Should You Be Training for Strength or Hypertrophy?


When people come to me, 99% of the time they’re running in circles. There may be a goal in sight but no efficient plan to get there. The training is often conflicting with the individuals’ end game.  I’m referring to general population clients who are usually looking to lose weight, build muscle, get stronger, improve endurance, and/or feel better overall. These are 5 extremely common goals. A great way to not accomplish any of the 5 would be to intentionally keep yourself crippling sore all the time so you can “feel” you’re great workout. This is a detrimental path that won’t last long term. It will prevent you from exercising as hard and often as you could if programmed better.

I’m going to eliminate to groups of people whom this article may not apply to as much. Athletes, we may get more specific than basic strength vs hypertrophy. Speed, agility, technique, explosiveness, and coordination may need to be prioritized at different times of the season higher than strength and muscle building. I’ll also eliminate those who strictly want to have fun, feel better, and move more for health. I don’t want to say programming structure isn’t important for them but it’s not priority number one, adherence is. If a routine resembling a collage makes you happy, then that’s fine. Just remember it’s not most efficient for strength or body composition.

I will define strength as being able to lift heavier weights at lower reps and hypertrophy training as the method of increasing your overall workout capacity or training volume.  Lifting heavy weight is how you get stronger, exercising with greater volumes will boost your ability to gain or retain muscle (depending on your calorie intake). That’s as simple as it gets. If your greatest goal in life is to see shredded abs then strength training is not the ideal way to get there. Plenty of powerlifters have shredded abs but that is more correlation than causation.  An efficient strength client or athlete will likely be eating in a surplus and getting plenty of recovery, training with lower volumes, two variables that are not in the handbook for becoming shredded. Flip side, a strength athlete trying to get as strong as possible will never reach their potential if eating in a calorie deficit to discover their abs. Recovery will be hampered throughout their training cycle, their desire to train will decrease from lack of food, and energy stores will remain depleted all the time, all of which is a recipe for failure.

Goals should be prioritized. Do you want to gain weight or lose weight? You cannot add muscle efficiently while eating to lose body tissue! If you want to tighten up your stomach, lean out your arms, but you don’t want to get “too big”…PICK ONE. The likelihood that any general population client beginner will immediately get “too big” is probably impossible. Adding muscle is not a cake walk, and adding a tremendous amount of it in a short period without drugs I feel confident is not going to be an issue to deal with. Either way, both goals would be most efficient with hypertrophy style training. When losing weight you would be trying to maintain muscle and minimize atrophy, when gaining weight you would be trying to add muscle tissue. To repeat, You cannot add muscle efficiently while eating to lose body tissue!

Do you feel weak all the time? Carrying groceries get you out of breath? You cannot maximize your strength potential in a calorie deficit! If your primary goal is to get stronger you need to eat adequate food. If you have no gas (calories) in the tank and start training for strength, it’s another recipe for failure.  Sure, you can get stronger but you’ll get there at a much slower pace than you otherwise would if your nutrition and exercise aligned. A calorie surplus is not required but a minimum maintenance level of intake would be recommended. If you try to get freakishly strong and discover your abs simultaneously, you’ll likely not get too close to either goal, frustrate yourself and quit until you build up your desire to begin again for the hundredth time.

Most people tend to opt for max results with minimal effort due to the various higher priorities in life that get in the way. This marketing has blurred expectations for the general population. Reality is, the stronger the effort (intelligent effort), the better the results.  If you want to maximize your strength, your training should align with that specific goal. If you want to maximize your look, your training should align with that specific goal. If you want the best of both worlds then you’ll need to logically accept there will be a trade off towards reaching your max potential in a single endeavor. You may improve in both modalities but not as much as if one had your driving focus exclusively.