Q&A: Strength/Power vs Hypertrophy/Size?

Pardon my ignorance, but what is the difference between training for strength/power and for hypertrophy/size? It seems that if one becomes strong enough to squat 400 pounds or bench press 300, they are not going to be small and weak?

J – Thanks for the question. This is actually a great question that I don’t believe many people ever consider. It also touches on some of the fine points of programming and why – in my (not-so-humble) opinion – SAPT really excels at program design and getting our clients to their goals.

Your assumption that if someone is able to squat X and bench Y they will not be small and weak is basically correct. BUT, to get them to those goals you have to begin complementing the heavy compound or main movements with accessory and supplemental work that will effectively support the needed growth to hit those heavier maxes. When I say growth, I am referring to both neural growth/adaptations and actual muscle hypertrophy.

If one were to stick with a strict maximum strength development program they would be missing out on the strength and hypertrophy spectrum. The result would be very little hypertrophy because the volume will be so low… even though the weights will be very heavy. The primary result will be neural adaptations. As a side note, this is the style training I use with my college teams when I only want performance improvements and very little gain in weight or size: maximum strength, strength-speed, speed-strength, and speed methods.

On the other hand, if you begin to carefully combine the maximum strength work with some hypertrophy and strength set/rep ranges then you will be able to simultaneously (and very efficiently) gain the needed muscle to support the improved neural functions.

Hope this answer helps clear things up!

Which mass-gaining method is "best"?

After dragging my brain through 41 pages of research on "The Influence of Frequency, Intensity, Volume and Mode of Strength Training on Whole Muscle Cross-Sectional Area in Humans" guess what the conclusion was on an extensive study designed to figure out the best way/combination of ways to increase muscle mass? Essentially, that all variables are valuable and there is NO ONE SINGLE MAGIC BULLET.

Sometimes - okay, a lot of times - research totally cracks me up. I think I've stated this before. This paper was about 10x longer than most with extreme detail and for what... to confirm something that any experienced strength coach knows:

Regarding progression, we recommend low volumes (e.g. 1–2 sets) in the initial stages of training, when performing eccentric-muscle actions, because low volumes have been shown to be sufficient to induce hypertrophy in the early stages of training and because exercise adherence may be improved if the workout is relatively brief. Also, avoiding unnecessary damage may allow hypertrophy to take place earlier. As the individual adapts to the stimulus of strength training, the overall volume and/or intensity may have to be gradually increased to result in continued physiological adaptations and other strategies (e.g, periodisation) can also be introduced if even further progress is desired.

So, through actual published research (and not the usual anecdotal evidence), it is confirmed that the best policy when progressing an individual for anything - in this case hypertrophy - is always found in moderation.

The next time you're considering ordering any number of TV products promising to solve all your problems or thinking about signing your kid up for training that "guarantees" quick results, I ask that you keep in mind some solid research and accept that anything worthwhile in life takes time, hard work, and guidance.

Some Winter Hypertrophy Action....Your Next Leg Program?

Ryan recently approached me to inform me that he was seeking to take part in the Winter Swell, and asked if I had any hypertrophy programs that were fun and far away from your typical Flex magazineworkoutthatmakesmeslammyheadagainstthewallandpoopmypantscuzit'ssoasinine workouts. (Hypertrophy, by the way, is simply the strength coach way of referring to increases in muscle fiber size. The Jersey Shore bros in the crowd would know this as "gettin' jacked!")

Ryan has spent the past year preparing for and competing in powerlifting meets, and he wanted something to "change it up," so to speak, before he enters his next powerlifting cycle. I responded by giving him just the medicine he needed.

This is a really fun program I completed myself a couple years ago. Originally written by Cosgrove, it consists of one upper body workout and one lower body workout, performed twice each per week, albeit using a different set-rep scheme each time you come back to it.

Not a typical program I would do (or write for someone else for that matter), but can definitely be interspersed as a nice change of pace, at least for the masochists in the crowd.

Here's what Ryan did on Day 1:

Lower Body Day


















Bulgarian Split Squat BB Step-Up

4 4

10/side 10/side

60 60


Lie on Floor in Fetal Position




He'll do this every Monday and Thursday, but he'll cycle through three different set-rep-rest schemes:

Day 1: 4x10 with :60 rest (as shown) Day 2: 5x5 with :90 rest Day 3: 3x15 with :30 rest (Note: Day 3 will take place on Monday of the following week) Day 4: Repeat cycle

As such, this program will last six full weeks, hitting each given set-rep scheme four times. It is sticking to the rest periods that make this program so brutal (the 3x15 days in particular make you hate life), and also allow you to get in and out of the gym in an hour tops.

Here is a brief clip of Ryan doing his first day on the program. As noted for the past year he has primarily been powerlifting, keeping most of his repetitions at 5 and below for the compound lifts and taking very long rest periods betwixt sets. As such, he was in for a rude awakening! This first day essentially provided him the chance for his body to adapt and for him to figure out a good starting point for weight selection:

This will also complement the upper body work he is doing on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Keep in mind, Ryan is a 375lb squatter and has been training for a few years now. I wouldn't recommend this program for someone who is just getting their feet wet in the lifting realm. However, for those of you who have been training for a while and want to enter the pain cave this Winter, I challenge you to give this a shot for a consistent six weeks. It may just be the perfect complement to all that holiday feasting.

Just be prepared to have your glutes on fire the following day. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Cluster Training: Your Meathead Tip of the Day

Note - This is a re-post from about a year ago:

Cluster Training is a form of interval training in which, much like track athletes, the goal is to increase strength-endurance by manipulating and cycling work and recovery phases. Clusters, specifically, involve performing one or more repetitions with 10-20 seconds rest between each repetition or “cluster” of repetitions, in the case of an extended set.

Notes for cluster success:

Minimum load used is a 5RM for 4-6 sets

Extensive clustering – 4-6 repetitions with 4-6RM and a 10 second rest between each cluster.

Intensive clustering – 4-6 sets with 75-90% 1RM with 20 seconds rest between online casino repetitions for 4-6 repetitions total. Ex: 6x1x4 @ 80-85%

Clusters are best used in moderation during times when a plateau needs to be smashed to continue forward progress. I would suggest only applying this method once a week for a two- or three-week wave.