Hypertrophy and Strength ---> NOT so different


Well-Known Member
4 Jul 2011
Original Writer - Madcow

I wrote this on another board for someone who was caught up in the "Is 5x5 good for strength or hypertrophy" thing. I figured other people would be interested so I went in depth. This is about 95% of the picture - in some ways it is slightly simplistic (i.e. time/density and semi-cardiovascular effects) but that stuff is very very small potatoes so it's pretty comprehensive overall and kind of sets it all out. Plus there seem to be people interested in this type of thing here so maybe someone enjoys it. Also, I didn't really proof it so - cut me a tad of slack.

How do you think people get bigger exactly? A bigger muscle is a stronger muscle - what do you think your body is adapting to when it adds muscle as a result of exercise? Why is resistance at a fairly high percentage of your maximal effort necessary for hypertrophy? I mean, you don't get too big walking around and bodyweight exercises seem to cap out after a while.

Things that make you go hmmm. I'm not saying a bigger person will outlift or be stronger than a smaller person (physics/leverage/neural components weigh in on this), but I'm saying that when you get bigger you will have gotten stronger. No one added significant muscle that didn't add weight to the bar or just do a ton more work. You are stressing the muscular system here and the adaptation of hypertrophy is a method the body uses to cope and improve to be able to better tolerate the stress.

I would hope it's hitting you like a bolt of lightning now and that you aren't lost. If you are lost reread the above.

Now what's necessary for hypertrophy vs. just pure strength. Well, obviously there is some type of intensity (% of 1 rep max or weight on the bar) involved in both. People say that 8-12 reps is for hypertrophy but 1-3 reps is for strength, why? I mean, intensity (%1RM) is linearly related to potential for microtrauma right? Why do you need to do more reps and why isn't a heavy weight better. Well, a heavy weight is better. The problem is, is that you can't do a whole lot of work with it and get a reasonable amount of microtrauma for hypertrophy - hence, it mainly stresses the neural components more than the muscular.

So in fact, a rep is a rep, it's finding that happy medium between intensity (%1RM) and the number of reps performed. Hey wait - why do we do sets if we can just do 25 reps with some weight and be done. Well, because the weight you can do for 25 reps has to be low intensity to get 25 back to back (hence, less microtrauma). So we cluster reps into sets to keep the intensity high and still get a given number of reps done. This is why you can break the rule with 3 rep sets being for strength only if you lower the intensity (%1rm) to where you can do 8-10 sets and get 24-30 reps. You'd probably get more total workload too (reps X sets X weight used) as the time density is lower with additional clustering/rest. There are few absolutes. Microtrauma is also why static holds with very heavy weight tend to not work so well, you need to move a weight over a range of motion and leverages to get the microtrauma.

Also, let's not forget the neural components that have nothing to do with hypertrophy . Hypertrophy over a period is strategically induced microtrauma through progressive loads (i.e. increased workload by raising weight/more work with same weight/combination). Enhanced neural capability leverages your ability to do this and the resulting hypertrophy gains. Better neural = better potential hypertrophy. Don't believe me, think about the much loved "newbie gains" where everything works. What is this phenomenon - muscle is muscle? Well the main driver is rapidly developing neural adaptation and that drives weight on the bar which drives hypertrophy. Doh.

So now we know hypertrophy and that neural adaptation is a good thing not some unrelated oddball of nature to be shunned. I'm not saying you need to do a pure powerlifting or peak strength routine and focus on the extreme end of max singles and doubles either - merely that some neural focus is quite helpful. Well what's the best way to get a lot of hypertrophy for those looking to add muscle mass? Well, the body is a system and adapts best as a system. This is what makes squats, deads, rows, cleans, presses, and snatches very effective. You are using a large portion of your body's musculature to move a heavy weight (think intensity) through a fundamental range of motion. This is full body microtrauma stressing a large portion of the body's musculature all at once. So adding weight to these exercises should net hypertrophy over the entire body. And we all know how hard it is to grow a muscle in isolation and that the body tends to stay within reasonable parameters of balance (otherwise the curl boys would all have huge arms - the training is there, the body just doesn't work like that).

So what's the deal with the 5x5 stuff? Well, first tends to focus on the most effective lifts or the ones with the highest potential for hypertrophy. We are not concerned with balancing the outer head of the triceps here, this is for pure muscle, triceps are included but nothing in isolation is being heavily focused on. So what's with doing the big lifts that often and not splitting it up day by day? Two things:

1) How do you train for any sport or motion?

