Although there are other possible resistance training goals, the two primary goals or approaches to weight lifting are increasing hypertrophy and increasing strength.
When comparing hypertrophy vs strength training, there is some overlap in the approach and the outcomes, but there are differences as well.
The primary aim of strength training is increasing the strength or force potential of muscles, while the primary aim of hypertrophy training is building muscle or enlarging the size of the muscle fibers.
Interestingly, although most people would assume that muscles that are larger are automatically stronger, this isn’t actually necessarily true, as strength training vs hypertrophy training often results in muscles of higher fiber quality that are thus capable of producing more strength.
In this article, we will compare and differentiate hypertrophy vs strength training and explain how and why you might want to do each.
We will cover:
- What Is Hypertrophy Training?
- What Is Strength Training?
- Hypertrophy vs Strength: Training Goals
- Hypertrophy vs Strength: Training Approach
- Hypertrophy vs Strength: Training Workouts
- Hypertrophy vs Strength: Training Exercises
- Hypertrophy vs Strength: Training Diet
Let’s get started!
What Is Hypertrophy Training?
Before we take a deep dive into what hypertrophy is, let’s start with the basics: what is hypertrophy?
Hypertrophy refers to muscle growth or increasing the size of the muscle fibers; thus, hypertrophy training aims to stimulate muscle growth to enlarge the size of the muscles.
In order for muscles to grow, they need a stimulus, so the process of hypertrophy involves two steps.
First, the muscle fibers have to be broken down because this triggers the reparative process that ultimately builds muscle mass in step two.
Hypertrophy training—heavy resistance training workouts—is the initial trigger for step one.
These weightlifting workouts cause microscopic damage to the muscle fibers.
Essentially, if you exceed the capacity of the muscles (progressive overload), there is some amount of structural damage, in the way of small tears, to the muscle fibers.
Although purposeful, you have overworked them, and some of the fibers have lost their integrity.
This damage, in turn, stimulates the reparative process of myofibrillar protein synthesis (MPS), often simply referred to as muscle protein synthesis.
Amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, are shuttled to the muscles, where they can be assembled into new proteins.
The new proteins that are manufactured are inserted along areas of damage and microtears on the existing muscle fibers, reinforcing the weakened spots.
Imagine a house made of clay with cracks that develop in the siding. If new clay (new protein) is added on top of the cracks to fill them in and fully cover them up, the walls of the house will thicken.
In much the same way, the process of myofibrillar protein synthesis thickens the existing muscle fibers, which ultimately enlarges the muscle.
Therefore, hypertrophy training builds muscle mass and increases muscle size by thickening the existing muscle fibers to reinforce and strengthen them, rather than adding or building brand new muscle fibers next to the existing ones.
The key to successful hypertrophy training is to cause enough muscle breakdown through the workouts that you maximize the stimulus that triggers muscle protein synthesis.
Of course, it’s also a game of balance because you don’t want to induce too much damage that you’ve injured tissue beyond the level of typical recovery and repair via healthy muscle protein synthesis.
What Is Strength Training?
Strength training involves performing exercises or movements under a load or resistance in order to increase the strength of your muscles.
Hypertrophy vs Strength Training: Goals
When differentiating strength vs hypertrophy training, the primary difference is that hypertrophy training is targeted at increasing the size of muscles, whereas strength training aims to increase the amount of force that your muscles can generate or the amount of weight you can lift.
In a nutshell, hypertrophy training strives to increase the size of the muscles, so it’s focused more on muscle quantity and appearance, while strength training strives to increase the functional capacity of the muscles, so it’s focused more on the quality and performance of the muscles.
Hypertrophy vs Strength Training: Approach
Because the goals of strength vs hypertrophy are different, so too are the methods or approaches to training.
Hypertrophy training to build muscle size is mainly achieved by way of increasing training volume over time (sets x reps), whereas improving muscle force development through strength training is primarily accomplished by lifting heavy weights at about 85% of your 1RM (one repetition maximum).
Thus, the main difference between hypertrophy vs strength training is that hypertrophy training requires higher volume training, and strength training requires higher loads.
Higher volume with hypertrophy is accomplished by more frequent workouts, more sets, more reps, and shorter breaks in between sets.
However, compared to strength training, the weights, or loads, used with hypertrophy training are relatively less.
Strength training is lower volume (fewer workouts per week, fewer sets, and fewer reps with longer rest periods between sets), but the loads are much heavier than they are when the goal is hypertrophy.
Hypertrophy vs Strength Training: Workouts
In practical terms, hypertrophy training usually uses loads that are 65-85% of your 1 RM. Typically, you perform 6–12 repetitions per set, and at least 3 sets per exercise, with 30-60 seconds of rest in between sets.
Strength training, on the other hand, typically involves loads that are 85% of 1 RM, 1-6 reps per set, 3-5 sets, and 2-5 minutes of rest in between each set.
Hypertrophy vs Strength Training: Exercises
Both hypertrophy training and strength training will perform many of the same exercises—like squats, deadlifts, rows, bench press, etc.—but there are some differences in the exercises with hypertrophy vs strength training.
Strength training tends to focus on high-intensity compound lifts, whereas hypertrophy training will also include more isolation exercises.
For example, a strength training program would include exercises like squats, step-ups, deadlifts, hip thrusts, chest press, and farmer’s carries.
A hypertrophy training program might include similar exercises but also exercises like biceps curls, military press, and chest fly.
Hypertrophy vs. Strength Training: Diet
Finally, it’s important to note that the diet and nutrition needs for strength training vs hypertrophy training also vary somewhat.
Diet for hypertrophy is often focused on a bodybuilding physique—reducing body fat and supporting muscle growth—through bulking and cutting phases.
Therefore, a diet for hypertrophy training is often focused on maximizing protein intake, sometimes to the detriment of other nutrient needs.
Evidence suggests that the most effective diet to follow when trying to build muscle in a caloric deficit (which is necessary during the cutting phase of bodybuilding) is to consume 2.3-3.1 g/kg of lean body mass per day of protein, 15-30% of your total calories from fat, and the remainder from carbohydrates.
A diet to increase strength is often focused more on fueling before the workout to maximize power and after the workout to promote recovery.
Therefore, a diet for strength training might be higher in carbohydrates and more balanced overall to optimize health.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes consume at least 1.2–2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, and a ratio of 3:1 or 4:1 carbohydrates to protein is usually recommended after a workout to promote recovery.
Whether your main goal is hypertrophy or strength, there will likely be a fair amount of overlap in your results, meaning that both hypertrophy training will also increase muscle strength to some degree, and strength training may also build muscle mass.
You will also enjoy common benefits of resistance training with either method, including an increase in bone density, a decrease in blood pressure, an increase in energy expenditure (calories burned), improvements in mood, and a decrease in stress, among others.
However, to maximize the effectiveness of your resistance training workouts, make sure you gear your training approach—strength vs hypertrophy training—towards your primary goal.
For a long list of compound exercises to work into your strength training, check out our complete list of compound exercises.