Hypertrophy Specific Training CAN Have a Direct Effect on Maximal Strength
by Chris Mason
On my drive home this evening my mind wandered as it often does. During the process I came to what should be an obvious, but was instead a bit of an epiphany, at least at the conscious level, conclusion about hypertrophy training as it relates to maximal strength. That conclusion was that hypertrophy training can have more than an indirect effect on maximal strength.
It is absolutely true that hypertrophy training indirectly aids maximal strength assuming the trainee also includes maximal strength training in their regimen. This is due to the fact that a percentage of any hypertrophy that occurs in skeletal muscle is comprised of an increase in the size, and thus potential force production of the contractile myofibrils (actin and myosin). Maximal strength specific work in the form of high intensity, low repetition training then permits the nervous system to harness the increased force production potential of the larger myofibrils and the athlete is able to lift ever greater maximal loads.
With that said, my epiphany relative to a direct effect of hypertrophy specific training on maximal strength stems from the fact that I realized that hypertrophy training is also a form of strength endurance training, and that strength endurance can play a role in a one repetition maximum attempt. The connection lies in the fact that any maximal strength demonstration, by definition, will move relatively slowly. The success or failure of a given max attempt can thus partly depend on how long the athlete can produce maximal force, or the rate of reduction in maximal force production. In theory, enhancing strength endurance can enhance the length of time the athlete can produce maximal force.
Think of it this way, and I will greatly simplify for the sake of argument (taking joint angles and varying forces etc. out of it); if it takes 301 lbs of force to bench press 300 lbs and the lifter starts the press by producing 310 lbs of force which then rapidly declines to 305 lbs, and then 301 lbs, and finally 298 lbs before the completion of the press, they might miss the lift. Conversely, if via hypertrophy specific training the lifter has built their strength endurance to the point they can prolong their ability to produce maximal force, and or mitigate the rate of reduction of force production, the likelihood they can grind out a maximal attempt increases.
The above begs the question of how a strength athlete can use this concept to their benefit. At face value it might seem that hypertrophy specific training would be counterproductive for the strength athlete relegated to a weight class other than superheavyweight. When it comes to the human body that which seems obvious isn’t always the case. An important component of skeletal muscular hypertrophy when considering an individual whose level of muscular development is anything beyond a rote beginner is total caloric intake. If the athlete controls their total caloric intake and practices hypertrophy specific training not much in the way of actual hypertrophy will occur, but the adaptation of increased muscular endurance will still be manifest given proper rest etc. So, even for the strength athlete that does not want a significant increase in skeletal muscle mass, hypertrophy specific training can be of benefit to their absolute strength and performance.
If you have followed me or my companies at all for the past several years you already know I am a firm believer in Louie Simmons and his Westside Barbell training system (www.westside-barbell.com). I have known his system is highly effective for some time, but the more I learn and contemplate the ramifications of what I learn, the more I begin to understand why. Relative to this article, Westside includes hypertrophy specific training directly alongside maximal strength training, and I think that fact is lost on a lot of trainees. The accessory work which is at the core of the Westside system is, for all intents and purposes, bodybuilding. Its inclusion aids maximal strength in exactly the manner I have defined above.
To further illustrate the effects of hypertrophy specific work and enhancing strength endurance for maximal strength we need look no further than one of Louie’s disciples and a story Louie loves to relate when telling about his system. Travis Bell is a natural athlete who is a tremendous bench presser (570+ lbs raw and nearly 900 lbs shirted at around 260 lbs body weight). Travis began training at Westside several years ago and has made amazing progress since being there. At one point, when Travis’ training had stagnated, Louie had instructed him to add sets of 100 repetition band pushdowns supersetted with lying extensions after his standard triceps work. As Louie tells it, Travis’ triceps blew up to over 20″ in short order and his bench press followed suit.
Bottom line, if you want to be as strong as possible do not shy away from hypertrophy specific/strength endurance work. Make it a part of your regimen and optimize your training results.