Weight training in general, whether it be hypertrophy or strength, is highly beneficial for improving overall fitness, burning fat, strengthening bones, and for a healthier heart.
However, the optimal weight training method largely depends on your goals and what you’re looking to achieve.
Hypertrophy and strength training can often overlap, and understandably so, they are essentially two sides of the same coin.
Though, to truly dial in your training to align with your specific goal, understanding the differences between these training methods is a great first step to deciding which approach is best for you.
In this article, we’re comparing hypertrophy versus strength, discussing the differences, similarities, and guidelines for getting started!
Strength Vs. Hypertrophy Training: The Key Differences
First up, let’s talk about the main differences between hypertrophy and strength training.
Hypertrophy is described as the increase and growth of cells (muscle cells in this context), thus leading to increased muscular size achieved through resistance training.
In simple terms, when we hear people talk about hypertrophy, they are referring to getting bigger, growing muscles, or “bulking up”.
Strength training, on the other hand, focuses on increasing physical strength, which is measured by the amount of force you can exert on a physical object. This is often tested by how heavy you can lift in the gym!
Though, there are different types of strength training, for example:
- Maximal strength—one’s ability to lift a heavy weight for one repetition
- Relative strength—how much force you can generate per unit of bodyweight
- Functional strength—training that prepares you more for real-life activities
- Strongman—a specific sport that focuses on classic strongman variations of compound lifts
A good example of individuals in the fitness world who adopt these styles of training:
- Bodybuilders—focusing purely on hypertrophy as they must get as big and muscular as possible for their sport
- Powerlifters—focuses on maximal and relative strength
So, how do these two methods differ when it comes to actual training?
Strength Vs Hypertrophy: The Differences in Training
The main differences you see in training would be the movements and reps.
Strength training requires a larger, sole focus on compound lifts to get stronger. It also includes fewer reps at heavier weights, lower volume, and more speed and explosive movements.
Strength training is typically a longer process and requires much more patience and consistency, as it goes without saying that gaining physical strength is a more complex process than changing body composition.
Hypertrophy uses a different technique of training that doesn’t require such consistency like strength training. You can include a bit more variety in your training and change up exercises more frequently to ensure steady growth.
While it’s also recommended to train compound lifts when training hypertrophy, you’d ideally pair this with isolation movements, which are shown to be effective for muscle growth.
With this training style, you’d also work on high rep ranges and high volume, focusing largely on control and tempo to target and encourage growth in certain muscle groups.
Strength Vs Hypertrophy: The Similarities
As previously mentioned, strength and hypertrophy training are two sides of the same coin, so there are most definitely similarities between them both.
While the rep ranges may be different, the training of compound lifts are the centre of both programs. Deadlifts, squats, bench, and shoulder press are just as beneficial for hypertrophy as it is for strength.
This follows on nicely to strength—another key similarity, as strength matter for both methods of training. In other words, you must get stronger if you want to get significantly bigger.
Same goes for muscle mass, which would naturally be a by-product of strength training.
Though, the most significant similarity between strength and hypertrophy training is the key principle of both of them—progressive overload.
Both training methods utilize progressive overload, which is the gradual increase of weight and reps over time to achieve enhanced muscular strength and endurance.
How to Train Strength and Hypertrophy: Practical Applications
Now we have learnt the key differences and similarities between each training method, it’s time to learn the training guidelines for each of them.
While you can essentially train both methods and achieve both muscle growth and increased strength, choosing a method which you follow at least most of the time would be more beneficial to the goal you’re trying to achieve.
However, these methods can be used somewhat interchangeably. For example, during a powerlifter’s offseason, they may want to incorporate more hypertrophy style training to their routine simply as a break and to change things up.
There are many different strength and hypertrophy programs you can follow, either online or from various coaches, but just ensure the plan you choose incorporates the following guidelines, or something similar.
Note: these are beginner guidelines, so if you’re a more experienced athlete you may have more advanced guidelines from a personal coach.
