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Strength vs Hypertrophy Training


What is the difference between training for strength vs. training for size?

I read sometimes that certain training schedules are ideal for size gain and others ideal for strength gain with minimal size gains.

I was under the impression that how much you eat will manage your potential for growth.

Can someone explain this to me?


I believe that along with caloric intake, a set/rep scheme dictates strength over size. As in heavy weight, low rep, many sets produces strength gains, where lighter weight, fewer sets, and higher reps brings size. This is very general, but from what I have read, higher reps is for hypertrophy, and lower reps for strength.


article that provoked the thought process...

Christian Thibaudeau
Bulgarian loading secrets for strength

Over the past 20 years, Bulgaria has developed some of strongest Olympic lifters on the face of the earth. Year after year they are in contention to win the best team award at the world championships. Even more impressive is the fact that their first team constantly finishes in the top 3 world ranking while their "backup lifters" also win medals for Qatar (Bulgaria loaned lifters to Qatar for an hefty sum of money). Bad mouths will be soon to associate this domination with steroids. Let me be clear on this: at the elite level in Olympic lifting almost everybody uses steroids and the steroids available in Bulgaria are not different from those available anywhere else! Furthermore, Bulgaria is a small country (approximately 7-8 million peoples) so it doesn?t have the talent pool that countries like China or the former Soviet Union has/had. Evidently, the fact that they are superior stems from somewhere else.

Bulgarian lifters use a very atypical loading scheme. A form of loading that I call Bulgarian wave loading. Those who heard a few things about Bulgarian lifters are led to believe that they always lift maximal weights, 7 days a week. That is not entirely true. Bulgaria lifters go for their daily max at every 2 sessions. However that daily max is not necessarily a personal best attempt, rather it's a load that is very challenging for that day. In most cases, it equates to 85-95% of their competitive max.

In their "heavy" sessions Bulgarian lifters will build up to their daily max. This max is not an end in itself, rather it is the starting point of their training: the daily max is used to calculate the training load for the rest of the day. Once a lifter reaches his max, he backs down 25-40lbs and do 3-5 sets of 2-3 reps. That are the money sets! With this form of training your daily session is always adapted to your present capacities.

Bulgarian wave loading parameters

Sets 1-3:Warm-ups with a load lower than 60% of the competition max/personal record
Sets 4-7:Work up to the daily 1 rep maximum
Sets 8-9:Daily max - 40lbs for 3 reps
Sets 10-12:Daily max - 25lbs for 2 reps

They will use this form of loading for 3 daily exercises. On "lighter" days they will do technique work with a relatively light load (60-70%). They will not have a precise number of sets to do. They do 3 different exercises, allocating 15-20 minutes per exercise and they do however sets they feel comfortable doing that day. This is not unlike Charles Staley?s EDT, and it is also a technique used by Canadian weightlifting coach Pierre Roy.

Adapting the Bulgarian system to your capacities

Obviously you do not have the benefits of using anabolic aids nor can you spend most of your day training like Bulgarian lifters do. However the basic method can still be applied. You just need to reduce the training frequency a bit.
It is not a method limited to the Olympic lifts. If anything it works better for basic strength lifts like the squat, bench press and deadlift.
Bulgarian loading is for strength gains, not for size gains. Athletes seeking a boost in their strength without too much bodyweight gain will be well served by the method.

A typical modified Bulgarian strength program

Day 1. Hard session
A. Power clean from hang
wave loading
2 minutes of rest between sets.
10 minutes break between exercise A. and exercise B.
B. Back squat
wave loading
2 minutes of rest between sets.
10 minutes break between exercise B. and exercise C.
C. 1/2 rack deadlift
wave loading
2 minutes of rest between sets.

Day 2. Easy session
A. Bench press
3-4 reps
60-70% of maximum
15 minutes, do as many sets as you feel comfortable doing
B. Push press
3-4 reps
60-70% of maximum
15 minutes, do as many sets as you feel comfortable doing
C. Incline press
3-4 reps
60-70% of maximum
15 minutes, do as many sets as you feel comfortable doing

Day 3. Easy session
A. Power clean from hang
3-4 reps
60-70% of maximum
15 minutes, do as many sets as you feel comfortable doing
B. Romanian deadlift
3-4 reps
60-70% of maximum
15 minutes, do as many sets as you feel comfortable doing
C. Barbell rowing
3-4 reps
60-70% of maximum
15 minutes, do as many sets as you feel comfortable doing

Day 4. Hard session
A. Bench press
wave loading
2 minutes of rest between sets.
10 minutes break between exercise A. and exercise B.
B. Push press
wave loading
2 minutes of rest between sets.
10 minutes break between exercise A. and exercise B.
C. Close grip bench press
wave loading
2 minutes of rest between sets.
10 minutes break between exercise A. and exercise B.

