Resistance Training Explained. Part 2: Strength vs Hypertrophy vs Endurance

When us ‘exercise geeks’ talk about resistance training, we typically break it down into three categories*: strength; hypertrophy; and endurance. They all involve training with some form of resistance (weights, body weight, resistance tubes etc) but they vary considerably in how we structure the program and the overall outcome. As to which one is best for you long term? That will depend on what your goals are. So here’s a breakdown of each so you can make an informed decision.

For people just getting started with resistance training, we ALWAYS start with endurance training; from there we can progress to hypertrophy and onwards to strength, if necessary. And beginners – as always, I do encourage you to see a trainer for at least one session. Everyone is different and this guide can only provide general information.


This is always the starting point for resistance training; it focusses on the ‘lighter weights, more reps’ notion. When doing this sort of training, aim to complete >12 repetitions (for most people 12-20 is sufficient), over 3 sets. Rests breaks can be quite short, with 30 to 60 seconds between each set. It’s important to keep in mind that even though the weight is ‘lighter’ (than what we’d use for hypertrophy or strength training) we don’t actually want it to be light and easy. So often I’ll see people in the gym doing endurance training with too light a weight – you still want to feel fatigued at the end! A great way to think about it: if you’re program requires you to perform 15 repetitions, the weight you select should require you to perform those 15 reps with good technique and leave you feeling like you could only complete another 2-4 reps if you really had to. If you finish your 15 reps and feel like you could keep going for another 5 or more, than you need to increase your weight. Keep in mind though, if you are just starting out with weights, it’s ok to go light until you’ve got the hang of things; after that point though, endurance training still needs to be challenging.

BodyPump classes are another example of endurance training. Did you know that you’ll complete about 800 repetitions in each 60 minute Pump class! If you’re doing Pump, same rules apply: you want a weight which lets you complete the track with good technique but leaves you feeling pretty fatigued by the end of it.

Whether you’re training in the gym, at home, in the park or doing BodyPump, a whole body program (legs, chest, back, arms, shoulders, abdominals) completed 3 times per week, on non-consecutive days, is a great option for endurance training.


Hyper-what? In layman’s terms, hypertrophy is an increase in lean muscle mass; it’s about building muscle. Increased lean muscle mass improves strength, helps manage insulin sensitivity in diabetics and non-diabetics, increases basal (resting) metabolic rate, andincreases stamina and energy during athletic activities.

To promote hypertrophy, follow a program that requires 8-12 repetitions with 3-5 sets. Rest breaks should be between 1-2 minutes and the weight selected should leave you feeling fatigued at the end of the 12th rep. Most people will adopt a split program for hypertrophy training, focussing on only one or two muscle groups during each session. This has the great benefit of allowing one muscle group to have sufficient recovery, whilst still being able to train other muscle groups. An example of a split program would be:
Monday: Chest and Back
Tuesday: Legs and Abdominals
Wednesday: Triceps, Biceps, Shoulders
Thursday: Rest Day
Friday: Chest and Back
Saturday: Legs and Abdominals
Sunday: Rest Day.


Strength training results in just that, an increase in strength. When we’re training for strength our goal is to be able to lift a heavy weight for only a few reps (<6). In real life, we might apply this to needing to pick up a heavy box and put it down somewhere else; we need to exert a lot of muscle force but only for one repetition. Or it might be that we need to carry a lot of heavy shopping bags from the car into the kitchen. For people with pathologies (injuries, illness, disease) it can take a lot of strength and effort to even stand up from a chair. There are lots of instances in real life where we require strength.

Personally, I like to train for strength purely because I enjoy lifting heavy things in the gym (yes, I’m aware that probably makes me a little weird!). A typical strength program involves performing 4-6 repetitions, with 3-5 sets. The weight selection should be heavy enough to, as always, allow for good technique, but you should be exhausted by the final rep and ideally unable to perform any more than those 4-6 reps. I often have someone ‘spotting’ (assisting) me when I’m strength training, as sometimes fatigue hits during the final rep and some help is needed to get the weight back to the starting position. Because we’re only performing a few reps but with very heavy weights, we need to have a sufficient break of around 3 minutes between sets. Most people who do strength training will also do a split program as each muscle group will require 48-72 hours recovery.

