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More Than Education, the health, fitness & coaching blog by More Than Muscle. This area of the site should be used as a reference point for everything educational relating to training, nutrition, health, fitness & coaching!

Neuromuscular Strength Vs Muscular Hypertrophy Posted on 20/10/2015

Neuromuscular Strength Vs Muscular Hypertrophy

It is often the case that the person who is the biggest, tends to be the strongest. This is usually the scenareo as the stereotype suggests. It is true you will get stronger if you were to take your muscle cross section and increase it in size. On the other hand it doesn’t mean that someone half your size will not be stronger than you. This term is known as ‘neuromuscular efficiency.’ Ever wondered why those small weightlifters Clean and Jerk exceptional amounts of weight? Naim Süleymsnoglu, a 62kg Turkish weightlifter held a combined Clean and Jerk, Snatch record of 342.5Kg in 1988. Further justification of the ‘you don’t have to be big to be strong’ statement.


Lets have a look at what happens when we train for strength when body composition change is not a primary goal. This is known as ‘Relative Strength’. Training for relative strength means to get as strong as you possibly can relevant to the weight you currently are at. You may do this type of training if your sport requires a weight category. Athletes such as powerlifters, weightlifters and boxers all should be doing this style of strength training at some stage in their periodic cycles. Training for this specific goal usually means using loads 92%+ of your 1 reputation max and keeping muscle tension at 20 seconds and below. Rep schemes are around 3-5 repetitions. The idea here is, to increase the Central Nervous Systems ability to allow the Golgi Tendon Organs around muscle bellies, to send signals to muscles to contract with huge forces. The better the central nervous system is at being neurally efficient, the easier it is for recruitment of higher threshold motor units to be placed. This is important if being strong is a goal and it is also vitally important if hypertrophy becomes a need further down the line. Hypertrophy is the term used when training for an increase in the cross sectional size of muscles. What happens here is, muscle fibres get trashed in longer tension phases, typically in bodybuilding fashion and then rebuild and repair back bigger during the super compensation phases of recovery. Bigger muscles have more motor units to recruit, meaning strength increases as you increase in size. This is one way to increase strength but it is not the most optimal.

Overall it is important to understand the difference between hypertrophy and traditional neuromuscular strength training. Often athletes will go through phases of both, as together they can be a great way to build a robust athlete. Phases of accumulation, where the main stressor is volume are often used to build muscle in lagging areas and create great aesthetics whilst sub maximally making strength gains. Then phases of intensification usually follow on from this. This is where weight meaning force, or speed meaning velocity is the main stressor. This is programmed to increase on maximal and relative strength. It is important to justify the two when programming and it is also important to use the two to complement each other at different stages of periodisation. Athletes and coaches who can justify what the goal is and where the improvements need to be made, can find the best ways to utilise periodic principles when planning training cycles.