Training Split

Ideally you would follow this split:
Monday: Day 1
Tuesday: Day 2
Wednesday: off
Thursday: Day 3
Friday: Day 4
Saturday: off
Sunday: off

This will allow for maximum recovery between hard sessions and as a result, constant progress!

The choice of exercise is up to you, depending on your goals you may want to vary exercise selection. But the important thing is to understand the concept. And do no forget to use both hard and easy sessions!


CT sums it up: http://www.t-nation.com/findArticle.do?article=05-099-training


I'd through in the volume of training in the program as an important variable also.

Good question Xen, should be an interesting thread to follow.


You may need to be more specific and mention "higher reps" over the course of an entire training session may be for size. I personally very little difference between the two at all aside from caloric intake. I train for strength. I grow because of food intake. When I diet down a little, I `simply cut back calories. I don't revamp my entire training regimen.


Ok, true. I was being very general. But isn't it correct to say higher volume,lighter weight,and higher reps for growth and lower volume, heavier weight, and lower reps for strength? Of course you can argue the exact rep/set scheme, but generally speaking, isn't this usually prescribed.


I don't really agree with that either because most people reading it will assume that "lighter weight" means you aren't pushing as much as possible. I lift heavy. I don't lift "lighter weight". I am not trying to do one rep maxes, but the weight I use is enough that it keeps me from usually being able to push out more than 8 on the last set. If my max is close to 500lbs on an HS machine, I am using 450-470lbs on the last set. It is only "lighter" in the sense that I think one rep maxes are near useless outside of specifically practicing for competition (not to mention being prone to injury). My focus is on strength. I simply eat to grow. I rarely push my reps above 10 when I lift for a set. I gained size by doing that so I don't understand this concept that reps must be "higher" to grow unless we are talking about total reps during an entire training session.

Either way, your food intake is going to dictate what you see from training hard. I think much of the training protocols beyond that mind set are largely mental masterbation and a way for trainers to push their "brand new method". It doesn't make their ideas worthless at all. I just don't understand the complication of something that is fairly simple to grasp. Lift heavy. Avoid one rep maxes outside of competition and eat to grow. Your genetics have more to do with the rest than anything else.

My last set may be only 4-6 reps on some exercises.


Good enough for me. You took the time to explain it more in depth than I did. I'm sorry, a bit lazy right now.


personally I think people can sometimes over analyse rep schemes in the bid for size. If you've built your way up to a 300+ bench, 400+ squat and 500+ deadlift then (with the right diet) I cannot possibly imagine how you would not also have gained some appreciable size UNLESS you were specifically trying to maintain a certain weight.


I was under the impression that training for size focused on creating muscle damage and training for strength focused on improving the central nervous system.

Muscle hypertrophy is the result of the repair process set in motion after the stress of lifting loads causes micro tears in the muscle fiber. The degree to which damage occurs is influenced by several factors including load, but mostly time under tension. Longer times under moderate loads creates the most damage.

In any muscle contraction only the minimum number of fibers required to move the given load are recruited and used. Strength training attempts to improve the central nervous system's ability to recruit more muscle fibers to perform a given lift. Maximal loading is required to give the CNS more practice. Fewer reps and sets are required to avoid fatigue and overtraining. I assumed that when more fibers were recruited less muscle fiber damage occured, yielding strength improvement without size gains.

I'm not an expert so fire away.


I used to think that the traditional "strength only" rep ranges (less than 6) were outside the bounds of hypertrophy. I don't think that way anymore. I've been training exclusively at 2-5 reps since May and have gained a solid 3lbs. It really isn't all that surprising since I've added 15lb to my bench, 10lb to my front squat and 20lb to my DL in that time. I can't fathom how you can increase your strength across the board and NOT put on at least a couple of lbs of LBM. BTW, in those four months my diet didn't change one bit.


actually...that CT article that 'mancer posted was on point.

Explains it very well...

I just happen to notice that in a lot of 'strength' based schedules you end up doing something similar to CW's 10x3... (basically what I do after a couple sets of 5 when I do EDT).