Do it a lot, as much as possible until it's 2nd nature. Why? The nervous system and your body adapt to performing the motion and become much more efficient and better at it (doesn't that sound like weight on the bar - if you didn't get it reread it). Well why not do it every day then? The intensity that you are dealing with is too high and beats on your body's systems too much. Just the nature of the beast in weight training and why powerlifters don't just do max squats, deads, and benches every workout - it's the most direct way to train but it can't be done for long. And in the weight room, just like in life, it is very hard to get very good at a lot of things all at once or when changing those things all the time. You need to focus on a few things and hammer them to really get good at them.

2) Recovery is fairly fast, once your body gets used to training your muscles repair themselves fairly quickly generally within 2-3 days.

Also, you need not be 100% recovered to train again. When you tan do you tan real hard one day and then wait inside until you are pasty white again? No, you have tolerable periodic exposure and this is how your body adapts. So more frequency is desirable up to a point but 1x per week tends to suck as a default. In addition, remember when we proxied microtrauma with workload (reps X sets X intensity or weight used)? Well do you think you could handle doing 15 sets of squats in 1 day? Think back to the pasty white skin tanning - is it better to get fried for hours and then sit inside whitening up or is it better to get some tolerable amount more frequently. But still understand that the total amount of microtrauma from the squat can be much higher if spread out over 3 days during the week - i.e. you can tan in three 30 minute sessions without burning but a single 90 minute session might toast you (so in 1 session a week maybe they can only get 60 minutes - hence 90 minutes is more). Also, think about volume and intensity (%1RM). What's a good balance to get enough microtrauma - well think back to workload. You could do one 25 rep set, weight too light probably (this is why there are intensity based cutoffs for workload calcs and walking doesn't make you big, intensity is too low), what about 3 sets of 8 - sure that would work that's fine, enough weight and work, well what about 5x5 - that works too, and with less density it's probably the way to get a good amount of workload with some pretty good weight (intensity).

So that's the jist and how strength and hypertrophy are related. That's also the jist on how why the 5x5 or any similar setup is structured that way and designed to work. Oh yeah, the other essential ingredient is food. Caloric excess will move the scale. If you aren't gaining weight, you aren't eating enough. You cannot add another wing to your house with only enough material to make small repairs on the existing structure.

And why the different templates and structures - just different ways of going about getting the body to acclimate. If you can acclimate fast enough to add weight to your best set of 5 three times a week - do it. If you can only add weight 1x per week that will work too and then you wind up with undulating loads during the week. When you can't add weight weekly, well then it's done periodically and your undulations move beyond purely weekly into larger blocks and you get periodization. All different ways to skin a cat, go with the fastest you can. And variables change and are altered. Different ways to get stronger - getting your squat from 200x5 to 220x5 can be handled in a lot of ways. Maybe it's 4 5lbs increases, one a week. Maybe it's taking your best 5 sets of 5 with 180lbs and pushing it up to 200. Maybe a combination or working on a weak link.

I hope this has helped someone. But that's the whole deal. Not too hard is it. And as to the original topic, programming is just about efficiently organizing work. To get as big as possible in the shortest period of time, a split with a ton of different exercises done 1x per week and lot of isolation is probably a very bad choice (and if you read above, you know why). But training the whole body or a big portion of the body in a session will let you get enough frequency and let you really focus on the lifts that can make that mass pile on as fast as possible. Then again, if you don't really want to add muscle and just want to work on your conditioning and aesthetics and balance - well, if you are pounding the compounds hard with that kind of frequency, it's hard to fit this work in. Figure out what you need to do and plan for it. It's that simple. You don't need to do everything at once and for most people they should focus on aesthetics on an as needed basis rather than trying to preempt all possible future problems that my arrise while hobbling their high priority mass gaining phase.


Well-Known Member
4 Jul 2011
Actually knowing that workload is a proxy for microtrauma or stimulus, now learn about fatigue or the nervous system. The nervous system is what overtraining is about, it's not about tissue repair so much. You don't get exhausted, unable to concentrate, interupted sleep patters, decreased performance and reaction times from doing too many sets of bis one day. This is your nervous system getting hammered. The nervous system is what recuits your muscles and to do heavy work it fires hard (rate coding). So knowing that workload is a proxy for stimulus to the muscles and hypertrophy, getting those extra reps by going to failure becomes particularly expensive. Not that failure is bad but simply that rate coding skyrockets and that impacts fatigue and accumulated fatigue is overtraining - it is not an accident that failure or HIT type protocols default to low volume and stress recovery (they just didn't realize it wasn't the muscles that were failing, it was their nervous system redlining i.e. failure is not a stimulus unless you are trying to get better at the neural level and that is a viable way to load the muscles progressively with more weight but it isn't as direct as Mr. Mentzer seemed to think).

