So, you got your sorry ass over to the gym, and even worked up the courage to go into the part of the gym where they keep the weights instead of just using the cardio equipment, but now what? The way I see it, when it comes to lifting weights, there are two main ways to go about it: hypertrophy training and strength training. In this post, I’m going to explain the differences so that you can get an idea of when and how to do each one, so that you are less likely to hurt yourself once you get to the gym.
Before I start talking all mumbo jumbo, let’s make sure we are on the same page. A “rep” is one complete motion of an exercise, while a “set” is a group of multiple reps done back to back (Dummies, 2019). For example, if I said I did “4 sets of 5 reps,” of pushups, that means I did 5 push-ups 4 times. I did 20 total repetitions. Another way to simplify 4 sets of 5 reps would be to write 4x5. Okay if that makes sense, you are ready for the rest. No more math, I promise.
The dictionary definition of hypertrophy is “the enlargement of an organ or tissue from the increase in size of its cells.” So, as you can probably guess, muscle hypertrophy simply means the growth of muscle tissue. And if you’re reading this blog post, I would assume one of your goals is to make your muscles larger.
If you are more interested in getting that beach bod physique than simply being able to move more weight, this is the type of training for you. Hypertrophy training will make your muscles bigger and stronger, but the focus will be more on bigger and less on stronger (Frothingham, 2020).
Hypertrophy training is done by increasing your number of repetitions on each exercise while decreasing weight. Bodybuilding.com suggests trying to hit anywhere between 20-35 total repetitions on each major exercise. This can be broken down a numerous amount of ways. You could do 5x5, 4x6, 3x8, 4x8, 3x10…etc.
Now “decreasing the weight” does not mean using a weight so low that it doesn’t even look like you’re trying just so you can impress the cute girl/guy that happens to go to the gym at the same time as you every day. You should be using a weight that causes you to be close to failure on your last couple reps. Bodybuilding.com suggests using a weight that’s 70-85% of your 1 rep max, but if you don’t know what that is, just experiment until you find a weight that’s right for you. Once you find that weight, don’t be an idiot, and write it down so you remember for next time! Because you are going to forget.
Hypertrophy training also requires less rest time between sets. A 2012 study found that while doing hypertrophy training ,rest times of 30-60 seconds is more favorable as it allows for greater amounts of growth hormone (Salles et al., 2009) (the hormone required to repair muscle tissue after exercises (Cronkleton, 2010)).
Just in case you need it for whatever reason, the dictionary definition of strength is “the quality or state of being physically strong.” I know, it’s such a descriptive and helpful definition! But anyways, strength training is for those of you out there who are more focused on being able to lift heavier and heavier weights and aren’t as worried about what they look like. If you’d rather brag about how much you can bench than stare at yourself for hours in the mirror, then this training program is for you.
Strength training is almost the exact opposite of hypertrophy training when it comes to how you do it. In strength training, the focus is on using a high weight while only doing a low number of reps. Bodybuilding.com suggests only doing a total of 10-20 repetitions for each major exercise. This can be broken down in a number of ways. Some potential set by rep combos are 3x5, 6x3, 4x4 etc.
When it comes to choosing weight for strength training, you again want to be careful. Don’t go to the gym with an ego, trying to impress people with how much you can lift because this will only lead to you injuring yourself, and frankly nobody gives a fuck. You should pick a weight that is heavy but doesn’t cause your form to falter. The rep doesn’t count if you use shitty form! Bodybuilding.com suggests a weight 80-90% of your 1 rep max, but again if you don’t know what that is, just experiment till you find a comfortable weight and then WRITE IT DOWN!
In terms of rest times while doing strength training, the more rest the better. The same 2012 study found that 3-5 minutes of rest between sets was best for strength training as it produced “greater increases in absolute strength” and “higher levels of muscular power” (Salles et al., 2009).
Hypertrophy Training: Bigger muscles, low weight, high reps, short rest.
Strength Training: More strength, high weight, low reps, long rest.
When it comes to deciding which one is best for you, I would actually suggest doing a mix of both. For overall fitness health, I would recommend doing something like 6-weeks of strength training followed by 6-weeks of hypertrophy training. Rinse and repeat. But obviously you gotta play around with it and find what works best for you!
Bumgardner, Todd. “TheBasics Of Training For Size Or Strength.” Bodybuilding.com, 24 Apr.2020, www.bodybuilding.com/content/the-basics-of-training-for-size-or-strength.html.
Cronkleton, Emily. “HGH:Side Effects in Men and Women.” Edited by Lindsay Slowiczek, Healthline, Healthline Media, 6 Oct. 2010, www.healthline.com /health/hgh-side-effects# :~:text=HGH%20 helps%20 to%20maintain%2C%20 build,and%20appearance%20 of%20the%20 skin.
Frothingham, Scott.“Hypertrophy Training vs. Strength Training: Pros and Cons of Each.” Edited byDaniel Bubnis, Healthline, Healthline Media, 24 Jan. 2020, www.healthline.com/hea lth/exercise- fitness/hypertrophy-vs-strength.
Salles, Belmiro Freitas De, et al. “Rest Interval between Sets in Strength Training.” Sports Medicine, vol. 39, no. 9, 2009, pp. 765–777., doi:10.2165/11315230-000000000-00000.
“Weight Training: How Many Reps (and Sets) toDo.” Dummies, 21 Nov. 2019, www.dummies.com/health/exercise/ weights/weight -training-how-many -reps -and-sets-to-do/.
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