Basics Behind Hypertrophy and Strength Training

Although lifting may seem simple and superficial, the science behind every movement we do in the gym stimulates a musculoskeletal response that induces multiple biological responses. In this article, I will be breaking down the general term “lifting,” short for weightlifting, into two main categories. First, proper lifting can trigger a strength focused response. Second, proper lifting can trigger a hypertrophic muscular response. 

Strength training is most effective when using heavy weights; therefore, heavy functional movements improve the neuromuscular system’s ability to produce neural strength.  Conventional pushups, situps, and squats will not provide the desired muscular response that heavy lifting does. In order to trigger muscles to build density and strength efficiently, one must prioritize a 1-5 rep range for at least a couple sets for each muscle group. The most important concept that needs to be understood in order to make substantial strength gains is that of rep range. A rep range means you need to be almost failing or failing your last rep. This also means you need to be hitting RPE (rate of perceived exertion) of 8-failure every set that is focused on strength gain. Consequently, when finding a weight that will effectively induce neuromuscular strength gains, your last reps should either be very slow moving towards contraction, or not moving up at all. Although you may think you have reached failure, the reality is that you aren’t close and have a few more reps in the tank. Going to failure on many exercises may seem scary so have a spotter for your heavy failure sets along with wrist wraps, knee sleeves, lifting belts, etc., to provide supplemental stability. The second most important thing to remember when lifting for strength gains is that every time you step in the gym and do an exercise , you need to be working as hard as possible to hit more reps or increase weight from your previous session. This is also known as progressive overload. 

Hypertrophic training (hypertrophy) is the training of muscles in an effort to increase  mass. Although this form of training may not require heavy weights contrary to strength training, weights are, in fact, going to produce an improved mechanical tension on targeted muscles. In order to train effectively for hypertrophy, isolating specific muscles will improve the mechanical tension and, subsequently, improve your fatigue to stimulus ratio for that specific muscle. The famous compound lifts such as barbell bench, barbell squat, or barbell deadlift are not as effective for muscle hypertrophy compared to isolated and controlled exercises. When training for hypertrophy, the most important thing to remember, similar to strength training, is that you need to be reaching RPE 8-failure. This means you need to be either failing your last rep or close to failing. Similar to strength training, a progressive overload on your targeted muscle groups will most effectively increase your muscle hypertrophy while working within the 6-12 rep range. And yes, training for hypertrophy will include strength gains and vice versa. So for beginner and intermediate lifters, focusing on a progressive overload, consistency, and intensity of multiple rep ranges will stimulate muscle hypertrophy along with strength. 

If you are new to the gym and are completely lost figuring out how to start, this article will provide you with basic information on how to improve your programing for a specific goal. If I haven’t made it clear enough already, reaching failure and having intensity during your workouts will most effectively propel you towards your respective goal.