man doing a bicep curl in gym

Exactly How to Use Strength and Hypertrophy Training for Targeted Gains

Break out of the standard 3 to 10 sets and unlock your potential.

Fast Facts

  • Strength training and hypertrophy training are two different regimens that yield different physical results. 
  • Strength training increases muscle strength, while hypertrophy training increases muscle size. 
  • The best choice for you comes down to your personal goals and level of experience. 

Muscle strength and muscle size are definitely related. When you’re new to lifting weights, nearly any rep and set regimen will help you get stronger and bigger.

But as you become a seasoned lifter, your results will begin to slow. What once worked (everything) isn’t helping you pack on mass or strength like it was before.

What then? That’s where tailoring your training program specifically for strength or hypertrophy (muscle growth) can help.

What’s the difference between strength and hypertrophy training, which should you choose, and how to do it?

If you want to build muscle mass, strength, or both, listen up.

Hypertrophy Training vs. Strength Training

Strength training and hypertrophy training are two distinct styles of resistance training that each rely on different reps and sets, weights, and exercises to achieve targeted results.

Strength training makes muscles stronger (1), while hypertrophy training makes muscles bigger. Here’s how.

Strength training makes muscles stronger, while hypertrophy training makes muscles bigger.

What is Strength Training?

Strength training is the best way to optimize functional muscle performance. By training for strength, you’ll train your muscle’s ability to produce maximal force.

To build strength, it’s key to lift at heavier loads. To do it, drop your reps (2-6), and lift heavier weights (above 85-percent of one rep max). By cutting the reps you’ll be able to focus on high-quality reps at more weight.

Benefits of Strength Training

Strength-specific training won’t just maximize your overall and peak strength. Here are a few of the other benefits you can expect:

  • Increase caloric expenditure and metabolism
  • Enhance athletic performance
  • Increase functional fitness
  • Increase bone density and muscle mass
  • Build or maintain strength while training less

What is Hypertrophy Training?

If you’re looking to visibly build muscle mass, hypertrophy training will yield the largest size gains. To enhance muscle size, it’s vital to increase the overall volume (reps and sets) during your session.

To do it, increase your reps (8-12), and lift moderate to heavy loads (65 to 85-percent of one rep max). By dropping the weight, you’ll be able to squeeze in more reps per set in comparison to strength training.

Benefits of Hypertrophy Training

With hypertrophy, the aim is to achieve an aesthetic look by building bigger, bulkier muscles. But that’s not the only benefit. A hypertrophy program will also:

  • Increase caloric expenditure and metabolism
  • Increase muscular symmetry and reduce strength imbalances
  • Reduce the risk of injury
  • Increase strength and power

 

Take note: strength training increases muscle mass, and hypertrophy training can also increase strength. You can’t have one without the other. But hypertrophy outperforms strength training for optimizing muscle growth, and vice-versa.

Which Is Better: Strength or Hypertrophy Training?

There’s no bad choice. It comes down to your goals.

  • If you want to increase the size of your muscles, hypertrophy training is for you
  • If you want to increase the strength of your muscles, consider strength training
  • If you’re interested in both strength and size gains, implement a program that includes both hypertrophy and strength training (how to do it below)
strength vs. hypertrophy

Should I Try Strength or Hypertrophy Training First?

If you’re a beginner, you should always do hypertrophy training first. By starting with hypertrophy early in your strength training career, you’ll be building both muscle and strength.

Take your time to develop muscle mass, learn the proper technique, and gain some confidence. When you do move on to strength training, you’ll have the muscle mass and technique to keep you safe when training at higher loads.

Differences in Strength and. Hypertrophy Training

When it comes to strength and hypertrophy training, each follows specific protocols for rep and set ranges, overall training volume, exercise selection, and nutrition. Here are the major differences.

Exercise Selection for Strength and Hypertrophy Training

Because the goal of strength training is max force production, your workouts should center around multi-joint compound lifts—like squats, deadlifts, bench press, and pull-ups.

But with hypertrophy training, you’ll want to use a combination of compound and isolation exercises to maximize muscle growth. Training specific muscles in isolation—like hammer curls, or leg extensions—isn’t great for building functional strength, but it can be helpful in stimulating specific muscle groups to grow.

Your exercise progression during these phases of training should vary too. Since you work with lighter weight during hypertrophy training, increasing sets and reps, load, or adding complexity to an exercise are all great ways to continue building muscle.

Because strength training relies on adequate overload, complexity is not your friend. Examples of complexity include alternating arms and legs, or adding a balance element to make an exercise more challenging. Often complexity takes away from your ability to produce force. Instead, focus on increasing your load or sets to progress during strength training.

Rep and Set Ranges for Strength and Hypertrophy Training

Your rep and set range for strength and hypertrophy training is specific. Implement it to your advantage.

