Strength Vs. Hypertrophy: The Difference and The Benefits
Monday, December 21, 2015 | Max Barnhart
It’s long been argued whether strength training or volume training (hypertrophy) is preeminent to the other. However, the mistake most make in propagating this long-standing debate is attempting to promulgate which method is the unequivocal forerunner in catalyzing the greatest physiological adaptations, and which is the consequent ancillary, erroneously relegating the latter. The simple truth is that each one positively affects our physiology in a myriad of vastly diametric ways; subsequently, altering what was once a heated debate of superiority to a dissection of consummate methodologies.
The results we see in the mirror aren’t contingent on movement patterns alone, but also on the intensities utilized during training and their respective rep ranges. As the succeeding points elucidate, combining both strength and volume training is they key to unlocking the most potent physiological adaptations. If the antecedent statement was fallacious, then physiques that have long-inspired many to augment their aesthetics and physical prowess wouldn’t have come to be, such as: Franco Columbu, Dan Green, and Stan Efferding. All these men have self-admittedly reached their physical apex due to an appreciation and implementation of heavy, low-rep training (strength) and light, high-repetition bodybuilding tenets (hypertrophy).
Prior to delving into specific training modalities that optimize the development of strength and hypertrophy, it’s best to understand precisely what each is, and their respective physiological effects.
In this first installment, we will examine muscular aggrandizement on a biological level, and the corresponding variables requisite to optimize said process. Hypertrophy training refers to physical efforts geared toward accretion in a muscle fiber’s cross-sectional area. Simply put, hypertrophy denotes an augmentation in muscle size. Irrespective of the tools implemented to achieve this end goal, as long as substantial mechanical work is done to stimulate a significant degradation of contractile proteins, muscle size will improve. That is to say that regardless of the tool, whether it be external loads or one’s own bodyweight, muscles will enlarge if enough work is performed.
At this point in the discussion, it’s apropos to contemplate what constitutes “enough work” to facilitate fiber size expansion, and other training variables that impact muscular enlargement. Despite what science may extol as the transcendent means by which all should abide by in the quest for muscular development, many gym faithfuls recognize textbooks as mere suggestion. It seems, conspicuously so, that in spite of scientific principles, many have contrived awe-inspiring physiques. It is neither the point of this article to disparage their theories garnered and forged by tireless work, nor to declare the superlative catalyst for hypertrophy, but rather to fashion a concise illustration of unassailable methods to attain the aforementioned physiological enhancements.
There are two inimitable methods corresponding to hypertrophy training: submaximal effort, and the repeated effort method. The submaximal effort method refers to the lifting of a non-maximal load (a weight characterized as a fraction of one’s One Rep Max (1RM)), for repetitions short of failure; consequently, dictating the lifter to discontinue the set a few reps shy of all out exertion. The repeated effort method stands in stark contrast to the antecedent principle, stating that an individual must lift a non-maximal load to complete failure, due to the fact that those final reps in which one is approaching their physical threshold are the most important. The principle elaborates on the above by declaring that only during these final reps does a muscle produce its apex force plausible in a fatigued environment, and during which a peak number of motor units (MUs) are recruited. In short, more MUs called into action signify a greater amount of recruited fibers, and maximal fiber degradation. Therefore, it is oft decreed that it is only in these final reps that true value lies. (1)
Preceding the disclosure of this installment’s promulgation of the most effective composites constituting hypertrophy training, we must examine how a muscle grows. As the diagram abo illustrates, a muscle first requires stimulation for growth, often in the form of external resistances, with a dependence on energy, from one’s diet, to fuel complete growth.
Then muscle activation in order to produce force must occur, at which point hormone and immune responses actualize. This is perhaps the most pivotal stage within the multi-step process of muscle growth to dissect, as it clarifies the role of each primary androgen hormone. Thorough comprehension of anabolic hormones’ effects on muscle growth will omit falsehoods perpetuated throughout physical fitness culture regarding germane methodologies particular to hypertrophy. (2)
Both during, and succeeding muscle activation, the endocrine system releases epinephrine to aid a muscle’s production of force, and testosterone, insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and growth hormone to as the body’s primary source of correspondence with a fiber’s nucleus; in this case, communicating the need to accrete in size, and regenerate. Upon the production of force on a muscle’s behalf Testosterone is secreted into the bloodstream. After passing through a fiber’s membrane and into the cell itself, testosterone will then bind with androgen specific receptors, and alert the cell’s nucleus to increase the production of proteins, or what many know as protein synthesis. Growth hormone is also released into the blood, catalyzing the production and subsequent release of IGF-1. IGF-1 binds with receptors on the fiber’s outer membrane, delivering signals to the nucleus to synthesize more protein. (2)
As muscle damage occurs, IGF-1 and testosterone respond by activating what are referred to as satellite cells. These particular cells not only increase in number, but also become part of the actual fiber. Once articulated, the satellite cells proffer their nuclei, increasing the growth capacity of the fiber itself and the added nuclei generate more proteins. (2)
Upon the cessation of exercise, the number of anabolic hormones within the muscle cell accrues. Said surge of hormones improves the force-generating capacity of the cell, and its size. The product of the aforementioned is an overall increase in the muscle’s cross-sectional area, indicated by an expansion of the contractile proteins actin and myosin, and the acquisition of sarcomeres to the preexisting fiber. (2)
Albeit a conglomerate of sorts, with heterogeneous materials in conjunction with one another, hypertrophy training’s particulars are rather simple. Completing the analysis of the steps of muscle growth enables one to note the visible role of anabolic hormones in maximizing hypertrophy. Considering their potency in optimizing the synthesis of muscle, the intention should be to stimulate the most considerable release of androgen hormones for which there are potent methods. The longer a muscle is placed under tension, the more lactate aggrandizes facilitating growth hormone secretion. In turn, IGF-1 is secreted. Bearing this in mind, it would behoove one to implement supersets (opposing muscle groups exercised in succession without rest), compound sets (two exercises performed in succession for the same muscle), trisets (three exercises performed in succession without rest), or giant sets (four exercises performed in succession without rest). Doing so with opposing movement patterns, in example a push and a pull, or a lower body and upper body movement, discharges the most lactate.
1. Zatsiorksy, Vladimir M. Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, IL. Human Kinetics. 1995. Pgs. 101-104
2. Brown, Lee E. Strength Training. Champaign, IL. Human Kinetics. 2007. Pgs. 31-41.