Gaining strength through neurological adaptation vs hypertrophy

Smile-n-Nod

More than 500 posts
From articles on this site and elsewhere, it is my understanding that muscular strength can be gained through neurological adaptation, hypertrophy, or some mix of the two.

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of gaining strength through one mechanism versus the other? For example, do hypertrophic muscles have more endurance or less? Do muscles made stronger through neurological adaptation stay strong longer during breaks in training or do they become weaker more or quickly, for example? Thanks.
 

Dasho

Triple-Digit Post Count
I think two phrases espoused by StrongFirst answer your questions pretty well:

"You must be strong first"
I imagine that a person with hypertrophic (read: bigger?) muscles can train for endurance like anyone else, but they will have the added benefit of being, well, stronger (from a maximal strength perspective). If they train for hypertrophy to the exclusion of everything else, then that may be a different case.

"Strength is a skill"
Muscles made strong through neurological adaptation....the way I read this question is PttP/Naked Warrior/GtG style strength increases. From my experience, if I don't regularly practice my pistol/OAP/pullups, then I weaken in those movements fairly quickly. I don't feel like that is the results of my muscles getting weaker, but rather my CNS/muscle memory "forgetting" the coordination and tension required to achieve those movements. Like any other skill, it's "use it or lose it."
 

North Coast Miller

More than 2500 posts
From articles on this site and elsewhere, it is my understanding that muscular strength can be gained through neurological adaptation, hypertrophy, or some mix of the two.

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of gaining strength through one mechanism versus the other? For example, do hypertrophic muscles have more endurance or less? Do muscles made stronger through neurological adaptation stay strong longer during breaks in training or do they become weaker more or quickly, for example? Thanks.

Is not the most straightforward question, though it seems so initially.

In general - hypertrophic muscle training will probably have more endurance at a give %RM (almost certainly) tho the RM load will be less.

Hypertrophic musclebuilding is possibly less mentally demanding - it is easier to get pumped. But at the higher end of the spectrum it definitely requires a lot of intent.

Muscle mass is always going to provide an increase in strength and the added mass is a metabolic reservoir in times of trouble.

The adaptations from low rep high %RM training are going to improve strength to weight ratios better, far better in some cases.

In my experience higher end limit strength or higher end muscular endurance both tend to drop off from detraining.

From my understanding the major differences stem from changes in rep/set layout, the individual muscle fibers are no different in any way science has been able to isolate to date.

IMHO you should train a range of rep/set/load schemes as they all provide important beneficial adaptations. If you want to specialize, that's fine but you are leaving some stuff on the table.
 

Marlon Leon

Triple-Digit Post Count
Imagine a factory full of workers. If you impove how efficiently they work together you improve the productivity. This would be strength gain through neurological adaptation.
If you hire more workers, but they don't work well together, the productivity does not increase. However, if you have hired more workers and make them work together efficiently, the productivity is further increased and more than before when you less employees working for you. Note that through muscle hypertrophy the strength potential increases. Hence, there are weight classes in strength sports such as power lifting or weight lifting.
The exercises, however, stay the same. So it will be squat, bench, and deadlift (or some version of that) in either case.

In regards to muscle durability. Not sure what you have in mind, but for that purpose ideally you train your muscles for a mix of strength and stamina. Doing so actually changes the muscle physiology and results in an increased amount of mitochondria.
Think of circuit training as MMA fighter like to do them with tire flips etc or strongman training or, of course, kettlebells.
 

Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
it is my understanding that muscular strength can be gained through neurological adaptation, hypertrophy, or some mix of the two.
I think it's always a mix of the two, and the distinctions are not very meaningful. Just the opinion I've come to, here in my 5th year of strength training and studying about all thing strength...

IMHO you should train a range of rep/set/load schemes as they all provide important beneficial adaptations. If you want to specialize, that's fine but you are leaving some stuff on the table.
I agree with this. I would add that it's best to do this within the guidance of a program. Or if the program doesn't have this variation, perhaps even better, you get the variation when you move from one program to another.
 

Smile-n-Nod

More than 500 posts
I think it's always a mix of the two, and the distinctions are not very meaningful.[\QUOTE]

But many people are able to achieve more hypertrophy by training a certain way. I'm sure that there's a mix (there almost always is, in humans), but we can definitely emphasize one mechanism more than the other.
 

Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
I agree, we can definitely emphasize one mechanism more than the other in training. I just see it more like a 50/50 thing with general strength training, and emphasizing one or the other might take you to 40/60 or 60/40 split... not like it's a 90/10 or 10/90 as some people seem to think. Hope that makes sense. And I have no idea if I'm right... just what I've come to believe about it. :p
 

North Coast Miller

More than 2500 posts
I'll add to my earlier by pointing out a fair amount of neurological strength increase - strength increases in the absence of size or lean muscle increase in experienced lifters - is skill specific. Many studies that follow fairly large increases in load on practiced lifts fail to show increases in isometric force vs controls - people training at somewhat lower %RM and more volume who do not improve their 1RM as much.

I believe a lot of what passes for neurological strength increase is actually changes in the connective tissues and possible crosslinking of motor units in more of a physical sense. Though some additional recruitment is certainly a part of it, I don't see where either emphasis is lacking on the sort of effort that would trigger greater innervation overall.

Either way it is a result of loading schemes - lower rep/higher %RM lifting, higher rep/lower % RM lifting, or some sort of periodizing or middle ground for GPP (generalization). There is crossover - low rep training done with a larger number of sets will definitely cause muscle growth, and one can train with 70-80% RM and get stronger without getting bigger by just not eating more. But you'll do better by following the footsteps of those who have been there/done that.

The durability of one over the other is something I can't really comment on. If you get pretty swole and drop back on your weights, doing enough to maintain lean bodyweight, you'll be able to get back into training very quickly.

The same goes for higher end strength - as long as you train a little, you'll be able to get your numbers back up fairly quickly. Detrain yourself completely and it will take longer to get back, but in either case it should come back far more rapidly than it took to build up in the first place.

Good article on periodization that examines what the data says:

Periodization: What the Data Say • Stronger by Science

Not sure if this answers the original question any better...
 

WhatWouldHulkDo

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
Maybe another angle on the same question: once you reach an aesthetic you like, is there are reason to chase hypertrophy?

I'm a pretty big guy already - I would take all my gains in increasing density/ tension if I could. But maybe I'm throttling myself?
 

jca17

More than 300 posts
Pavel wrote that strength through hypertrophic training stays longer during breaks in training. Basically, the higher frequency training used to build strength, the faster you lose it during a layoff. I'll have to find the book/article. He cited Soviet studies. "Easy come, easy go."

GTG brings strength gains in specific skills very fast, and so they are lost very fast with a few weeks apart from training (only to be quick to reacquire later).
 

Shahaf Levin

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
Pavel wrote that strength through hypertrophic training stays longer during breaks in training. Basically, the higher frequency training used to build strength, the faster you lose it during a layoff. I'll have to find the book/article. He cited Soviet studies. "Easy come, easy go."

GTG brings strength gains in specific skills very fast, and so they are lost very fast with a few weeks apart from training (only to be quick to reacquire later).
Pretty much along these lines... I remember from reading many (Simmons, Pavel, Verkhoshansky etc.) that strength gains form volume training last longer. I do not recall specific attention to neurological vs. structural factors (use it or lose it apply to hypertrophy as well).

I think it is the distinction between response and adaptation. I think that hypertrophy can be agreed as structural adaptation of the organism (don't know what the short term response is). For the neurological/skill part of strength it is a learning process.

With all learning processes it easy to see the difference between short and long term learning (adaptation). For example, showing better math skills right at the end of a math class (short term response) and actually knowing math later in life (learning/adaptation). With proper quality volume (read lots of quality volume) one will retain his math skills long after school. Of course if you will stop using math at all after school you will forget it.

I see people who did gymnastic or acrobatics as kids. They keep their strength (both neural and sometimes also structural) to this day with little practice (and no direct practice at all) since they learned these skills at very young age.

That's why we need better movement culture for young kids. Lot of quality volume at young age and their bodies will ingrain movement skills deeply. Than they will only require little maintenance work later in life, and will probably do it since they will enjoy movement.

All of the above, IMHO
 

Steve Freides

Forum Administrator
Staff member
Senior Certified Instructor
From articles on this site and elsewhere, it is my understanding that muscular strength can be gained through neurological adaptation, hypertrophy, or some mix of the two.

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of gaining strength through one mechanism versus the other? For example, do hypertrophic muscles have more endurance or less? Do muscles made stronger through neurological adaptation stay strong longer during breaks in training or do they become weaker more or quickly, for example? Thanks.
I hold strong opinions on this subject.

