At the gym one day, surrounded by all of the usual suspects, lifting heavy and hard and trying to bulk up, one guy stood out from all of them. He was very lean and didn’t look like what you’d consider to be ‘classically strong’. He sat on the floor, stretching for a while, then grabbed two Swiss balls and proceeded to casually plank on top, with his elbows on one of them and his feet on the other. If you’ve ever planked before you know exactly how strong you need to be to do it. Combine that with the added difficulty of balancing on top of two Swiss balls at the same time and suffice it to say that there was one ‘skinny’ guy who earned a lot of respect in the gym that morning.
Which brings me to the point of this article: muscle and strength don’t necessarily go hand in hand. If you’re big, you’re naturally going to have a certain strength purely on the basis of having that much muscle. But you can also have an enormous amount of strength – as demonstrated by our planking friend – without being big.
Size vs strength
Initially you need to build muscle and strength at the same time. Once you reach a certain point though, you need to decide whether you want to focus on getting stronger not bigger, build bigger muscles or whether you’d like to go for increased strength. Which one you choose will determine the type of training you do.
Hypertrophy training or strength training?
Essentially, there are two different approaches you can take to training depending on what results you want to achieve: hypertrophy training or strength training. Let’s take a look at them.
Hypertrophy training and strength training basically use the same equipment and exercises – the main differences are:
- Sets and reps
- Weight used
- Rest and recovery time
Hypertrophy training is designed to build bigger muscles – the definition of hypertrophy is: “the enlargement of an organ or tissue from the increase in the size of its cells”.
Hypertrophy training = lower weight, more reps, shorter rest time.
Benefits of hypertrophy training
- Bigger gains
- High caloric burn
- Muscle health
- Physical symmetry
Strength training is designed to increase strength by replacing body fat with lean muscle mass.
Strength training = higher weight, fewer reps, longer rest time.
Benefits of strength training
- Increased metabolism
- Creation of lean muscle
- Helps increase bone density
- Joint flexibility
Get professional advice
Whether you decide to go for hypertrophy or strength training, it’ll pay to get some professional advice to make sure that you’re lifting appropriate weights using the correct form so that you don’t hurt yourself. It’s easy to get over-enthusiastic and injure yourself, which will put a huge damper on your results, so take the time to protect yourself and make sure you’re lifting properly.
No matter which style approach you decide to take in your bodybuilding journey, you will build both muscle and strength – it just depends which one you want to focus on most. And as always, we recommend that you get the advice of your medical practitioner before taking on any new training regime.