Updated: Oct 14, 2020
Often times people focus on the wrong areas in their training program. You might be doing the same thing right now. For example, you might be focused on building strength instead of power. Worse yet, you might not even realize there is a difference. Still worse yet, you might not realize there is strength, power, muscular endurance, or hypertrophy, let alone what the definition for each is. If you do not know what these expressions of physical ability are, you cannot determine if you should use them to reach your goals. If you are flying blindly without this knowledge, your workout progress is probably lacking. In fact, I would bet money on it.
Definitions for strength, power, muscular endurance, and hypertrophy
In the blog post, The Difference Between Strength, Power, and Muscular Endurance, I noted the definitions for strength, power, and muscular endurance (as well as conditioning). We will revisit those definitions here and add hypotrophy.
Strength— Strength is the ability to exert force (measured in Newtons) in order to overcome the resistance.
Power— Power (measured in Watts) is the ability to exert force in the shortest period of time.
Muscular endurance— expression of a muscle's ability to perform repeatedly
Hypertrophy—this is a state of being that results from activity, not an actual expression of physical ability. Hypertrophy is the enlargement of an organ or tissue from the increase in size of its cells.
The use of strength, power, muscular endurance, and hypertrophy
Think more about the definition. Strength is exerting force, power is exerting force fast, muscular endurance is the ability to perform repeatedly, and hypertrophy is an enlargement of tissue. To that end, each should be used in a situation where it can be productive.
Strength will be of use to you if you need to apply strength
Power will be good to you if you need to apply that strength repeatedly
Muscular endurance will be good to you if you need to apply strength or power repeatedly
Hypertrophy will be good to you if you want to use your strength, power, and endurance to build tissue
Now you have to think about where you can apply each, a combination of each, or all of the above. Think about this idea in general, but also think about how you can apply strength, power, muscular endurance, or hypertrophy in your training program.
How to apply strength, power, muscular endurance, and hypertrophy
Strength will help with any activity or goal that requires you to exert force. Really, this is everything you do, so the use is broad. For example, if you push a grocery cart, pick up a kid, lift a tire, perform a bench press, or run, you are using strength. Granted these are different expressions of strength, and the bench press is likely the only area where you will potentially use maximal strength, but all of these areas still require strength.
Every time a muscle works, you use strength.
You use power every time you perform an action fast. Running, jumping, throwing, dodging a punch, performing a somersault, and kicking a soccer ball are all expression of power. In each instance, you exert force fast. The application is broad, and with all of these except maybe the somersault, you have the potential to exert maximum power.
Every time you perform an activity fast, you use power.
Applications of endurance is a bit more subjective, since the duration that becomes endurance is relative. By that I mean, some people will consider a mile endurance, while some will consider 100 miles endurance. Some people will consider 10 reps endurance, while some will consider 100 reps endurance. These are just two simple examples, but the general idea is endurance is relative.
With that thought, endurance is relative to your needs and abilities. If you can complete 50 push-ups at max effort, that is the upper end of your endurance for push-ups. Pushing 20+ would, arguably, be endurance work for you, especially if you complete multiple sets with limited rest between. By that logic, if you can barbell squat 100 pounds for 30 reps at max effort, that is the upper end of your endurance for the barbell squat. Complete 10+ reps would, arguably, be endurance work for you.
Endurance work is relative to what you can do and what you need to do.
Since hypertrophy is the enlargement of an organ or tissue from the increase in size of its cells, it does not have a rep, set, or effort count as the other concepts do. Instead, hypertrophy is a result from doing work based on the other concepts. For example, if your workout program regularly calls for you to engage in heavy compound lifts in the rep ranges of 3-6 reps, you are completing strength work. If this results in an increase in muscles mass, the work you completed was hypertrophy. The same idea applies if you completed power work in the 2-4 reps range or endurance works in the 20-50 rep range. If either approach results in muscle growth, it was hypertrophy.
If the resistance training you use builds muscle, it was hypertrophy.
Examples of strength applied:
Powerlifting. The barbell bench press, barbell back squat, and barbell deadlift are examples of strength. Power in the name is confusing, since the movements are relatively slow and controlled when compared to true power movements.
Strongman events such as the Hercules Hold, Atlas Stone, and Yoke carry
Examples of power applied.
Weightlifting (also called Olympic weightlifting)—the barbell clean, jerk, and snatch are explosive movements that require the lifter to move the barbell as fast as possible while maintaining control.
Strongman events such as the keg toss
Examples of endurance applied:
CrossFit workout Murph. A one mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 body weights squats, and a one mile run for time.
A 5k run. A distance of 3.1 miles run for time.
Should You Focus on Strength, Power, Muscular Endurance, or Hypertrophy?
When engaging in resistance training, especially early on or as goals change, you might find yourself wondering what type of resistance training is best for you. There is no simple answer, as each person's situation is different. Some people might argue this point, stating one is better than the other, but again, each person's situation is different, so there can be no universal statements as to which resistance training method is better.
Powerlifters need to have strong one-rep maxes on the bench, squat, and deadlift. For this reason, their focus will generally be on strength and power. CrossFitters ideally need to be able to go longer during workouts, move higher volume in a short period, and be strong, so focusing on muscular endurance, strength, and power, as well as other elements, is ideal for them. Bodybuilders need to induce hypertrophy, so their major focus will likely be a combination of the above methods to do so, while making sure overall workout intensity is high, specifically that muscle stimulation is high. This is not all-inclusive of the approach to training for these individuals. At the same time, if a person falls into a different category than those mentioned, his or her needs may differ.
With that in mind, I want to talk about resistance training as it applies to general health and fitness. For general health and fitness, it is best to focus on all areas of resistance training listed here. This approach will create a body that is more adept at handling the different stressors of life and improve multiple aspects of fitness simultaneously.
Your goals determine what you should work on and you can use the preceding information to help determine whether focusing on strength, power, muscular endurance, hypertrophy, or a combination of all is appropriate for your goals.
Nathan DeMetz holds degrees in Exercise Science, Business Administration, and Information Technology as well as certifications in strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, run coaching, and other areas. His credentials come from organizations such as Indiana Wesleyan University, Ivy Tech College, and the International Sports Sciences Association. Nathan has 17 years of personal and professional experience in the health and fitness world. He works with people from across the globe, including locations such as Kuwait, Australia, and the USA.