-Article Written by Elite1Fitness

LIFTING FOR STRENGTH OR AESTHETICSMany gym goers commonly mistake a very good physique with lifting a lot of weight.  When in reality, the strongest people in the world don’t have the greatest physiques; and the people with the best physiques are usually no more than decently strong (everything being relative of course).  Of course there are exceptions to this, but in order to be the best version of yourself, you need to know what your goals are and tailor your workout regimen to most effectively achieve those goals!

In this article, we will be talking about lifting for strength and lifting for aesthetics (appearance of your physique).  This will be a very good general guideline as to how to accomplish each type of training.  In doing so, we will touch on different variables that come into play like sets, repetitions (reps), rest time, weight, and volume.  With that being said, know that any weight training program for beginners, and some intermediate lifters, will be one that improves both your strength and physique.  The sooner you address your goals and specifically train towards them, the quicker you will reach those goals!

You can see that the top theoretical exercise provides a greater amount of volume, which is a big start to cause hypertrophy!  This takes us to our next piece of advice that many people are really wanting to know,

This question gets thrown around more than the hardball does in the summer.  Is there a magic number of sets and reps that will solve all of your problems?  No, but there are some nice general guidelines that are more effective for hypertrophy.  Those of you training more for aesthetics will want train each exercise around 4-6 sets in the 5-12 rep range, depending on the weight and exercise.  Does this mean use light weight because you’re doing higher reps?  NO!  You still need to use the heaviest weight possible to obtain this rep range.  You should never just stop at a certain number of reps just because your workout said to do 8 reps.  If you can do 11 when it says do 8, DO 11!  Then next set you can add a little more weight.  You should be using enough weight so that you FAIL at (or very closely to) the designated reps for that set!  If your muscles are not giving out by that number, you aren’t using enough weight!  This higher number of sets and reps will help you obtain a greater amount of volume throughout your workout.

But volume isn’t the only variable when it comes to separating aesthetics from strength training.

Next we need to look at the rest time between sets for greater hypertrophy.  Another way we can provide additional stress to our muscle tissue is to reduce our rest times; making the workout more “dense.”  A common time of rest between sets when training for hypertrophy is around 0 to 60 seconds.  You have worked hard to increase blood flow and cell swelling to a specific area, now don’t let this “pump” go away by taking too long between sets.

Tempo is another variable that can help aid in your progression toward your specific goals.  For our purposes, tempo can just be generally described as how fast you move the weight during a given exercise.  The more time your muscles are under tension, the more stress you can induce on muscle tissue.  The more stress you can induce, the more muscle growth that can take place.  In simpler terms, moving weight at a slow, controlled pace, will help encourage hypertrophy.  Find a happy medium here and always be mindful of your total volume as well.

Lastly, we have a few bonus strategies for helping push your muscle tissue into a hypertrophic state.  The use of forced reps (spotter helping you get more reps), partial reps (once you can’t lock out anymore full reps, you continue doing partial reps as long as you can), and drop sets (failing at a specific exercise  3-10 times back to back by continuously dropping in weight) can really kick your muscle building endeavor into overdrive!

Maybe you are less concerned about appearance and more concerned about moving a lot of weight.  Can your physique improve while training for strength?  Yes, but it’s not the most efficient way of doing so.  These general guidelines are going to help you start moving weight by the truckloads quicker instead of focusing on appearance.

When training for strength, your goal is to move as much weight as possible during a quick burst.  This type of training is going to focus on our fast twitch muscle fibers for maximum power output as fast as possible.  With that being said, we will dive right into tempo when training for strength.  Here the speed of most of our lifts is going to be as explosive as possible!  Being a mathematics major and lover of physics, my nerd background comes into play with strength training as well!  Allow us to breakdown this known formula a little bit.

Force = (mass) x (acceleration)

If we want to move more weight, we need to be able to generate the greatest force possible.  Looking at this equation helps everyone realize, the faster you can accelerate with weight, the greater your force will end up being!  This is why you see many power lifters employ the use of “speed work” or “speed days” into their training regimen.  There are different ways to integrate speed work, but generally it involves lifting roughly 45-60% of your 1RM (1 Rep Max) for around 3 reps.  The lighter weight is used to solely to focus on improving your “explosion” or acceleration.  This explosive type of lifting will then carry over to your heavy reps.

With that being said, it is important for those focused on getting stronger, to lift using weights close to their 1RM.  Common rep ranges when training for strength is around 1-5 reps.  You will notice that lifting in this rep range accumulates to a lower training volume than when training for aesthetics.  When training your fast twitch muscle fibers to fire as quickly and powerfully as possible, it is counterproductive to train at such high volumes as one would for aesthetics.  One of the greatest powerlifting coaches in the world, Louie Simmons, has said you should do no more than 3-5 total reps above 90% of your 1RM on your heavy days.

Rest time when training for maximal strength is generally around 2-6 minutes.  Yes, this is a much longer recovery time than when training for aesthetics, but it is very necessary.  Training for strength is very taxing to your nervous system (more so than training for hypertrophy) due to the heavy loads.  Also, the nervous system takes longer to recover than muscle tissue.  We want to be as close to fully recovered as possible when trying to move heavy weight for obvious reasons.

Some other strategies that many power lifters use to accomplish maximal strength are the use of heavy negatives (loading more weight that you can move but resisting against the weight as slow as possible) and also the use of rubber training bands or chains (both to improve the lockout and acceleration).

There was a lot said in this article, so for simplification, an overview might help.

When lifting for aesthetics or appearance:
– More Volume, Moderate Weight, More Reps, Slower Tempo, Less Rest Time

When training for maximal strength:
– Less Volume, Very Heavy Weight, Fewer reps, Explosive Tempo, More Rest Time

No matter what type of program you chose to start, just make sure it is a progressive one that will allow you to continually improve!  Also, when you are lifting specifically for strength, some hypertrophy will occur.  Likewise, when training specifically for aesthetics, some strength improvement will occur.  The objective of this article is to help you realize that there are more efficient ways to go about weight training based on your individual goals.

First of all what is the training for aesthetics?  You are training your body to look pleasing to the eye by more efficiently adding lean muscle to your frame.  This involves a term called “hypertrophy.”  There are two ways you can increase muscle mass:

1)    Hyperplasia – this is where the splitting of muscle cells forms new cells.  More muscle cells in turn leads to a greater amount of muscle mass when trained.

Unfortunately, many scientists (minus 1 study where they are looking at possible hyperplasia in the shoulders of swimmers) believe that it is impossible to create new muscle cells on your own.  You would need the help of illegal Human Growth Hormone to do this.

2)    Hypertrophy – this is where the size of the muscle cell increases after being introduced to stress.  This in turn will lead to more overall muscle mass.

So how does one successfully induce their muscle cells into a state of hypertrophy (which in turn leads to adding lean muscle to your frame)?  Possibly the biggest difference between training for strength and training for appearance is volume!  To induce the body into a hypertrophic state requires more total volume throughout your workout than when training for strength.  The easiest way to think about volume is the total amount of weight you moved in a workout or exercise.  Example:
1)    4 sets of 10 reps with 100 lbs = 4,000 lbs  (40 reps x 100 lbs)
2)    5 sets of 3 reps with 200 lbs = 3,000 lbs  (15 reps x 200 lbs)

Elite 1 Fitness