Understanding The Basics of Strength & Hypertrophy Training

Before someone can design an exercise program, it’s important to understand the basic terms and jargon that come with strength and hypertrophy training. These are going to be the foundation of any regimen you conjure up, because, whether you know it or not, an effective training program will incorporate most or all of these terms and variables. That’s why it’s effective! Anyway, let’s dive in. Here’s a terms list for understanding the basics.

Strength Training: We’re getting very basic because I STILL hear people inappropriately using “strength” and “hypertrophy” in a synonymous way. Strength training is the pursuit of getting physically stronger so you can lift more weight over time. The best example is a powerlifter. They are not concerned with how much muscle they build, just how much they can lift.

Hypertrophy (Training): This is typically referred to as “building muscle”. The term ‘hypertrophy’ actually means that your muscle cells are literally growing in size. They get larger, hence, you get bigger! Simple! When people talk about making gains, this is it. An important distinction between strength and hypertrophy is that they are related, but they are linear. This means that people can be strong but relatively small in muscle size and vice versa: there can be huge bodybuilders who are not relatively strong.

Okay, now that we have the super duper basics down, let’s dive a bit deeper.

Volume: This is, in its simplest form, is a calculation. It is (weight lifted*number of sets*number of reps). Volume is incredible important. The purpose of the calculation is to measure the amount of work you’re performing. For example, if you’re squatting 200lbs for 5 reps and 3 sets, that means your volume is 3000lbs (200*5*3=3000). We’ll discuss later why these numbers are important. For now, just make sure you understand the definition.

Frequency: This is how often you train over a defined range of time (typically a week). For example, if your workout schedule has you lifting Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, that means your frequency is 3 days/week. You can also consider frequency when thinking about training certain groups of muscles or lifts. If you squat 2 times a week, your squat frequency is 2; if you train shoulders 3 times a week, your frequency is 3. You get it, it’s easy!

Intensity: This is most simply the weight of what you’re lifting (usually measured in kilograms [kg] or pounds [lbs] if you live in ‘Merica) as the percentage of your 1RM (one rep-max). If your’re lifting a weight that is close to your 1RM (which is typically 80-100%). This is going to be a heavy lift and so you can say it’s ‘high intensity’. If the weight is lower than 80%, then it’s typically considered ‘moderate’ or ‘low’ intensity.

Load: This is closely related to intensity. This is simpler and defines only the weight that you’re lifting. If the weight is of high load, it’s going to be heavy relative to what the person can lift and vice versa for low-load.

Progressive Overload: This is one of the very most fundamental concepts in exercise science. It’s very simple: if you want to improve your physique, get stronger, reach whatever fitness goal you desire, you want to do more work over time. Once again, we’ll dive into this deeper and understand further how to apply it. I simply want you to know what the concept is right now.

Absolute Strength vs. Relative Strength: These terms simple relate to how strong someone is. Absolute strength is focused on just how much you can lift without taking anything else into consideration. If you squat 500lbs, your absolute squat strength is 500lbs; however, relative strength has to do with your strength relative to your body weight. Powerlifters aim for this through a “wilks score“. In high school, there’s typically guidelines about athletes should be able to squat 2 times their body weight. This is an example of measuring relative strength.

Programming: This term means the establishment of an exercise program. If you program for an athlete or other person, you’re creating a complete exercise program for them that leads to a specific and defined goal.

Periodization: This is the component of programming that involves how the program changes and progresses over time. There are many types of periodization that we will go into in a different post. Periodization is very useful when programming because it provides a structure and plan of attack on how you’re going to reach the goals you set for yourself or someone else.

Here’s our foundation. We’ll go deeper into what these terms mean, why they’re important, and how to apply them into your own training. Think I missed something? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add it in!

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