Most lifters who start strength training have specific fitness goals they want to accomplish, the main three being building muscle, strength, or achieving fat loss. The thing that most don't know is that there are specific forms of training that can help you accomplish specific goals efficiently. One type of training that is designed to maximize muscle growth is known as hypertrophy training.
Strength training does help build muscle, but its main goal and techniques are to achieve building strength. Hypertrophy, on the other hand, uses specific techniques in an effort to increase muscle hypertrophy. So, hypertrophy and strength training have slight differences in goals and exercise techniques in order to achieve those specific goals.
To help you understand what type of strength training you should do, continue reading to get the details on what hypertrophy training is, its benefits, and how to get started and implement it into your current strength training routine!
What does muscle hypertrophy mean?
Hypertrophy training gets its name from the term muscle hypertrophy, which is a scientific term that refers to an increase in muscle size.
There are actually two types of muscular hypertrophy - myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic. Myofibrillar refers to increasing the size of the muscle fibers, while sarcoplasmic refers to the increase in the volume of fluid in your muscles (glycogen, water, minerals). Despite contrary belief, you don't need to differentiate between the two types of muscle growth because when one grows so does the other! This means you don't need to figure out what specific type of training to target each, instead, you can take a comprehensive approach to the primary factors that lead to an increase in muscle hypertrophy – And the best way to do that is by implementing hypertrophy training into your workout routine!
Hypertrophy vs strength training
Hypertrophy workouts are designed to help promote muscular hypertrophy in an effort to effectively increase muscle mass. Although strength training is one way to build muscle, there are specific techniques used in hypertrophy training that make it a better approach for lifters who have a specific fitness goal to gain muscle. The main differences between training for strength vs hypertrophy come down to the training volume (number of reps and sets), weight, and techniques. In order to understand how hypertrophy training works, let's look at what building muscle entails...
There are three primary methods that promote muscle growth: muscle tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage. Lifting heavy weights is one way to create structural damage to the muscles, but if you want to grow bigger muscles there are other ways to create mechanical tension, meaning the way you place tension on the muscle during exercise, which helps stimulate better muscle growth.
So, strength training's main focus is on creating muscle damage through heavy lifting in an effort to increase strength. Hypertrophy, on the other hand, strives to create muscle tension by placing the main focus on going through the full range of motion, thus reducing the focus on how heavy the weight is. This is why the common way to train for hypertrophy involves training with lighter weights, higher reps, shorter rest periods, and a focus mainly on isolation exercises and other training methods.
But it's important to remember that these techniques should be combined with heavier weight lifting! Lifting heavy is still a great way to gain muscle and overall strength. So, the trick is to find a balance between strength and hypertrophy training to help promote the best results possible... But before we dive into the details on implementing the best strategies into your weight training routine, let's take a look at why you should train for hypertrophy in the first place!
Benefits of training for hypertrophy
This type of weight training is ideal for everyone! Seriously, advanced lifters and bodybuilders love it, and it's especially great for women who are just starting to lift weights!
When implemented correctly, hypertrophy training can help in various ways... Here are a few reasons we love it, and why you might too:
- Helps change your body composition: As we know, this style of training helps promote better muscle growth. The increase in lean muscle size results in a higher proportion of lean muscle, meaning lower body fat percentage thus changing your body composition. But you can't rely on only hypertrophy training, remember that a healthy diet, good sleep, maintaining stress levels, and other factors, play a role in the results you get!
- You'll get physically stronger: Hypertrophy training is a type of strength training, when doing it correctly you'll still be lifting heavier weights which means you'll be increasing muscular strength and size.
- It can be adjusted to be lower impact: Stick to basic hypertrophy techniques (higher reps, lighter weights) if you want to have a low-impact workout. Heavy weight training tends to add more stress on the body and is considered to be a higher impact, but for those who want to start weight training and don't want to lift extremely heavy while still achieving muscle growth then stick to the basic techniques. You'll still build and maintain muscle while maintaining your strength as well. The results may not be as big as someone lifting heavy, but everyone's body and goals are different, so do what works for you.
- It's a sustainable form of training: When it comes to maintaining a long-term regular exercise routine, you want to choose something that's enjoyable and sustainable. Hypertrophy training involves techniques that are less straining than those used to increase muscle strength, therefore many find it to be sustainable and a great way to avoid injury and burnout! Even those heavy weight training, use hypertrophy techniques as a way to continue making progress, while they take a break from their usual heavy training sessions.
How to start hypertrophy training for better muscle growth
Muscle hypertrophy may seem complex, but the key is to not overthink it. Hypertrophy is very similar to strength training, so you should have no trouble at all switching up your training sessions every once in a while to help stimulate hypertrophy.