So that's failure in a nutshell, and reaching failure is not necessarily a bad thing. But it's important to understand it because fatigue is the limited resource so fatigue limits workload which limits microtrauma which limits hypertrophy. So there is a balance and limited resources.

Also the difference between the nervous system and performance/strength/muscular system in training can be seen in the two factor model where fitness and fatigue are separate factors. Interestingly and what makes this really important to separate those factors is that the nervous system recovers much faster than performance is lost. Basically, the rate of decay in fatigue is much higher and basically 3:1. Why is this important - higher workloads. A program that might kill someone over 10 weeks without break might be very stimulative for 3-4 weeks. Knowing that fatigue can be disipated quickly, you wind up with periodization or an undulating set of blocks to where workload can be very high for a period, lowered for a brief period to allow recovery and then raised again. This allows a lot more work and microtrauma. Now this isn't necessary for most teens getting into this or anything, the name of the game there is to keep fatigue low enough to be tolerable and then scale the weights, but this relationship is very useful for elite lifters and athletes. This type of model is basically the standard at that level. Both of these are great links - you'll get a great contrast between single and dual factor models in the first (don't worry about the specific programs - one is the dual factor 5x5 on my site anyway - and I actually wrote the description on the link) and in the 2nd you'll see how this is used and put to work at high levels.

So that's a lot of info with everything above and those links. But once if you understand everything in my previous piece or at least most of it and read through the 3 links here. That's basically a big big portion of everything you need. Arguably, there isn't much else you need to know except how to put it all together and what changes to make and when - but training is art as well as science.

First TUT - don't get caught up in this. TUT is not the stimulus or causality - it just sort of falls out correlated under normal conditions. If it was causality, it would matter in all conditions. Case in point, you need to get a decent amount of mechanical work in for hypertrophy (i.e. the microtrauma thing) or perform a given number of reps with a weight heavy enough (intensity) to do the job. There's an inherent balance in there. Flat out, the more you do, the more microtrauma you get (pretty much, I guess it could get rediculous at some point but the relationship is fairly linear for all practical purposes). So stimulus for a given training session = workload (sets X reps X weight). It just might not be the best idea for consistent progress to arrange your training with a single massive day and then curl up in a ball for a week paying for it. So thinking about this - how does TUT fit in? Real simple, it flat out takes more time to do more work. This is why TUT is correlated. If TUT was the causality though (not workload), super slow reps would be great all the time, or less reps but same amount of total time. Well once you get extreme like that TUT falls appart because you break it away from workload (basically you aren't doing more mechanical work for microtrauma, you are doing less work more slowly). It's not all that simple but that's the big chunk. Also, if you are interested in getting strong using maximal force results in maximal concentric contraction and bar speed - this is not a negative aspect, it is very positive even though the affect on the TUT calculation is negative (workload is still equal though). So workload is king, don't distort TUT. TUT looks good largely because it's correlated with workload and a lot of the big TUT guys are low volume guys so the last thing they want to hear is about workload of which volume (total number of reps or sets x reps) is the major component as intensity/weight on the bar has to stay in fairly fixed bounds for resistance training.

For 5x5 - thinking about workload, it's not your top set in a ramped group that is the only important one. All of those other sets contribute also to workload and TUT. You don't need to be working close to failure. The advantage of the ramped sets is it serves as a warm up, provides additional mechanical work, and saves some resources for a big final set. That's the whole deal. And that's not the only way to do it 5x5 with straight weight is used also plenty of times (weight is slightly lower) but workload is much higher especially when you figure relevant workload might only really include sets at 60% or greater so in ramped you maybe count the top 3 sets whereas in straight accross 5x5 you basically have 5x5 at 80% or so and they all count and are significant. But it's not volume for volume's sake, the goal is still to push up your best lifts whether it's best set of 5 or 5x5 or whatever. The volume is a means to an end (as you noted volume and intensity are inversely related but for hypertrophy and strength development intensity is within some pretty narrow bounds so to really move and manipulate the workload equation you have to add sets which has a double multiplicative effect vs. a fairly constant weight). Think of it from proficient to efficient which mirrors deloading and loading. You have a max set of 5 at 300 so you start to hammer your 5x5 starting at 250 and then raising it up to around 290 for a PR (this is efficient and mirrors loading - you get good at doing a lot of work), then you deload and push up your best single set of 5 and generally you might get it to 320 range (this is proficient where you leverage that efficiency into getting good a less work). That's kind of the idea anyway.

