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Misconceptions about Hypertrophy and Strength

How many times have you heard or even said to yourself: “that person looks big, they must lift a lot”. Well, that statement is not entirely true. A big person does not necessarily have the same strength as someone smaller than them. , So, how does this work exactly? First, we need to define what hypertrophy and strength are.

In simpler terms, muscular strength is the ability of a muscle to apply maximal force against resistance, which in this case is the weight we are lifting. Strength training is normally characterized by slower, controlled movements, for example, when doing a heavy squat, it is performed at a slow speed.

One mistake many people make is to compare themselves to others. Strength is measured based on body size. It is expressed by the ratio of weight lifted to body weight. If two people lifted the same weight, but one person weighs less, the person who weighs less has greater relative strength.

Moving on to hypertrophy. Hypertrophy is defined as the process of increasing the size of the cells in a tissue, in this case, muscle mass. Once again, a bigger, muscular person is not necessarily strong compared to the ratio of their bodyweight. However, this person has bigger cells creating bigger muscles. Now, we will talk about how these two styles work.

Hypertrophy: More Sets and Reps

If our goal is hypertrophy, we increase the training volume (more sets and reps) while slightly decreasing the intensity. Typically, the rest period between sets for hypertrophy is 30 seconds to 1 minute. A good example of this modality would be to do a bench press session of 5 sets of 10 reps at 60% of our maximal weight. As seen, the intensity of the lift is low, but the volume of work is high.

Strength training: fewer reps with greater intensity

For muscular strength, the process is pretty much the opposite. To gain strength we would reduce the number of reps in a set (low volume) while increasing the intensity (adding heavier weights). Typically, the rest period between sets for strength is 3 to 5 minutes. Using once again the bench press as an example, a strength session would be 3 sets of 5 reps (low volume), at 85% of maximal capacity (high intensity).

As mentioned, there is not a direct relation of size and strength, however, they are not totally opposite concepts. When stating weight training, we would be building muscle strength and size at the same time, as we are putting the body into a new kind of stress, we are lifting weight (gaining strength) as at the same time we started using our muscles often (gaining size), which would be that “initial pump” most people feel when they start training. However, this does not carry over time, that is why in order to progress we have to take a decision if our training would be strength or hypertrophy based on our goals, but regardless of which one we choose, both offer similar health benefits.

In conclusion, if we want bigger, bulkier muscles, choose hypertrophy training: Increase your sets and reps, decrease the weight, and shorten the rest period between sets. If we want to increase strength, choose strength training: lower sets and reps, increase the weight, and increase the rest period between sets.

Jesus Vicente


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