So, if you want to gain bigger muscles, here are our best tips on how to include hypertrophy training into your workout plan without sacrificing your strength gains:
Focus on low, medium, and high rep ranges
Contrary to popular belief, you don't only have to train with lighter weights and a higher training volume. Instead, focus on triggering all of the processes of muscle growth (muscle tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage). You can do this by using different rep ranges that range from low (1-5) to medium (6-12) to high (15+).
You still want to continue implementing key compound lifts, like deadlifts, bench press, squats, rows. These exercises are best for gaining strength, so whatever your favorite compound lifts are continue doing them at the beginning of your training session with a heavier weight and low rep range.
Other exercises, like isolation exercises and unilateral exercises, can be adjusted to have a medium or high rep range depending on the weight being used. You'll naturally select exercises that fall into these three rep levels, which brings us to our next tip...
Include a variety of compound, isolation, and unilateral exercises:
There are certain compound lifts that everyone should continue practicing, but as we said you need to trigger all the processes of muscle growth! One way to do that is by trying different variations of popular lifts from different angles or in a way that creates different stressors that challenge your muscles in new ways. For example, squats have so many different variations that help target your lower body muscle groups in different ways. Like, split squats are more quad-focused, whereas Bulgarian split squats add a different angle/element that can make it more hamstring and glute-focused. The same goes for other popular exercises like the chest press, it can be done on an inclined bench to help target other muscles in your chest.
Other exercises you should incorporate towards the end of your workout session are isolation exercises, like biceps curls, leg extensions, hamstring curls, and lateral raises. These exercises help isolate weaker muscle groups in an effort to build muscle and strength thus helping to fix any muscle imbalances.
The best thing is, having a variety of exercises will help you to naturally follow a low, medium, and high rep range. Unilateral exercises like pistol squats, one-legged deadlifts, split squats, and more will naturally require a lighter load since you're forcing one side of your body to do the work. This means you should focus on a higher rep range when starting out. Isolation exercises are also similar in that it involves a lighter load and often a medium to high rep range.
Try supersets, eccentric holds, and move through the full range of motion
These are three methods that help promote hypertrophy and they can be used as a way to place a challenge on your muscles without adding extra weight. Supersets involve completing two exercises that target opposing muscle groups, or the same muscle group as a way to push your body to work harder thus adding a different stressor. For example, using a lighter weight to do an incline dumbbell chest press for 10 reps, and finishing off with an incline dumbbell squeezed chest press for 10 reps to help add greater stress and tension to that muscle group without having to slap on a heavier weight!
Two other techniques that help to really increase the stress and tension to any given exercise are adding an eccentric hold at the top of the movement and slowing down as you move through the full range of motion. For example, if you're regularly practicing hip thrust to grow your glutes and want to take a break from heavy lifting, then choose a lighter weight and focus on going slow throughout the movement. Go through the full range of motion, lockout at the top, and hold for 4-5 seconds before moving back to the starting position. Holding at the top for a few seconds helps the muscle to fully contract thus causing damage to the internal muscle fibers. Simply changing the pace of the exercise and adding a brief pause will increase the time under tension and fire up your muscles!
Do some cardio
Although cardio can cut into your muscle gains, you shouldn't neglect it completely. Just try not to do it too much, you want to hit a sweet spot that minimizes muscle damage and soreness, but helps boost calorie burning and fat loss.
To avoid overworking your muscles and interfering with your muscle-building goals, limit your cardio workouts to 30-45 minute sessions and to no more than 50% of the time you spend weight training. High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, is a great way to burn fat and calories, but it can also cause more muscle damage and fatigue which can interfere with your resistance training. So, keep high-intensity cardio to a minimum, and stick to low-impact stead-stay cardio, such as walking on incline, cycling, rowing, or even jogging.
Don't forget about your nutrition
Every good training program must have a healthy nutritious diet to go with it! If you want to maximize your hard work at the gym, then prioritize your nutrition. Make sure you're eating enough protein, carbs, fats, and other nutrients that your body needs for energy and muscle repair. Undereating is the most common mistake lifters make that leads to poor muscle growth and overall results.
To ensure you're eating enough protein and carbs for muscle growth, calculate and track your macros! You don't need to track all your macros if it's too much work, but if building muscle is your goal, then consider tracking your protein and carbs. For muscle hypertrophy to occur, you need to provide enough protein for your body to make your muscles bigger and stronger. And you need enough carbs in order to increase your glycogen levels because that's what helps you lift heavier and push yourself harder in your training.
In summary, hypertrophy training is a training method that is designed to increase muscle cells thus promoting hypertrophy and better muscle-building. But contrary to what many think, you shouldn't neglect heavy weight lifting altogether if you're really trying to maximize muscle growth. Instead, it requires a balance of everything - heavy weight/lower rep ranges (avoid if you're doing a lower impact style of training), lighter weights/higher rep ranges, a variety of exercises, proper form, workout techniques, cardio, and a healthy diet. Do that, and you'll have no trouble achieving your muscle-building goals!
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