A Breakdown of the Different Types of Strength Training

Take a look at a detailed breakdown of each strength training type, how they work, and how to effectively train for them to achieve your strength training goals!

A Breakdown of the Different Types of Strength Training
19 min. read 2/7/2022, 7:42 PM

Strength training is one of the main fitness approaches that weightlifters and gym goers focus on when their goal is increasing their strength or muscle size. What you may not know yet is that there isn’t just one type of strength training, there are several, each one emphasizing a different aspect of muscle training, such as strength, endurance, size, etc. They all have similar aspects, but their differences complement each other and it’s what makes them all relevant in a strength training journey!

We’re going to break down each type in detail so you can understand what makes them unique and beneficial, as well as how to effectively train for each training method so you can choose the ones that better fit your specific goals.

Hypertrophy training

To understand hypertrophy training, we need to talk about what hypertrophy is first… This type of training comes from the term muscle hypertrophy, which refers to the increase of muscle cells, so basically the growth of the muscle through exercise. This increase in muscle size comes from the repairing process that takes place after your workouts when a new muscle fiber is created to restore and replace the muscle that was damaged while training. During an intense workout, your muscles are under a lot of stress, which in turn helps release hormones that further stimulate muscle growth. So, hypertrophy training is just a series of techniques to gain muscle mass and make your muscles grow bigger and stronger, an approach often used by weightlifters to enhance their figure and achieve more sculpted bodies. Hypertrophy training is often confused with maximum strength training, which focuses on increasing strength to the max level instead of solely muscle size, but the main training difference between the two is that hypertrophy training uses moderate weights at a medium rep range to promote muscle tension while maximum strength training uses heavy weights at a low rep range to promote resistance and muscle damage. Since the two are similar but aimed at different fitness aspects, they work best when paired together for a more effective workout.

Hypertrophy training has many benefits, the main one being, of course, muscle growth. The production of new muscle cells helps decrease body fat percentage by growing lean muscle in its place, increasing muscle strength in the process. This type of training is also customizable in terms of intensity, so you can choose the more basic hypertrophy exercises with moderate weights, which are lower impact movements, and still obtain results. This makes hypertrophy training more sustainable since these techniques are far less straining than regular strength training exercises which prioritize heavy weights, helping you avoid the risk of injury and burnout while still making progress.

How to effectively train for it

If you’re training for a more sculpted and toned body, hypertrophy training is the approach that you’ll want to focus on in your muscle-building journey. Given that it’s so similar to maximum strength training, the exercises will be the same in most cases, with a few key differences in intensity and other factors. Here’s what you want to focus on when training for muscle hypertrophy if you want the best results possible:

  • Play with rep ranges: While moderate rep ranges are the most commonly used in hypertrophy training, it doesn’t mean that’s the only option! By playing with repetition ranges and training at low and high rep ranges too, you’ll help trigger all processes of muscle growth, which are muscle damage, muscle tension, and metabolic stress. Compound movements are the best for lower rep ranges with a heavier weight, but without going too heavy, since they hit more muscles and joints at once and they’re perfect for starting your workout. Moderate to high rep ranges can be done when performing isolation exercises and unilateral exercises, which target specific muscles that you should work at a lighter weight.
  • Include a variety of exercises: Like we previously said, the key is triggering all muscle growth processes so that you can maximize results during your training. By including different types of exercises you’ll make sure that you’re hitting every muscle group from a variety of angles and positions without neglecting anything. Your routine can begin with some compound movements, and then follow it with a few isolation and unilateral exercises to help you fix any muscle imbalances. Trying variations of classic movements such as lunges is also a great idea, since sliding lunges put more focus on your core and quads, while side lunges emphasize your inner thighs along with your hip muscles and glutes, helping you challenge your muscles in more ways than one.
  • Try supersets and eccentric holds: Along with trying a variety of exercises, the way that you perform these movements can also help you promote muscle growth. Supersets involve doing two exercises that target different muscle groups back to back as a way of challenging a wide range of muscles without fatiguing them. You can also perform a superset targeting the same muscle group twice in a row if you do it at a low to moderate intensity and with moderate weights so that you don’t risk overworking said muscle group. Eccentric holds are also a great way of promoting muscle growth by holding the contracted position for a few seconds longer than usual to increase tension so that your muscles can feel the burn. You can maximize eccentric holds, supersets, and any type of exercise by going through the whole range of motion, feeling your muscles working throughout the whole exercise.