As far as the two types of hypertrophy - I don't know. I wouldn't really concern myself with sacro (and by the way, that doesn't mean an increase in the number of muscle fibers, it's fluid - there's really no evidence that fibers split as far as I know, maybe in rats). I don't really have it in my head that it makes much difference in the end all. Sure, maybe after pushing really hard on on core lifts for a while and getting big and strong you can drop the intensity and do a bunch of pump stuff and get nice and swollen up a tad. Okay, whatever. It probably does help marginally with strength just as much as leverage/water weight/more volume in the muscle helps. Basically, I wouldn't make this a long-term goal or priority in your training unless you just like to train that way.

Also - historically you have to think back to the origins of HIT and low volume. The period from the very 1970s was the golden age of volume (way way way way higher than what people consider volume or HVT today). First, every one of those guys got big and strong before that in an era of olympic weightlifting where physique contests were basically spun out from OL competition. Powerlifting had started. But all those 1970's guys built their foundation the old fashioned way. Squats, pulls, presses etc... Now at that point they started doing these outrageously long pump marathons with hours in the gym doing isolation work. And to do all those reps you need very low weight (intensity/%1RM), so to get the microtrauma from very low weight, you need to do a ton of reps. Also, they already had their base, they still kept up their lifts and basically just refined. I think Arnold's weight used to increase for a competition from 220ish to 240s (very different steroid use than todays pros who cut down from 300+ to 260-270). Anyway those workouts were outrageous and all the isolation volume (sarco) didn't do a whole lot for the normal man looking to build his foundation (myo). But I guess I helped them with weak points and to a degree probaby resulted in some myo hypertrophy too. Anyway, this is where the "efficiency" in low volume came from, focusing on the weight lifting and improvement rather than just doing a bunch of aimless shit. The problem is that HIT came from Bodybuilding so it really had no idea about what else was going on in the world and it and bodybuilding became very sheltered which is why everything non-HIT is "HVT" but in reality no one with a brain is using volume for volume's sake, if they increase workload it's to get a lift up not to just do a bunch of work and most programming outside of BBing is organized quite well. Hopefully that's some perspective.

As far as where bodybuilders would be without drugs. Years ago I spoke with and met several Pros, watched them train (plus a bunch of amateurs and recreational). I can honestly say that every single one that I spoke with knew no more about training than the rest of the stalled pencil necks in the gym, didn't train any harder than most, and in my mind, drugs and genetics to respond favorably to drugs were the sole factor that allowed them to progress past where you average dedicated gym rat was. This was back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Most of them had never done a deadlift in their lives. None of them squatted or used it as a mass movement to develop their physiques. None ever did a barbell row. I think the closest one guy got to free weights was inclines in the smith machine. Now that's changed some since that time but the bottom line is that in all honesty, the only thing that separated them from the frustrated guys beating their heads in was the drugs. It had nothing to do with their training. It's been a dirty little secret for decades now and this is why kids and people get so frustrated and don't gain well on the advice of the Pro's. Because it's drugs - they are night and day for a shitty program and even for a great program when it comes to hypertrophy (they control the mechanism basically - it's a much bigger deal is BBing than it is in strength performance holding bodyweight constant). Maybe take a look at cows heavily drugged. No resistance program whatsoever but they put on a ton of muscle. Well, give them a program and manage their diet, now you have BBer cattle.


Well-Known Member
4 Jul 2011
The whole "newbie" and fullbody thing aren't mutually exclusive, it probably helps to frame things a different way. I'll use the word beginner for newbie. This is kind of arbitrary delineation but it will serve for the purposes below and it's geared mainly to what goes on in BBing and commercial gyms. We will leave the spectrum of the above advanced to elite to world level lifters out of it but make no mistake it is lifting which makes you bigger along with food, if you still think there is voodoo after reading all my posts from the 2nd post onwards, you need to reread.



Typically a beginner will have a very simple program and can progress workout to workout for a decent stretch. This might be adding 5lbs to the back squat 2 to even 3 times per week or maybe it's 2.5lbs to the bench on the same frequency. Essentially every time or most times he goes into the gym, he's a different lifter. Simply the rate of adaptation is high, the time between personal records is low, and the necessary complexity of the programming to elicit these progressions is low.


