Strength vs Hypertrophy: Which is best for you?

              There are many different ways to exercise depending on you fitness goals. Some people want to lose weight. Some people want to gain weight. Some people want to get very tone. Some people want to put on lots of muscle mass. Depending on what you want to see in the mirror, you need to adjust you exercise habits accordingly.

              Two of the most popular exercise methods are lifting for strength and lifting for hypertrophy. What’s the difference? Strength is more related to how much weight someone can lift during a specific exercise. Hypertrophy refers to the actual size, look, and shape of the muscles. There is plenty of overlap between the two lifting methods. However, there are also plenty of differences as well.

              Lifting for strength requires very high weight at low repetitions. For example, if someone is squatting and there goal is to build strength, then their sets and reps may look like 5×5 or 5×3. In other words, they would lift 5 sets of 5 or 5 sets of 3 respectively. In some scenarios the lifter may even do sets of 2 or even 1 repetition. Strength is all about building up your body to be able to lift the most it can. So this requires the lifter to lift very heavy. As the lifter’s body transforms throughout the months of training this way, the lifter’s body will look more beefy rather than tone. Muscle mass will increase and the lifter will appear bigger all around, not necessarily toned. Those who exercise for strength get the best results from performing compound movements such as bench press, squats, deadlifts, and other forms of Olympic lifts. They focus on movements incorporating multiple muscle groups rather than concentration exercises where only one or two muscles are involved.

              Lifting for hypertrophy is much different. The goal with hypertrophy is more aesthetic. These types of lifters focus on how the body looks more than how the body performs. For this reason, lifters will decrease the amount of weight and increase the number of reps. For example, this type of lifter may do 3×8 or 3×10. In other words, 3 sets of 8 or 3 sets of 10 respectively. They will also take less rest in between exercises to maximize the burning sensation in the muscles. This burning sensation is ultimately what these lifters are going for. By lifting this way, their body will transform by increasing their muscle mass while toning up as well. This is a popular method for average lifters since the majority of people who go to the gym simply just want to look better. Although this method also builds strength, the emphasis here is to make lifters more tone, decrease fat percentage, and increase the size and look of their muscles. This method can also use compound movements, but more focus tends to be on the isolation exercises like bicep curls, chest flies, or tricep extensions.

              There is not one exercise method better than the other in this scenario. It all depends on what your goals are. Strength is more geared towards performance and lifting as much weight as possible. While hypertrophy is more geared towards aesthetics and toning up. Both are just fine.

              For this reason, I incorporate both exercise methodologies into my fitness routine. I recommend this for those who have had more than 5 years of weight lifting experience. I recommend starting every workout with a strength based exercise. In other words, doing a heavy compound movement in the beginning of the workout. This helps build up strength as we just mentioned above. Then as your workout goes on, gradually trend the exercises you do in the direction of hypertrophy lifts and eventually ending with an isolation exercise. Here’s an example for chest day. Bench press, then inclined dumbbell press, then chest flies. The emphasis starts out on strength. Then as the workout progresses, the emphasis becomes more and more on hypertrophy. That means the reps and sets will look something like this for the three exercises I listed. 5×5, 3×8, then 3×12. As the workout progresses, weight and rest will decrease while the number of reps will increase.

              This hybrid method is what I have used for years and what I recommend the most. It is the best way to build up strength while looking good in the mirror. It helps with performance and aesthetics. It utilizes the best of both worlds to maximize results fast.

              How do you like to exercise and do you think you can benefit from either or both of these exercise methods?

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