Muscular endurance training

Muscular endurance refers to the ability to continue contracting a muscle or muscle group against resistance over a period of time. To put it simply, it measures how long you can perform a strength training exercise before feeling fatigued or breaking form, so the greater your endurance is, the more reps you can do of a particular exercise! But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be able to do any exercise for long periods of time… Endurance is muscle-specific, meaning that you need to train every muscle group to be able to last long with a wide range of exercises. If you train your upper body more frequently or at a higher intensity than your lower body, then you’ll probably have more muscle endurance in your arms and back than in your legs, and you’ll be able to perform more upper-body reps overall. Muscular endurance training is different from cardiovascular endurance training since they focus on different aspects of your fitness, and while both of them are important and may go hand in hand, muscular endurance training prioritizes muscle performance and strength.

Having greater muscular endurance can enhance your fitness performance in several ways. You’ll be able to last longer doing your favorite exercises without getting tired too quickly in the process, allowing you to expand your routine and add more weight training exercises for maximum results, or try compound movements that require more physical effort. Muscular endurance also minimizes injury since you have more control throughout the ranges of movement, allowing you to move the weights around more easily. And it’s great for everyday life! Working on your muscular endurance means that you can move furniture around the house more easily or carry heavy grocery bags from your car to your kitchen without any help. Walking up a flight of stairs, playing with your kids in the backyard, and even cleaning your house are all activities that you can perform more easily by improving your endurance.

How to effectively train for it

Muscular endurance training is done with your bodyweight or light to moderate weights with short intervals in between to create short bursts of tension that help train the muscles. The idea behind using lighter weights as opposed to heavy weights is being able to do as many reps as possible in a set period of time without struggling too much so that your muscular endurance can improve, while heavier weights are used to stimulate muscle growth instead. Here are the main things to keep in mind when you’re training to improve endurance:

  • Weight and volume: Choosing the appropriate weight for your muscular endurance training is key because you don’t want to go way lighter or way heavier than you should. Ideally, if you’re performing an exercise that requires weights, you’ll train with a light to moderate weight, which amounts to less than half the total weight that you can lift one time. If you’re able to lift 30 lbs once with a single arm, for example, you should choose a weight that’s around 10-15 lbs. As for the volume, meaning the number of repetitions you’re going to do, you can choose between a set number of reps or a time limit. You can aim to perform two sets of 15 reps with one or two minutes of rest in between, or do as many reps as you can for one minute.
  • Frequency: Muscular endurance training puts stress on your muscles, naturally, so you need to be careful with how often you do it. This varies according to your fitness level, from lower to higher frequency. Beginners who are just starting to train their endurance should aim to work on it around 2-3 times a week, preferably on full-body days, while intermediate training can consist of 3-4 times a week. For more advanced trainers and lifters, a higher frequency is recommended, about 5-6 days a week if you’re using training splits for maximum results.
  • Choosing the exercises: To make the most out of your muscular endurance training, you should pick the right exercises for you. A combination of upper and lower body exercises is ideal for this type of training, as well as compound movements that target large muscle groups or a combination of several muscles and joints. Some of the best bodyweight exercises for muscular endurance training are push-ups, squats, planks, and walking lunges, and if you have equipment at home or you’re training at the gym, you can try Romanian deadlifts, bicep curls, and bench presses.

Circuit training

This type of workout might be the most enjoyable out of them all because you’re always doing something different! Circuit training consists of quickly cycling through several exercises that target different muscle groups one after the other, repeating the sequence as many times as you feel comfortable, usually around 3-4 cycles. These exercises challenge your strength and endurance by combining different kinds of cardiovascular and strength training movements with little rest in between them, typically alternating upper and lower body exercises to target every major muscle group throughout the circuit and get a good full-body workout by the end of the routine. Ideally, the complete workout should last at least 30 minutes so that you can get the most out of the training session, but you can work your way up at your own pace and start with a 10-minute routine to get used to the high intensity of the workout.

