Here lies much gym mythology, misinformation and therefore misunderstanding...

When I talk to most of my female clients about involving strength training as part of their personalised programme they are all concerned about becoming overly muscular / bulky and looking like an extra in an Arnold Scwharzenegger film.

In reality, and for a number of different physiological reasons this rarely happens. Instead muscles might grow a little bit but generally they take shape or ‘tone up’.  So what is the difference between the two forms of resistance training?

Strength training is a workout programme that aims to improve your neuro-muscular system in such a way that more muscle fibres are recruited at any one time thereby increasing how much force the muscle can produce (you become stronger).

Hypertrophy training is a workout programme designed to maximise muscle growth, through a process of repairing post-workout micro tears. It is also referred to as training for size (you look bigger).

Not really, beginners usually experience simultaneous improvement in both size and strength, no matter what programme you throw at them, as the body reacts to any exercise stimulus. But these general adaptations only last for a short while. As your body becomes used to exercise we need to train more specifically, using the SAID principle - Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. If you want to become stronger, lift heavy things; if you want to become bigger, lift relatively heavy things.

A point to note here is that bigger muscles don’t necessarily translate to a proportional increase in strength; strength athletes rarely look like body builders. 

Mo Farah, one of the UK’s greatest middle and long distance runners is surprisingly strong. He can perform squats with one and a half times his bodyweight on his back. For the average 12 stone man that is equivalent to putting 18 stone across your shoulders and squatting with it. At the other end of the spectrum powerlifters tend to be stronger than bodybuilders despite having less muscle mass.

1. Improves, strength, fitness and overall health
2. Maintains bone health and muscle mass (reducing risk of osteoporosis and sarcopenia respectively)
3. Helps with weight loss: strength training increases your resting metabolism 
4. Helps develop better body mechanics (proprioception), benefitting your balance, coordination and posture. This helps reduce your risk of falling. 
5. Helps with chronic disease management: for example if you have arthritis, strength training can be as effective as medication in decreasing arthritis pain.
6. Boosts energy levels and improves mood: strength training as with all exercise boosts mood because it increases endorphins but can also help you sleep better.
7. Improves cardio vascular health: muscle-strengthening physical activity helps improve blood pressure

When training for strength focus on using a heavier load (more weight) with fewer reps (less movements). As a guide I get clients to use weights that they can just about lift, with good form, between 3-8 times per set (between 3-5 sets with 2-3 minutes rest in between).

Conversely for hypertrophy you should be using lighter loads but for more reps. So typically you will be looking to move a lighter weight between 8-15 times (3-5 sets with 1-2 minutes rest in between).

As always there is a certain amount of crossover but the above is a good basic guideline.

Article written by Andy Silvey, Andali Fitness.


Published by Ludlow Guide on

Back to Articles