your training intensity will see you balance out your lifts with longer rest periods: when you start lifting under 4 reps for a set, the rest periods will stretch out between 3-5mins. There is usually an inverse correlation between the number of reps and the amount of rest: the lower the reps, the longer the rest.

This is all because your CNS takes a significantly longer time to recover when working close to it’s maximum. And as the reps are so low, chances are the number of sets you will have to perform will be quite high: seeing 7-8+ sets of 2-3 reps per exercise is not uncommon in a strength training program.

This is almost the opposite when it comes to the training response you are looking for when following a hypertrophy program, with the primary focus being all about muscle gain!

For this style of training the intensity (% of your 1Rep Max) will be slightly lower at around 75-80% meaning that you should be hitting sets and reps around the 3 x 10-12 rep mark.

As the primary adaptive stress you are aiming for when hypertrophy training is metabolic, the recovery rates are slightly lower. This means that rest periods can be anywhere from 60-90 seconds depending on fatigue levels…

Also, the exercises you will see within your program will be more varied and will consist of a mix of larger compound moves and more focussed isolation work: a typical bodybuilding workout will usually consist of around 20 sets and take up to or just over an hour to complete.

Whereas the two training responses and the way you train for them are very different, it does not mean that they are mutually exclusive. i.e. just because you are training for strength, doesn’t mean you can’t increase your muscle mass and vice versa when it comes to bodybuilding and getting stronger.

As with most concepts in weight training, there is significant cross-over and every body will respond in a slightly different way depending on their genetics, ability to recover and training age. These are all important factors to consider.

To ensure progression in the gym, you need to adopt a philosophy where you are getting both stronger and bigger over time: periodising your training plans so that you shift (undulate) between strength and hypertrophy is always a good idea to keep you and your training goals moving forward.

School of Success