For me, the question of hypertrophy or not, rephrased to be even simpler, is, "Do you want to be you or someone else?" I don't mean to suggest my perspective works for anyone but me, but I will share my perspective for what it's worth.

First, of all, we must be sure not to paint hypertrophy with too broad a brush. Muscular hypertrophy isn't a monolithic thing. Different kinds of hypertrophy training and, indeed, different muscular targets for hypertrophy as well will yield different results.

E.g., you can press a heavy kettlebell with one arm for serious volume, like in the Rite of Passage from Enter The Kettlebell, and while you will put some meat on your shoulders, you're unlikely to need to move up to the next weight class. OTOH, if you start doing 20-rep squats and eating to support that, you can add some serious amount of muscle to your frame in a relatively short time.

But back to the fundamental question - what do you need to make your _life_ better in terms of hypertrophy? Speaking for myself, I don't compete at anything except weight-class powerlifting - I don't play a contact sport, e.g., American football, where some beef on my frame might be helpful. I'm not planning on posing for Men's Health any time soon, so I don't need fulsome pectorals and rippling abdominals.

So I'm confronted with the question - if getting bigger helps my weight lifting, and weight lifting helps my life, does that mean that getting bigger helps my life? For me, the answer is a resounding, "No." Weight lifting is a skill I enjoy practicing, and that practice is what helps my life, not picking up heavier and heavier things at all costs, and not eating more just to be able to lift more. Thank you but I'll eat less, weigh less, focus on the skill of lifting, and be very happy how _that_ improves my life.

As to the specific questions posed, e.g., do bigger muscles have more endurance, the answer is "no." Endurance is, certainly when one begins to train it, a function of one's relative effort, and therefore endurance is largely governed by relative strength required to complete a specific task. I have found, e.g., that if I can deadlift twice what I weigh, I can walk for hours, and I can walk under a load (weight in a backpack when I'm carrying home groceries, or uphill) easily.

My strength also means I'm strong enough to work on specific endurance as the urge strikes me, e.g., I'm strong enough to run with good enough form that I can continue to increase my running and therefore my running endurance, and I'm strong enough to snatch a kettlebell and train that for greater endurance when that's my choice. If one is stronger because one has gained muscle, will endurance improve in a manner similar to what I've just described? Yes, I'm sure it will.

The skill of strength is much like the skill of riding a bicycle - once you learn, you won't forget. That doesn't mean you'll be in peak form after a 20-year layoff, but it does mean you'll retain the foundation on which you can rebuild should you so choose.

Just my opinions, and your mileage may vary. For me, skinny-strong rulz. :)

-S-
 

Bret S.

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
Certified Instructor
Of course if you will stop using math at all after school you will forget it.
Uh, that doesn't add up :cool:

That's why we need better movement culture for young kids. Lot of quality volume at young age and their bodies will ingrain movement skills deeply. Than they will only require little maintenance work later in life, and will probably do it since they will enjoy movement.
Using golf as an example I think that's why people who start golfing at a young age are generally better golfers. If someone starts at a young age and golfs for 10 years and quits is compared to another golfer who started in their 20's and again has golfed for 10 years, all other things being equal, the person that started young is going to be better.

How can that be explained? Muscle memory? Neurological adaptation? My money is on both..
 

Steve Freides

Forum Administrator
Staff member
Senior Certified Instructor
It's well-documented that we're learning sponges when we're very young.

My favorite example is a child moving to another country. If a child moves before the age of 5 or so, it's quite likely they'll learn to speak their 2nd language quite fluently and without any accent. As you raise the age of the child in the example, the likelihood of fluency in their second language lessens, to the point where someone moving in high school is relatively _un_likely to speak their new language without an accent.

-S-
 

offwidth

More than 5000 posts
It's well-documented that we're learning sponges when we're very young.

My favorite example is a child moving to another country. If a child moves before the age of 5 or so, it's quite likely they'll learn to speak their 2nd language quite fluently and without any accent. As you raise the age of the child in the example, the likelihood of fluency in their second language lessens, to the point where someone moving in high school is relatively _un_likely to speak their new language without an accent.

-S-
Steve,
As a music teacher what are your experiences in teaching older people to play music. Say for example a 60 yr old who has never played an instrument before...
 
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