The best way to build strength is to lift heavier weights (above 85-percent of your one rep max). When training for strength your reps will decrease to accommodate the additional weight, and your sets increase to make up for the drop in reps.

To maximize hypertrophy, studies show increasing overall volume (sets and reps), and boosting muscle time under tension is most effective (2). You make that higher volume possible by lifting less weight.

It’s important to first build up a base level of strength by completing a training cycle (eight to twelve weeks) in the endurance phase. You’ll prepare your body for the high demand placed on it during hypertrophy and strength training, and reduce your risk of injury.

Once you’ve built up a base, test your one rep max (1RM), or the maximum amount of weight you can lift for one rep in various exercises. Use your 1RM to guide the weight you’re lifting during your hypertrophy or strength sessions to match your specific goals.

Below is a chart sharing specific rep, set, and load suggestions based on your levels and goals.

Goal/Phase 

Level 

Weight 

Reps 

Sets 

Rest 


Endurance

Beginner

Moderate load 

12-20

2-3 

30 seconds 

Hypertrophy 

Intermediate to Advanced 

65-85% One-Rep Max 

6-12

3-4

30-90 seconds

Strength 

Intermediate to Advanced 

85%+ One-Rep Max 

2-6

3-5

2-5 minutes

Training Volume for Strength and Hypertrophy

Overall training volume can be calculated by multiplying sets, reps, and load. Hypertrophy training is higher in volume since you’ll be able to perform more sets and reps with less load than you would during heavy strength training.

You can train in higher frequencies with heavier loads, but fatigue and overuse injuries become more of a factor. To give your muscles time to recover, you’ll need more time between sets, and more time between sessions. The quality of your heavy sessions cuts down on the overall volume you’re physically able to put in.

Nutrition for Strength and Hypertrophy

Because strength training is focused on pushing at maximal efforts, your nutrition should be specifically tailored to the recovery and repair of muscles. Your diet should ensure you get enough calories and include a balance of carbs, fats, and sufficient protein to fuel your muscles with the nutrients they need.

Hypertrophy training, on the other hand, is often used by bodybuilders—when both muscle size and overall body composition are critical. Your diet might vary based on your specific goals. But if a lean physique and more muscle mass is the goal, a balanced nutrition program that supports low body fat maintenance with optimal protein for muscle gain is ideal (3).

Can You Do Strength and Hypertrophy Training at the Same Time?

Yes. By including a range of reps and sets in your workout plan, you’ll address areas of weakness and improve overall performance. Here’s how to do it.

  • Train your main lifts of the day for strength, using heavy weight in the two to six-rep range. For these lifts choose your biggest compound exercises of the day such as squats, deadlifts, bench, or shoulder press.
  • Then choose your accessory lifts—exercises that are generally less taxing and don’t need a barbell—like step-ups, lateral raises, or dumbbell Romanian deadlifts. Train these lifts in the hypertrophy range from six to twelve reps.

 

Always complete your strength training first, before moving on to hypertrophy. By putting the most taxing work first, you ensure your muscles have the energy they need to perform their best at every stage of your workout.

Other Ways to Build Muscle

Fitness and nutrition are just one piece of the pie. If you’ve been a slave to the gym but you’re not noticing gains, it could be a sign you need to optimize other areas of your routine. Here are a few options.

Sleep

When you lift heavy, little tears in your muscle fibers occur. When repaired, this damage is what makes you stronger—but only if you properly recover.

After a workout, your body secretes human growth hormone (HGH), a key muscle-building hormone that increases healing and repair in muscle tissue. HGH is secreted during stage 3 of NREM sleep (non-rapid eye movement), considered deep sleep.

Which is why getting enough sleep (7 to 9 hours a night) and quality sleep are both important.

Testosterone

Feel like you’ve been doing everything right, yet still struggling to put on muscle? It could be a sign of low testosterone.

Testosterone stimulates the growth of muscles and increases muscle strength. When T levels flag, adding muscle mass is almost impossible.

If you’re not sure how your testosterone levels stack up, get tested. If you are running low testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) can help you build muscle and boost energy for your gym sessions.

The Bottom Line

Hypertrophy training and strength training are both great regimens for building muscle, but hypertrophy training is better for increasing muscle size, and strength training is best for increasing muscle strength. The right choice for you depends on your goals. 

1. Suchomel, T. et al (2018). The Importance of Muscular Strength: Training Considerations. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-018-0862-z
2. Figueiredo, V. et al (2018). Volume for Muscle Hypertrophy and Health Outcomes: The Most Effective Variable in Resistance Training. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-017-0793-0 
3. Roberts, B. et al (2020). Nutritional Recommendations for Physqiue Athletes. https://www.sciendo.com/article/10.2478/hukin-2019-0096

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