Hypertrophy vs Strength training: Main Differences

Hypertrophy and strength are two of the main exercise goals people aim for. They are often used interchangeably, but they are distinct concepts with different objectives.

In this article, we'll explore the main differences between hypertrophy vs strength training, and provide insights on how to choose the best training approach to achieve your fitness goals.

Hypertrophy training is a popular form of exercise that aims to increase muscle size and mass. This is typically achieved through high-volume resistance training, where a moderate to heavy load is lifted for multiple sets and repetitions.

This damage triggers the body's repair process, leading to an increased muscle growth over time. Hypertrophy training can be beneficial for both aesthetics and functional performance, as larger muscles can also generate more force and power.

Increase in Muscle Mass

Muscular hypertrophy refers to the increase in muscle size achieved through resistance training exercises. These exercises involve the breakdown and challenge of muscles to stimulate growth.

In order for hypertrophy to occur, the muscle tissue to repair itself, a protein-rich diet is also essential. Hypertrophy training should be done using progressive overloading, which is necessary for maximal muscle fiber recruitment and size increases.

As a starting point, use moderate loading (65% to 80-85% of your one-rep maximum), 6-12 repetitions per set, and at least 3 sets per exercise. The number of repetitions can also be increased, especially on isolation exercises that utilize muscle fibers that are more fatigue resistant. (e.g. calf raises)

The number of sets varies, and is often determined by which muscle groups you are working with, your training experience, and how frequently you can train that muscle group.

As a beginner, 3-4 sets per exercise in a single session is more than enough. As you progress and become more advanced, you might want to experiment with increasing the amount of sets to 5 or 6. Anything more than that will have diminishing returns. The only scenario where this would be tolerable is when you only train that muscle group once a week.

One of the primary mechanisms of hypertrophy is mechanical tension, which is created when we lift weights or perform resistance exercises, stimulating the muscle fibers to adapt and grow in size.

Hypertrophy training can also increase energy expenditure, as larger muscles require more energy to maintain. This means that even when you're not exercising, your body will burn more calories at rest, leading to an increase in overall energy expenditure.

This is something to take note of if your goal is not only to gain muscle, but also lose fat.

Hypertrophy training can also lead to an increase in self-confidence due to changes in body image and looking better. I think that everyone will agree that as you build more muscle and reduce body fat, you may feel more confident in your appearance, leading to an improved sense of self-esteem and confidence in all areas of your life.

Strength training is a type of physical exercise that usually involves using resistance training to build strength, muscular endurance, and muscle mass. It can be done with various training techniques, including bodyweight exercises, isometrics, and plyometrics, and uses a variety of equipment, including weights, resistance bands, and medicine balls.

Strength training is important for overall health and fitness because lean muscle mass decreases naturally with age, and strength training can help preserve and enhance muscle mass at any age.

Increase in Muscle Strength

One of the most significant benefits of strength training is obviously an increase in muscle strength. Strength training involves working against heavy resistance (+80% of your one-rep maximum). As a result, individuals who engage in strength training can expect to see an increase in their overall muscle strength.

Strength training can increase bone mineral density, which can help prevent osteoporosis and reduce the risk of fractures. It is a great way to help maintain bone density in older adults and individuals with osteoporosis.

Strength training can help improve the communication between the nervous system and the muscles, leading to better control over movements and increased coordination. This can also lead to an increase in the activation of motor units (groups of muscle fibers controlled by a single motor neuron). This can lead to greater force production and improved muscle recruitment.


One of the key differences between hypertrophy vs strength training is the number of repetitions performed in a set. For hypertrophy, the goal should be around 6-12 repetitions. For strength, you should be aiming at 1-6. In order to build muscle mass, you have to have more volume in your training program.

Because strength training is often centered around compound movements, it creates more fatigue on the nervous system, thanks to the increased neuron firing rate required to lift heavier weights.

On the other hand, hypertrophy training involves moderate-to-high intensity, high-repetition sets, which can lead to greater muscle fatigue.

Another major differentiator between hypertrophy vs strength training is the intensity. As mentioned before, for hypertrophy, the percentages should fall somewhere between 65% - 80% of your 1RM and +80% of your 1RM for strength training.

Let’s assume that your squat 1RM is 300lbs. When your goal is hypertrophy, staying somewhere between 195 lbs and 240 lbs is probably your best bet when targeting the 6-12 rep range.

Here’s a workout plan that will help you focus on both hypertrophy and strength:

A strength training program usually focuses on a few compound exercises, incorporating some kind of periodization to increase the weight lifted over time, while hypertrophy programs may involve more variation in exercise selection, rep range, and training volume.

Not as significant of a factor but still something to consider are rest periods. For hypertrophy training you should stay in the 1-3 min range, for strength training you can go for 2-5 min. This is because you want to be as fresh as possible for the heavy weights.

This also applies to the time window between sessions. Going for intense lifts is generally more fatiguing than doing lighter work at higher rep ranges. Especially those higher repetition sets that are not taken to failure.

So when you are going +90% 1RM, taking at least 2 days of rest before your next training for that same muscle group is probably wise. When doing hypertrophy work and going with lower reps and intensities (e.g. 6 reps at less than 70%), you can probably get away with training every day or every other day, depending on the type of exercise.

Bringing it all together, I’d say that the main difference between muscle hypertrophy and strength training is the overall volume of the training program.

With the goal being strength, you want to do as little as possible at higher intensities so that you can minimize fatigue and come in as fresh as possible for the next session.

When the goal is muscle growth, doing as much work as possible and adding in isolated exercises should be the objective to have your muscles overloaded at all times.

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Aleksander Saks is an undergraduate in Sports and Exercise Science who works as a strength and conditioning coach. He also competes in powerlifting.https://aleksandersaks.com/

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