An intermediate may ramp up to his records over a few weeks and then get decent stretches where he'll set new records on lifts on a weekly basis. At first he might get 12 week runs, later on only 3-4 weeks, but nevertheless he is making fast progress and adding weight to his lifter weekly or or almost weekly. Within a week lifts and stress on the body will generally undulate. If 3 full body workouts are used it's typically Heavy, Light, Medium with the work geared to getting that next record the following week. Rate of adaptation is still medium, time between records is medium, and complexity of the program is medium.


An advanced lifter gets to the point where weekly progress isn't really viable. He may ramp up and get 1 record or he might not be able to go anywhere with that structure and to get that kind of progression he has to train so far from his core competency that the training fails to carryover well and even cause regression in ignored core. For example dropping the backsquat and training the butt blaster machine or working in the 25 rep range on lifts or some other oddball thing. Sort of like a 100m sprinter working on his 3000m times because easy progress is available to him there (unfortunately his 100m doesn't really move much if at all). I have a post on properly using benchmarks to evaluate progress here: Bodybuilding: Anabolic Steroids, EliteFitness.com. Programming here is characterized over larger blocks of weeks in a micro, meso, macro cycle format for planning. He may work very hard and only make a single increment of progress at the 4 or 8 week point. This type of training is indicative of periodization and what goes on in advanced athletics and it gets longer and longer. One could almost say for a top world lifter, he may be training an entire year for a single increment of progression at the world championships and he might have a 4 year plan setup to hit his best at the olympic games. Obviously adaptability is low, time between records is long, and complexity of the program is high (and for the world level lifter add "very very" before each of those but it doesn't have to be that way for everyone at the simple advanced classification I'm talking about).

So those are the 3 easiest ways to look at it and on the line between beginner and world level lifter there are obviously infinitely many sub-points but I think it's easiest to look at it like this and more relevant to the discussion. Obviously, irregardless of where you are or where you think you ought to be, you want to be in the fastest lane possible. Complexity for complexity's sake is dumb. Slow progress when fast is available is very poor decision making. Training indirectly with elaborate assistance exercises to raise your back squat is foolish if you can walk in the gym and add weight to your back squat. These are all done out of necessity not because they are desirable.


Now for the split vs. full body or large part of body and how it related to experience level. Drum roll - - it doesn't. No one outside of bodybuilding is operating off some elaborate bodypart split. No one at the highest level of lifting is not doing full body or close to full body. The training volumes and frequency at the highest levels are staggering to most bodybuilders even during a deloading period before competition. Bottom line, experience level is not about splitting the body into parts. Your goal at a point in time determines the objectives you are going to use during the training period then the objectives determine how you are going to organize your work. A split simply falls out as the organization.

Full Body or Most of Body - Training Lifts

If at any stage of experience your goal is to add as much muscle as quickly as possible, the objectives you will stress will be raising your best compound lifts in some viable range - best set of 5, 8, or 10 maybe best 5x5, or 3x8 or whatever. That and the eating is the best way to add muscle and generate the adaptation you are seeking. And the organization for that? Well doing those lifts 1x per week and throwing in a bunch of garbage is a pretty crapy way to get better at them. If you have any clue, you would not select some outrageous 5 day bodypart split with tons of exercises and train the lifts 1x per week. In this kind of training you focus on lifts, not bodyparts and generally it doesn't get more complicated than upper/lower. For the record, I don't believe in push/pull/legs because that's basically chest/back/legs and you are right at the cusp of a bodypart split - not that it may not be a good organization for a hybrid goal where pure muscle gain and refinement are equal, but merely that no one would really consider this optimal organization to get big lifts up fast.

Elaborate Splits - Training Bodyparts

Now what about if one is prioritizing refinement of one's physique over a period? Well, all compound lifts trained frequently are not going to leave much room for other work. You might get one or two things done but largely there's just no room and you won't accomplish your goal. So here the objectives determine that you need a lot of isolation exercise or different varriants while maybe maintaining your core lifts or even just preventing serious detraining. This might be a lifter who preceives some imbalances or wants to work on this for a period after adding some muscle - or this might be a bodybuilder preparing for a contest. Obviously a more elaborate bodypart style breakdown falls logically out from the goal and objectives. This is the time to make such a choice and layout. It makes sense. It's a good choice.


So that's the jist and how I think it's best looked at. Your goal determines your objectives which determin your organization (split or full body or whatever). Your experience level determines how you go about achieving all of this and how you program it. They are separate. They are not mutually exclusive. This is a good way to think about it and use this logic to arrive at what you should be doing. It is very clear and will not steer you wrong.


Well-Known Member
20 Jul 2011
huh. this is the training primer by madcow isn't it. may as well post the link to the whole web there. this sub-forum feels almost stale actually