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June 13, 2022 6 min read

For many weightlifters, there are two main goals in mind: getting bigger or getting stronger. Depending on which one you are striving for, your workout will be programmed based on higher volume or heavier weight.

This may seem like a simple concept, but some lifters may not understand the difference between these two or how they could contribute to their composition or strength. Weightlifting has the ability to build muscle and build strength, but they’re not mutually exclusive.

Hypertrophy refers to building muscle mass and strength training refers to building muscle strength.

Although it is possible to do both when weightlifting, in order to maximize your goal of one or the other, you need to know the difference.

What is Muscle Hypertrophy?

The growth of muscle cells through exercise is known as muscle hypertrophy.

When you exercise, your muscles are placed under stress, so they need to be repaired through rest periods and protein intake in order to grow. Through a process referred to as myogenic stem cell activation, the damaged muscle tissue is repaired, leading to an increase in muscle size.

Often associated with resistance training, muscle growth can be achieved through barbell and dumbbell training, as well as bodyweight resistance. Hypertrophy is the most common goal among bodybuilders because they want to maximize definition and build bigger muscles.

Myofibril and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy are two types of muscle hypertrophy, both of which happen at the same time and refer to increasing the muscle in some way. Myofibrillar hypertrophy refers to the density increase of the muscle fibers, whereas sarcoplasmic hypertrophy refers to the fluid surrounding the myofibrils increasing. This is the more superficial type of hypertrophy as it can contribute to mass but not strength.

Benefits of Muscle Hypertrophy

Having big muscles can be great, but it’s just one of the many benefits of hypertrophy training.

Increased Calorie Expenditure

To achieve hypertrophy, a lifter must increase their volume of work. Performing high volume reps and sets can help a lifter burn more calories while increasing their muscle mass. Hypertrophy training can also aid in fat and weight loss since the calorie expenditure can be higher.

Increased Muscle Size

Whether you’re a bodybuilder or just headed to the beach, hypertrophy training can help increase muscle gains. Strength training also has the ability to induce muscle-building, but  training for hypertrophy with higher reps is more likely to increase size.

Reduced Risk of Injury

The size of your muscles can be aesthetically pleasing on the outside, but it can also benefit them inside as well. Isolation exercises are often programmed into this type of training, which can help ensure you’re exercising each muscle group equally. Having a balanced body can help  reduce the risk of muscle imbalance injuries.

What is Strength Training?

Strength training is a universal term for lifting weights, but it does differ in definition and training volume than hypertrophy. Training to build muscular strength versus size is a main difference between these two types of training.

Strength training can be referred to as a lifter’s ability to generate force through muscle contractions.

Powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters typically use this type of weight training in order to maximize their force production through lifting heavy weights with fewer reps.

Strength training depends a lot on the central nervous system, which is the system that is made up of the brain and spinal cord and controls your movement. Exercise in general has been associated with  positive effects on the central nervous system and may help improve function, circadian rhythm, metabolism, stress response, and energy balance.

The more you strength train, the more your central nervous system can prepare for that type of stress, which can help limit fatigue even with heavier weights.

Benefits of Strength Training

Being strong is impressive in the gym, but strength training can even help you improve your daily life.

Improved Coordination

Strength training allows you to exercise your brain just as much as your muscles. Since your central nervous system controls movement, the more you strength train, the more your nervous system is able to  activate your muscles for movement in and outside of the gym. Coordination is essential for proper strength training, and as with anything, the more you practice, the better you can become.

Increased Strength

This may seem like the more obvious benefit, but strength training can increase your strength through progressive overload and muscle adaptation. In order to achieve strength gains, you must continually work to increase your weight or number of sets. Strength is important for lifting weights and competitions, but it’s also important for your daily life.

More Work in Less Time

When training for muscle mass, you may find yourself in the gym longer doing isolation exercises. However, strength training often consists of compound lifts. This can allow a lifter to exercise multiple muscle groups at the same time, therefore increasing their efficiency in the gym.

Strength vs Hypertrophy

There has been a constant feud between powerlifters and bodybuilders to determine who’s better and who’s stronger. Strength training and hypertrophy training each provide their own benefits and reasons to use them, but is there one that’s better than the other?

One of the drawbacks of hypertrophy training is that it may not provide as much of an increase in strength compared to strength training.

Despite the big muscles bodybuilders often have, it can be  attributed to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which contributes to overall aesthetic but not necessarily overall strength.

Since you’re typically training with higher repetitions for hypertrophy, there can be a greater risk for injury or overtraining.

If you’re training with a bro split routine, your muscles can get plenty of recovery, but during the training session, you’re training one muscle group for an extended period of time. You may also experience more muscle soreness with this type of training, and without  sufficient protein intake, the muscle may not be able to grow as much.

Strength training can also have its drawbacks too. One of which potentially leads to muscle imbalances.

Three of the powerlifting competitions lifts are the bench press, deadlift, and back squat, which are all big, compound exercises. If you’re training for strength with these three exercises, you may be overlooking the smaller muscles that aid in not only these lifts but in everyday function.

Although strength training can be beneficial to your central nervous system, it can also cause more neural fatigue compared to hypertrophy training.

This is due to the fact that the central nervous system is more active during heavier loads, and therefore  can be fatigued easier.

Depending on what your fitness goals are will determine whether a hypertrophy or strength training program is better for you. They each have benefits and drawbacks, and we can conclude that one is not necessarily better than the other. However, one is better if you have either muscle gains or strength gains on the mind.

How to Program for Hypertrophy

Building muscle might mean being in the gym a little longer because your rep range and exercise library will be higher than a typical strength training workout. You likely will have a day for upper and lower body or each body part separately.

A bro split or an upper/lower body split are common workout splits in bodybuilding because they allow you to focus on building muscle in one area at a time.

You can implement compound exercises, but isolation exercises can help you maximize muscle growth.

Your reps and sets will be higher, but you’re using light to moderately heavy weight, so you’ll have shorter rest periods in between, ideally  30-60 seconds.

A sample upper body hypertrophy training workout might look like:

  • Triceps Pushdown: 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Hammer Curl: 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Rear Delt Fly: 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Incline Bench Press: 3 sets x 12 reps
  • Seated Cable Row: 3 sets x 12 reps

How to Program for Strength Training

Training for maximal strength won’t require as much volume because you’re lifting with heavy weights.

Powerlifters may often use a push/pull/legs workout split because it allows them to focus on the movements of the main competition lifts: bench press, deadlift, and back squat.

You may find yourself using more free weights than machines because you want those stabilizer muscles involved to help maximize force production.

Training with compound exercises can help you increase strength, but they can also mimic everyday movement patterns, which can help improve your quality of life. Compound exercises help move those heavy weights and may require more rest period in between sets.

A rest period of three to five minutes can help give your muscles time to recover for the next set and help increase strength.

A sample push strength training workout may look like:

  • Overhead Press: 3 sets x 5 reps
  • Chest Fly: 5 sets x 5 reps
  • Bench Press: 3 sets x 5 reps

Final Thoughts

Whether you want to get bigger or stronger, exercising in general is a beneficial habit to pick up. Both strength and hypertrophy training can have the ability to help you build muscle and strength, but knowing how to use both can help you determine which path is right for you.

If your bodybuilding competition is coming up, or you’re just trying to pack on the gains, higher volume and The Ultimate Ripped Stack is a great combination.

However, if maximizing strength is more your style, compound exercises, heavier weights are the ticket.