And that program was praised for it's gains in strength and size... so why wouldn't any other program that has generally the same guidelines produce the same results?

I suppose it would because EDT worked like a fucking charm for me... Doing singles and doubles make me grow more than most schedules.

If it was all about how many reps you do during a bout of exercise... why couldn't you just do one arm pushups all day to stimulate growth? It's a substantial load, multijointed, and enough reps should stimulate growth...


I'm no expert at all, but from what I recall having read I believe that the total volume (tonnage) could be taken into consideration for a program to be strength focused or hypertrophy focused.

Take for example Chad's Strength Focused Mesocycle versus his Waterbury Method. At a glance, the total volume of the SFM is low(3x3, 3x5, etc) with long rest periods. WM has a high total volume of setsxreps, and since the repetitions to be executed are "low" then the weight to be used is "high." As a result, you would have a high tonnage along with volume.

Another example I can think of is Pavel's Russian Bear. His outline for strength is 2 sets of 5 reps done at 100% and 90% of effort, respectively. However for mass, the Russian Bear, uses 2x5 at 100% and 90%, and uses an AMSAP(as many sets as possible)x5x80% guideline (anything between 5 and 25 sets) and short rest periods. Thus, the mass version has a high volume of setsxreps as well as a high tonnage due to the higher weight used.

So I would assume that volume and rest periods are the key factors in determining the differences between a strength-based routine and a hypertrophy-based routine. I could definitely be wrong in my assumption, so hopefully more people will chime in.



I think you are spot on here in the amount of reps. and load. the total tonage moved.

It takes volume and even better volume and Load to increase size. That is the beauty behind say EDT and 10x3, anything in which you are moving HIGH loads. 5 or less usually but getting into the and up to 12 from time to time wont hurt and will do good also.

Boy the more we think, it just all becomes clear as mud.


clear as mud is exactly right haha


Not an expert, but it seems to me that all of Waterbury's programs are strength programs that also induce significant hypertrophy. I've only down TBT and WM so far, but on both I experienced signicant strength AND muscle gains. My body weight has stayed around 175, but my musculature has increased significantly . . . I'm pretty sure I've packed on muscle while dropping fat. And that's while being a worse than average college drinker.

Anyway, my conclusion . . . strength and hypertrophy go hand in hand. And thank you Chad Waterbury


My only question is, who was it that started the rumor that they don't go hand in hand?


I heard it a lot when I read Pavel's Power To The People!


Strength and hypertrophy CAN and USUALLY go hand in hand, but it's possible not to... CT's article here describes how to achieve a lot of different adaptations pretty well, but doesn't really describe the why.

Remember this thread?


It did a pretty good job explaining the mechanisms of getting stronger w/o getting bigger, especially firstpull's response (though there are other reasons, such as increased storage of calcium in the lateral sacs to free up more active sites at once, increased myosin ATP-ase storage/activity, and possibly changes in DHP/ryanodine receptor activity (though I don't know if this actually happens, maybe Dave Barr's lab found something out while doing their research?).

As far as getting bigger w/o getting MUCH stronger (in terms of maximal lifts), the basic reason is that the adaptations going on are more metabolic than structural. Rather than the muscle adapting to produce more force over a very short period of time by building more actin active sites, changing myosin cross-bridge layout/density, increasing stored ATP, increased myosin ATP-ase activity, etc., the adaptations are to store more glycogen, creatine molecules, form a few more mitochondria, that sort of thing. This will also cause muscle cells to store more fluid, as it likes to stay at a certain concentration of stuff - just like how using creatine will cause you to keep a bit more water weight.

There is also more phyiscal damage done to the muscle's proteins and connective tissue in higher-volume training due to increased overall time under eccentric stress, which will cause more proteins to be built up/increased connective tissue levels (which can impede function if it gets too high or disorganized, hence ART and other such techniques).

I hope that's a reasonable job of summing up why high-rep per set hypertrophy is often called non-functional hypertrophy (big misnomer in my book) and why low rep per set training is often referred to as "strength" training. Obviously, there are shades of gray, such as Chad's 10x3 protocol. While it will induce the structural changes for strength, it's also pretty high volume, which will induce the metabolic adaptations (though not to the same degree as, say, a 5 x 12 program).

For optimal strength and size gains for one's goals, it's all about finding that exact shade of gray that will produce the adaptations one desires.