Circuit training is one of the best options for beginners since it’s very customizable, allowing you to pick your favorite exercises, the time you’ll be working out, how much rest you’ll be getting, and the best part of it is that you don’t even have to repeat the same exercises through the whole circuit! If your first cycle consists of bicep curls, squats, mountain climbers, and jumping jacks, you can plan the second cycle to be push-ups, glute bridges, burpees, and jumping rope, and keep cycling between those two sets or add different exercises to your next cycle. With a good combination of strength training and cardio exercises, you’ll get your heart rate pumping for better cardiovascular health and endurance, while you also develop muscle in the process. Additionally, high-intensity workouts like circuit training and HIIT have a calorie-burning benefit known as EPOC, which is the increase of post-exercise oxygen consumption that happens in the two hours after you’re done working out. Your body uses energy to go back to its usual resting state and recover from the workout, helping you burn calories even after you’re done!

How to effectively train for it

Since circuit training is composed of several exercises + rest, you need to plan the details ahead of time so that you can start your workouts without any setbacks or doubts because you’ll be moving quickly, so there’s no time to stop and think. When planning a circuit training routine, make sure to follow these simple steps before you actually get moving:

  • Choose a time limit: This depends both on your fitness level and your time available because you might have the endurance to complete a 30-minute set but you’re short on time, or you have a lot of free time but you’re a beginner. Determine the amount of time you can work out comfortably without rushing through the exercises since you’ll be moving quickly but you also want to make sure that you perform the movements correctly and rest accordingly in between stations. If you have little time or you’re just starting, you can set up 4 stations and cycle through them in 10 minutes, with little rest so you can go through the circuit at least 3-4 times. On the other hand, if you have enough time to do a 30-minute workout, you can pick 5 exercises and work on each station for a little bit longer for maximum results, while cycling through them around 5-6 times.
  • Pick an upper-body exercise: For your first cycle, choose an effective upper-body exercise that you feel comfortable doing. You can keep this exercise for the duration of your circuit training or change it every cycle so that it doesn’t get boring or repetitive, this way you can hit a variety of upper-body muscle groups. The best thing about circuit training is that you don’t necessarily need equipment to do it, so you can choose upper-body exercises such as push-ups and tricep dips if you’re at home or a park, or bicep curls and shoulder presses if you’re at the gym or have a pair of dumbbells at hand. Your choice!
  • Pick a lower-body exercise: Just like with upper-body exercises, make sure you choose a lower-body exercise that’s comfortable for you or that you enjoy doing, and maybe alternate it with one or more other lower-body movements on each cycle for better muscle development results. Some exercises that you can do without equipment are squats, glute bridges, and walking lunges. And if you have a resistance band or some free weights available, you can try deadlifts or hamstring curls.
  • Pick a compound exercise: Compound movements require several muscle groups and joints to perform the exercise, and they’re perfect for circuit training since they often work your whole body, helping you break a good sweat and get your heart pumping. Any compound movement works, but for better results go for full-body movements such as burpees, jumping lunges, squats to overhead press, and mountain climbers, ideally alternating them to keep you on your toes throughout the routine.
  • Pick a cardio exercise: Finally, challenge your cardiorespiratory fitness and your endurance by choosing a good cardio exercise - and go all out with it! Cardiovascular training elevates your heart rate and burns calories, so use it to finish each cycle as a grand finale before you rest for a few seconds and go back to the first station. Some cardio exercises that you can include in your circuit training workout are jumping rope, cycling, jumping jacks, running, and stair climbing.

Explosive strength

Explosive strength training is exactly what it sounds like: a combination of speed and strength to quickly perform a certain movement explosively. The point of explosive strength training is developing your reactive ability and power output, using maximal force in a minimal time during your workouts. It involves quick and short high effort movements that challenge your muscle potential to the maximum level, such as jumping and powerlifting. This type of training is often used by athletes and those who play sports to increase their agility, but it’s also very common among weightlifters and avid gym-goers because of its ability to increase power level and speed for any workout, ultimately leading to lifting faster and in a more controlled manner. But because of its explosivity, this type of training can be risky, particularly among those who are just starting their fitness journey, which is why it’s important to start slow and carefully just like with any other type of strength training, making sure you’re understanding the movements and performing with good form and lighter weights before you increase the intensity.

The great thing about explosive strength training is that it helps build your athletic power, which translates to better performance in every fitness area, whether you lift weights, do cardio, train your endurance, or play any sports. Explosive strength is a key element in strength training, and it gives better results when combined with other training styles or when alternated between light and heavy explosive exercises to improve coordination and muscle resiliency while reducing muscle reaction time.

