So how does it really work?

Why do you see some jacked people with no strength at all? Why are there people who are really strong but with no muscle? Why do two people start the same program but don’t get the same results? Does building more muscle have more potential in building strength or in order to get bigger you need to get stronger.

Eric Helms of 3D Muscle Journey, explains the relationship between hypertrophy and strength.

There are two schools of thought. There’s the belief that you get stronger with groups of movement that train all of the body’s muscles and that’s how you get bigger. Others say training for strength is totally different. Hypertrophy has no impact on strength. These two types are distinct and a little bit wrong.

It’s not that getting bigger that makes you stronger, it’s getting stronger that makes you bigger. You want Progressive overload in training to get bigger. It is not gaining strength that makes you bigger, getting bigger is a component of strength, one of many components. There are contributing factors that are more dominant in the different stages of a lifter’s career.


  • Early stages is about motor learning. Strength is always expressed through a skill, a movement pattern. Squat, benching, etc. requires a skill. Motor learning will result in huge strength gains initially. Other neurological adaptations, like increase rate coding, increasing coordination between and within muscle groups, occur allowing us to be less inhibited and to express more our strength, These are dominating in the early stages. You still are seeing hypertrophy but it’s not as large in proportion to results in strength.
  • After these initial motor skills and neurological adaptions, there is an increase of muscle efficiency. The muscle is getting more efficient through the increase in normalized muscle force in two ways theoretically. One, there is an increased packing density in the myofibril inside the muscles fibers which means each muscle has more contractile tissue and increased forced transmission between fibers. Potentially, there are these lateral connections that are occurring within the muscle which makes the muscle more efficient in transmitting force. The whole muscle ends up being stronger in the intermediate phase.
  • Finally, with early motor skills, neurological adaptions and muscle efficiency, hypertrophy becomes a greater proportion of your strength gain. It becomes a major contributor. As you advance training age and your neurological adaptations and muscles have gotten as efficient as they can, you are not getting bigger. As you become an advanced lifter compared to when you were an intermediate, it’s actually slowing down your rate of hypertrophy. But the little you get is contributing largely to your strength gains because a bigger muscle is a strong muscle. Of course, hypertrophy contributes to strength.


What Does That Mean In The Gym?

Let’s see what Eric has to say,

For hypertrophy you want to use a spectrum of rep ranges typically 4 to 20 with the majority on the sweet spot of 6 to 12, doing some heavier and some lighter work. Progress over time.

Focus on the progressive overload across the entire spectrum of rep ranges.

For strength, 1 - 6 range with a chunk of time spent above that, so that you can actually accumulate volume in a less stressful manner. Make sure you are still getting hypertrophy to support your weight gains.




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