What is your ultimate goal: to gain size, strength, or power? Do your workouts reflect that goal? Or do you train blindly without any rhyme or reason?

 

There are proven methods for developing each of these three qualities. Training like an Olympic lifter won’t maximize the size of your muscles. Conversely, training like a bodybuilder won’t maximize your strength. Common threads weave through each training protocol, and understanding their similarities, differences, and how they relate to one another will make you better equipped to reach your goal.

 

Here’s a primer on the differences between training for size, strength, or power.

 

Bench press.

Does the format of your training session match your goals?

 

Training for Size

Increasing muscle size, also referred to as hypertrophy, is arguably the goal of most newbie lifters. But many lifters go about this type of training all wrong. Hypertrophy training calls for fatiguing muscle fibers to increase their cross-sectional area, which, after proper rest and recovery, causes the muscle grows larger. A rest period of 30-90 seconds is recommended to prevent the muscles from fully recovering between sets. This recruits more muscle fibers to become stimulated.

 

Other factors influencing hypertrophy include a rep range of around 6-12, which results in a longer time under tension (around 30-45 seconds), a more moderate tempo for each rep, and a higher volume of sets.

 

Progression can either be achieved through a higher exercise density (more volume of training in the same amount of time or the same volume of training in less time), increased reps with the same loads, or higher loads with the same number of reps.

 

What does this mean in layman’s terms? If you are training for the sheer purpose to build muscle and reshape your physique, then you need to fatigue the muscle with moderate reps, plenty of volume, and short rest periods. Your focus should be the muscle working (muscle-centric) versus the load lifted (weight-centric).

 

Sample Training Program for Building Muscle (chest and back):

 

After a thorough warm up, perform 3-6 sets of 6-12 reps with 30-90 second rest periods between each exercise.

 

  • Incline bench barbell press
  • Flat bench dumbbell press
  • Feet-elevated push up or Hammer Strength chest press
  • Moderate to wide-grip pull up
  • Bent-over barbell row
  • Close-grip pull down or inverted row

 

Training for Strength

Pure strength is a different animal. Also referred to as low-speed strength, the goal here is to lift maximal or submaximal loads from point A to point B. Moving weight at a moderate speed is recommended, since the goal is to develop a high level of overall body strength with heavy loads. Power, on the other hand, relies almost exclusively on speed of the lift – which we will get into later.

 

Pure strength athletes, or those in need of more strength for their sport, are interested in performance, period. Powerlifters or anyone interested in raw strength gains typically have little interest in aesthetics. Methods for increasing strength overlap somewhat with hypertrophy training, specifically regarding progression, but the goal here is purely performance based.

 

Strength enthusiasts will commonly refer to percentages of max efforts or percentages of reps max (%RM). This is the maximum amount of weight lifted for a specified number of reps (XRM – X being the number of reps). Once that number is identified, a percentage of that maximum amount of weight lifted is used for training purposes. For example, if a lifter has a one-rep max bench press of 400lb and wants to train with 90% of his max weight, he will train with a load of 360lb (.90 x 400).

 

If your goal is strength-centric, then you will train in the 2-6 reps range with loads of 85% and higher of your 1RM and relatively longer rest periods of 2-5 minutes. When lifting heavy, you will want to give your muscles plenty of time to recuperate to lift maximally for the next set.

 

Sample Training Program for Building Strength (lower body):

 

After a thorough warm up, perform 3-6 sets of 2-6 reps with 2-5 minute rest periods between each exercise.

 

  • Barbell back squat
  • Barbell Romanian deadlift
  • Barbell front squat
  • Leg press/sled calf raise

 

Deadlift.

The deadlift is a classic strength-building exercise for a reason. It works.

 

Training for Power

Power training, also referred to as high-speed strength, can take many forms depending on the goals of the individual and the demands of the sport. The goal is to move a load at high velocity (speed). Power is often associated with the Olympic lifts. However, power training encompasses many other forms such as jumps, medicine ball throws, and exercises that focus on speed of the weight being lifted rather than the load.

 

Another common belief is that power relies only on heavy loads moved at maximum velocity. For example, an individual may perform a clean with 90% of their 1RM for 2 reps. However, another way to develop power is to use a rather low percentage of their 1RM, such as 20% to 30%, and perform a higher number of reps using a more restrictive exercise such as a bench press.

 

Power training is another performance-based protocol focusing on percentages of rep maxes and speed of the bar. This method is a complement to pure strength training, in that strength training will provide stability and whole-body strength, while power will increase the rate of muscle fiber recruitment.

 

Power training, much like strength training, calls for longer rest periods (2-5 minutes), a low rep range on Olympic lifts (1-5), moderate reps on other lifts such as bench presses, jumps, and throws (5-10), and low-to-moderate numbers of total sets (3-5).

 

Sample Training Program for Building Power (mainly upper body):

 

After a thorough warm up, perform 3-5 sets of 1-5 reps with 2-5 minute rest periods between each exercise.

 

  • Barbell clean
  • Barbell push press
  • Barbell wide-grip high pull
  • Bench press (for speed) 8-10 reps

 

Training Method Cheat Sheet

Here is a breakdown of training details for building muscle, power, and speed.

 

 

Sample Mixed-Training Program

Below is a sample mixed-training program. Perform each training day twice per week. For example, Training Day A on Monday and Thursday, and Training Day B on Tuesday and Friday.

 

Training Day A

Perform two rounds of the full-body dynamic warm up prior to the training session. In addition, perform 1-3 warm-up sets for each exercise prior to your working sets. Use a weight that is 50% - 60% of your working weight. 

 

Dynamic Warm Up

  • Push ups: 10 reps
  • Lateral lunges: 10 reps each leg
  • Burpees: 10 reps
  • Floor crunches: 10 reps

 

The Workout

  • Barbell hang clean: 3 sets of 3-5 reps (power)
  • Kettlebell swing: 3 sets of 5 reps (power)
  • Barbell bench press: 4 sets of 6 reps (strength)
  • Barbell deadlift: 4 sets of 6 reps (strength)
  • Pull up: 3 sets of 8-12 reps (hypertrophy)
  • Dumbbell upright row: 3 sets of 8-12 reps (hypertrophy)

 

Training Day B

Perform two rounds of the full-body dynamic warm up prior to the training session. In addition, perform 1-3 warm-up sets for each exercise prior to your working sets. Use a weight that is 50% - 60% of your working weight. 

 

Dynamic Warm Up

  • Push ups: 10 reps
  • Lateral lunges: 10 reps each leg
  • Burpees: 10 reps
  • Floor crunches: 10 reps

 

The Workout

  • High box jump: 4 sets of 5 reps (power)
  • Jump split squat: 3 sets of 5 reps each leg (power)
  • Barbell squat: 4 sets of 6 reps (strength)
  • Barbell Romanian deadlift: 4 sets of 6 reps (strength)
  • Reverse dumbbell lunge: 3 sets of 8-12 reps each leg (hypertrophy)
  • Seated or standing calf raise: 3 sets of 8-12 reps (hypertrophy)

 

Evaluate and Adapt

Power, strength, and hypertrophy training will add variety to your current program, increase your motivation, and turn your weaknesses into strengths. Now that you have an understanding of the differences between training for size, strength, or power, you can evaluate the flaws in your current program to maximize your efforts. Stick with one protocol, or mix and match to create a functional plan that works for you.

 

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Photos courtesy of CrossFit Impulse.

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