In summary…

Training Type Reps Sets Rest (between sets)
Endurance >12 3 30-60 secs
Hypertrophy 8-12 3-5 1-2 mins
Strength <6 3-5 3+ mins

Keep in mind, that each type of training can contradict the other. If you do a lot of strength training, you won’t have as much endurance; likewise, if you focus on endurance training, your strength won’t be as developed. Determine which type is most beneficial for you and your lifestyle, and focus on that. If you’re unsure, start with endurance training and progress to hypertrophy.

*Power can also be considered a fourth area of resistance training. However it’s highly specialised and not something for beginners. If you’re considering power training you definitely need to be working with a trainer to ensure proper technique and safety.

Part 1: Resistance Training Explained: The Basics

Part 3: How to check and perfect your technique.


8 thoughts on “Resistance Training Explained. Part 2: Strength vs Hypertrophy vs Endurance

  1. working out says:

    Nice Post. I actually enjoyed reading it. Very often I find it challenging to find
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  2. Mark says:

    Well written post! I enjoyed reading and know now that I need to start with endurance. I also like it because I don’t like to rest long in between and I want to sweat (is that weird?) which comes from endurance training! It’s not one or the other. It’s always a mix of two/three so will I still get a bit bigger when doing endurance because it’s close to hypertrophy? Last advantage of starting with endurance: I got dumbbells for christmas and there not heavy enough to REALLY train strength…..


    • Mark says:

      With “it’s not one or the other” I meant that you don’t train only one muscle type. I heard that it’s like a scale and endurance is close to hypertrophy (closer to hypertrophy than to strength) so will I make gains if I don’t do waaaay to high reps? It’s still draining energy in your muscles and when your body “stuffs” new energy in it, it will grow, right?
      Thanks 😛

      • jodieahp says:

        Hi Mark, thanks for your comment. I’m really glad you found it helpful. Firstly, no it’s not weird that you like to sweat, I do too! Sometimes having such long breaks when doing strength training can get a bit boring too. You are correct that it’s a sliding scale type approach so you will still gain some muscle mass doing endurance training. Enjoy your new Christmas present!

        Jodie 🙂

  3. Sophie says:

    Good read! But I want to know.. If I start with endurance, will I lose muscle mass in the process of losing fat? I read somewhere else that it’s better to start with hypertrophy to gain a muscular foundation to help burn more fat when doing endurance. I also read that it’s better to start with hypertrophy, strength, and then endurance. I also want to know about how to do other workouts when weightlifing. I am currently doing bodyweight (and some dumbbell) exercises at home from dvd’s and an online youtube channel (blogilates) that comes with a workout monthly calendar. I love the workouts but would like to challenge myself more. That’s why I’m looking into weight lifting. However, if I do weightliftig 3x a week, is it okay to still continue the workouts I do at home/online? I typically do those 6x a week with one rest day. I am torn between the two and don’t want to give up one for the other. Do I do them on separate days or the same along with the same rest day?

    • jodieahp says:

      Hi Sophie,

      If you’re new to training, endurance is definitely the appropriate starting point. You won’t lose muscle mass in the process.

      If you are currently training with hypertrophy, you may find you’ll lose some muscle when switching to endurance training as the stimulus may not be enough to maintain the muscle mass.

      As to whether you train for endurance, hypertrophy, or strength will depend on your goals.

      I can’t go into too much detail re: you own individual program without having a consultation with you. The advice I can give is: if you do take up weightlifting 3x per week, you wouldn’t want to be doing any other resistance training on other days as your body will need the recovery. If you want to do both you could do weightlifting 2x week and the other home workout 1 x week (or vice versa). I would also say 6x week with the home program alone is too much, if you’re doing it that often either the workout isn’t hard enough to stimulate muscle changes or you’re not allowing yourself enough recovery which will also prevent muscle growth.

      Hope that helps. If you’d like a personal consultation, let me know, otherwise it might be helpful to chat with a fitness professional near you to work out a good program.

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