How to effectively train for it

An effective explosive strength training routine includes exercises that use large and quick muscle movements to increase your agility, such as Olympic lifts (snatch, clean-and-jerk) and squat jumps. Smaller and more localized exercises can also be part of an explosive routine, but since they’re more limited the general output won’t be the same, so it’s best to go with full-body exercises when possible. Ideally, the movements should quickly change from eccentric to concentric to maximize explosive strength and be performed with little to no rest in between.

A common technique used in explosive strength training is plyometrics because of its effectiveness in power and speed development. In plyometrics, you use your speed and force to perform different quick but intense movements to build your explosive strength and agility, usually involving a lot of jumping. Popular and effective plyometric exercises include lateral jumps, squat jumps, running in place with high knees, burpees, and box jumps. Another popular technique is doing speed reps, which involve moving light weights rapidly to help your muscles adapt and react quickly to the shifting of the weight, enhancing your agility and your weightlifting power. Keep in mind that you should only do exercises that are at par with your fitness level, meaning that doing weighted exercises such as snatches when you’re not used to lifting heavy weights might be too challenging for you and may cause injuries. Remember what we previously said about starting slow! Try easier exercises first, with a personal trainer watching over your form if possible.

Maximum muscular strength

Last but not least, maximum strength training refers to the main type of strength training performed by those who are seriously looking to build muscle and strength! Maximum muscular strength is the ability of one muscle or a group of muscles to generate maximal tension against a set resistance. This is the most popular approach to weightlifting, as it involves lifting heavy weights at a low rep range to promote resistance and muscle damage. The point of maximum strength training, as the name suggests, is increasing your maximum strength to be able to lift heavier and at a higher frequency, which will help you improve your lifting skills as well as allow you to perform more efficiently in a wide range of exercises, whether it’s strength training or not. This approach to strength training requires high levels of neuromuscular efficiency that you develop over time with practice, as you’ll need both intra- and intermuscular coordination to perform such intense movements.

Compound and single-joint exercises are the best for this type of training. Deadlifts, bench presses, and front and back squats are all exercises in which you explosively move your weights and slowly go back to the starting position, so they can easily fit in a maximum strength training routine by increasing the weight and decreasing the reps. This is the most effective way to build your overall strength, but it also has other benefits, such as increasing your bone density thanks to all the tension that your skeleton is put through during each movement, as well as improved performance in any other physical activity.

How to effectively train for it

Maximum strength training consists of two phases: the concentric phase and the eccentric phase. The concentric phase is when you’re lifting the weight, contracting the muscles against resistance, and this is the phase that you’ll want to do explosively and with force to maximize strength output with a greater amount of intramuscular tension. You need to make sure that you’re actually using your muscles to lift the weights instead of using momentum, to ensure that you’re effectively training your strength and avoid any injuries. The second phase is the eccentric phase, in which you lower the weight in a controlled manner. Just like avoiding momentum during the concentric phase, you’ll want to avoid dropping the weights during this phase. Focus on lowering them slowly, feeling the burn on your muscles while you extend them until the weights are back down.

A key aspect of maximum strength training is to exert as much effort as possible. The idea behind this technique is to use all your strength to lift heavy weights at a low rep range, around 2-4 reps so that you’re able to make progress beyond your maximum strength, giving your muscles a serious challenge. You need to commit yourself to the lifting motion and give it your all in order to maximize your strength and keep increasing the weight as you make progress so you don’t hit a plateau. But be careful not to increase the weight too quickly as this type of strength training puts a lot of stress on your muscles and joints, so you could injure yourself if you go too overboard. This also goes for your form, since sacrificing good form for the sake of lifting the weight can be dangerous when working with heavy weights.

Overall, strength training is a great tool for building a leaner and more sculpted body as well as increasing your strength, but understanding the different types of strength training and knowing which one you should be trying to get closer to your goals will make your journey more enjoyable and rewarding.

If you’re still not sure where to start or how to build an effective strength training routine, check the One Fitness app! Iulia plans new goal-focused workouts each week to help you get the best results. Try your first workout for free by downloading the One Fitness app, choose a goal, and start your first workout with Iulia – no subscription required!