Established guidelines by both the Strength and Conditioning and Sports Medicine governing (i.e., NSCA, NASM, ACSM, etc.) body’s recommend specific set, repetition and intensity guidelines for differing training purposes. For example, it’s commonly accepted that hypertrophy training is best developed with moderate loads (e.g., 67-85% of 1RM) for moderate to high repetition ranges (e.g., 6-12 repetitions with multiple sets (e.g., 3-4). For the development of maximal strength, it’s conventional wisdom to use higher intensities for lower reps and multiple sets (e.g., greater than 85% 1RM, less than 5 reps for 3-5+ sets). These guidelines are supported by research and have worked great, and continue to work great for strength coaches and trainers. Off-season programs are typically separated into phases where one quality (i.e., hypertrophy) is trained prior to moving on to a new phase (i.e., strength). However, in short periods with our athletes, we may not have enough time to spend in each phases. What do we do in that case where increases in lean mass and strength are desired?
A new study published ahead of print in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined how the traditional training methods of strength and hypertrophy differ when equated for overall workload (volume). The researchers wanted to determine if muscle mass and strength levels differed following a training intervention. Eighteen young men with a minimum of 1.5 years of resistance training were split into two groups; a strength training group and a hypertrophy training group. The training period lasted 8 weeks with workouts being performed 3 times per week. The strength training group performed full body workouts with traditional strength training guidelines (i.e., 7 sets of 3RM) while the hypertrophy group trained following traditional hypertrophy training guidelines (i.e., 3 sets of 10RM). The same exercises were performed in both groups with the same volume load, however the strength training group performed full body workouts, while the hypertrophy group focused on one muscle group per workout (upper body push, upper body pull or lower body). At pre and post training, muscle thickness of the biceps as well as 1RM squat and 1RM bench press were tested and compared.
The researchers found that following the training intervention, muscle thickness improved significantly in both groups, but were very similar (12.6 and 12.7% for hypertrophy and strength training groups, respectively. For 1RM bench press, both groups improved significantly, but the strength training group showed a bigger improvement (13% vs. 9.1%). A similar finding was observed for the 1RM back squat exercise as well with the strength training group improving a bit more than the hypertrophy group (25.9% vs. 22.2%). From these results, it appears that both hypertrophy and maximal strength can be significantly improved simultaneously with conventional strength training programs so long as the volume is high enough. Coaches should be cautioned that a period of hypertrophy training may still be beneficial for younger and more inexperienced athletes for skill development and tendon and ligament adaptation. Therefore, hypertrophy training should still be considered under certain circumstances.
Schoenfeld, B.J., et al. (2014) Effects of different volume-equated resistance training loading strategies on muscular adaptations in well-trained men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Epub Ahead of Print.