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Strength and Hypertrophy are often misunderstood

Strength & Hypertrophy

Greater strength is often associated with a large amount of muscle mass. Although, there is a correlation between the two, more muscle mass does not necessarily mean more strength. For example, Bodybuilders have a larger amount of muscle mass, but powerlifters tend to be stronger than bodybuilders.

Many fitness enthusiasts make this common error, confusing training for size with training for strength.  Now, of course the two aren’t mutually exclusive. If you train for size, you will get stronger. But Strength and Hypertrophy are different in many aspects.

In simple terms, Strength is about increasing force production. Muscular Strength is the ability of skeletal muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons to contract maximally under a given load in a given time-period. While SIZE on the other hand is making muscles BIGGER. Muscle Hypertrophy involves an increase in size of skeletal muscles through growth in size of its component cells. Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy focuses more in increased muscle glycogen storage and Myofibril Hypertrophy focuses more on increased myofibril size.

Strength Training is primarily neurological. If you think of your body as a computer, strength training is more about upgrading your software, which is your central nervous system (CNS), than it is about the hardware—your muscles. Strength training is about teaching your CNS how to bring more muscle into the game; or to increase motor unit recruitment.

Unlike strength training, the goal of training for size is more physiological than it is neurological. It’s about upgrading your body’s hardware, like bones, connective tissues, and muscles.

You must first set a clear goal whether you want to get stronger or you want to get bigger, as both have different training styles.

When training for Strength, the key components to increasing myofibrillar hypertrophy with weight lifting are: low volume on repetitions, an increasing weight load – known as progressive overload, and long rest periods. When we say long rest periods, we are talking about a period of 3-5 minutes, which is a long enough timeframe for your body to recover from the exercise set you just completed. In essence, the muscle is damaged during the exercise set itself, and the extended rest periods in between sets allows for the muscle to overcompensate in its repair efforts, making fibers stronger, but not necessarily larger.

When weight training is exclusively for muscle growth, or sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, the volume is higher, 12-15 reps on average. The rest periods are significantly shorter, and the load of weight lifted is more moderate than with strength training. Training for size is anaerobic in nature and does not rely upon oxygen.  With volume training, blood flow to the muscles is significantly increased, and an increase in lactic acid results both in a phenomenon known as the “pump”, and in the muscles reaching failure. More than just an aesthetic phenomenon, the pump serves up great benefits in the arena of muscle-building.

Regardless of your primary objective, there are numerous benefits to utilizing both size and strength training methods, in alternating patterns. Besides preventing boredom, the two interact in complementary ways. Your muscles do have to get somewhat bigger to get stronger, after all.


Pravin Prasad

MESA Tutor

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