- Lift around 2-4 days per week, ideally at least 3 days a week for the best strength results
- Schedule your training splits by movements (deadlift, bench, etc.), not muscle groups
- Warm up thoroughly before beginning each workout with compound lifts, around 1-3 rep range
- You may want to perform, for example, 5-10 sets of 1-5 reps per compound lift
- Incorporate explosive lifts and negative lowering phases of lifts
- Rest approximately 2-4 minutes between heavy sets
- Progressive overload is key—record your weights and reps and try to increase when possible
- Perform lighter sets after your heavier sets with a tempo and rep range of your choice
- You should aim for 45-60 minutes per workout
- Ideally, you want to be training 3-6 days per week for hypertrophy, many people find 3-5 days is sufficient, though this depends on your level of training
- Organize your training based on muscle group splits (legs, chest, arms, etc.)
- Train a mixture of compound and isolation lifts using both free weights and machines
- Aim for 5-12 reps but also include some sets of higher reps of 15+ depending on the movement
- Focus on strength at the beginning of your workout (low reps, heavy weight), then gradually lower the weights and increase the reps as you go on
- Incorporate training techniques such as supersets, pyramid sets, drop sets, etc. to increase the intensity and be more efficient with your time
- Rest around 1-3 minutes between sets, but less during supersets or similar
- Finish your workouts with muscle pump techniques, such as 25-100 reps of a simple movement to increase blood flow and nutrients to the muscle, encouraging growth
- Workouts may take at least an hour, possibly longer
Strength Vs Hypertrophy: Advice for a Beginner
If you’re a beginner to lifting altogether, there is some good news for you.
You are very likely to achieve both goals, gaining strength and muscle mass, by doing either of these training methods.
As your body isn’t accustomed to lifting, you’ll make rapid progress in both strength and mass.
Though, we would definitely suggest mostly the hypertrophy approach to start. This would allow you to get bigger and stronger in the first few months, familiarizing yourself with gym kit, lifting, technique, all while lifting lighter to avoid injury.
Once the first few months are over, you would have built a pretty solid foundation where you’ll be confident to tackle a strength training program.
Muscle Building 101: Nutrition
Now that training is dialled in, we mustn’t forget about the most important factor to achieving any body composition or physical strength goal—nutrition.
To put it simply, any training program you follow will be largely ineffective if your nutrition isn’t considered.
Not only is a healthy, balanced diet vital for overall health and everyday bodily function, it’s crucial for training performance and recovery.
When building muscle and increasing strength, there are two key principles to consider:
1. Protein intake
Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair, making it an essential component of any lifters diet.
It’s important to get enough daily protein to support your muscle building needs (1.6-2.2 g per kg of bodyweight for muscle building), as advised by the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Consume protein from mostly from good quality sources such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and soy.
Additionally, to optimize muscle protein synthesis (the process of repairing and rebuilding muscle), consume protein at regular intervals (around every 3-4 hours).
To increase strength and mass, our body needs adequate energy to do so. This is a very energy-demanding process, so you must ensure you’re consuming enough food to support these complex building processes.
You can achieve this by eating maintenance or surplus calories, i.e., increasing your daily calorie intake to support your gains, performance, recovery, and body composition.
For example, if your maintenance calories are 2000kcal per day, try to consume this or 200-400kcal above, depending on how your body responds to your training program and the amount of food you require to support it.
We highly recommend tracking your progress to ensure you’re consuming enough (or too much) food to support your training needs.
You can track and log your food intake through many apps or journaling methods, as well as tracking your lifting progress to ensure it’s all working for you.
When in doubt, get a coach or trainer’s advice!
Learn more about nutrition for muscle building in our linked guide “Ectomorph Body Type: How to Build Muscle with Diet and Workout”.
Strength Vs Hypertrophy: The Takeaway
Ultimately, neither strength nor hypertrophy is the “better” training method. As mentioned, they are two sides of the same coin!
There is a high chance that whatever training program you follow will incorporate both methods, thus you may see strength and mass gains simultaneously, particularly if you’re a beginner.
For now, decide which goal you would rather focus more on—strength or mass, and from that point you can best decide which training approach is more suitable for you.
Don’t forget to have fun with your lifting program. If you’re not getting enjoyment out of what you’re doing, change it up a bit and experiment with different techniques and programs.
After all, making progress with any fitness goal is about consistency, which is hard to achieve when we don’t enjoy it!