Resistance Training: Differences between training for muscle endurance, hypertrophy and strength

Vegan Body-builder Kenneth G. Williams.

There are three main goals people have when they resistance train, these are working on muscle endurance, increase  muscle size (hypertrophy) or increase muscle strength. For each of these different goals the amount of exercises, repetitions and weights you should use change. The information I am going to post here is taken mostly from my Fitness Instructor text book – we were told never to lose this information, it’s sort of like a ‘cheat sheet’ when writing programs.

The first thing we need to know however is what 1RM means and how to calculate it.

Calculating one- rep max

Your “one rep maximum” is one way to measure training intensity. This means you can perform an exercise with good form for one repetition at a certain weight but you physically cannot perform a complete second repetition. This is therefore your maximum and once you know this you can calculate what weight you should be lifting as a percentage of this maximum.

Finding out this one rep maximum is most accurate through trial and error in the gym, however it can be dangerous especially when lifting at a high load – for many exercises you will need a spotter or two. Make sure you warm up the specific body part before hand however do not fatigue the muscle you want to be able to perform at your best.

Alternatively you can do a three rep max and then estimate the weight for a one rep max or you can use this online calculator


Muscle endurance will improve the muscles’ ability to repeatedly contract.Working on muscle endurance is great for all levels of fitness as it uses light weights. The many repetitions involved result in a  high energy and relatively continuous workout also great for general fitness and you will get some muscle size gains as well (but minimal strength gains).

Number of Exercises

5-10 predominantly compound covering legs, push and pull, plus core


Light to moderate

50-75% 1RM

Reps & Sets 

12-30 reps

2-3 sets


Beginner: 2:2

Intermediate/Advanced 1:1 up to 3:2

Rest Between Sets

Minimal in example of a circuit or up to 60 seconds in multi sets


Muscle hypertrophy is an increase in muscle size which influences body shape and composition as well as assisting in fat loss by increasing metabolism. There is a greater intensity and volume used than for muscle endurance.

Number of Exercises 

4-8 predominantly compound – legs, push and pull, plus core


Moderate to heavy

60-85% 1 RM

Reps & Sets

Beginner: 8-12 reps

3-5 sets per muscle group eg. 3 sets x 12 reps or 5 sets x 8 reps

Intermediate/Advanced: 6-15 reps

3-6 sets per muscle group (can be differnt ex’s) eg. 6 sets x 8 reps or 4 sets x 12 reps


Beginner: 2:2

Intermediate/Advanced 3:2 up to 4:3

Rest between sets

Beginner: 1-2 mins (no supersets)

Intermediate/Advanced: 0 for supersets, or up to 3 min for compound exercises



Training for muscle strength will improve the neural drive, recruitment of motor units, co-ordination of muscles and also increase muscle hypertrophy.

Number of exercises 

4-6 compound covering legs, push and pull, plus core


Beginner: Moderate to heavy 70-85% 1RM

Intermediate/Advanced: Heavy to very heavy 80-95% 1RM

Reps & Sets 

Beginner: 6-10 reps (start with 8-12 for very first program then increase the load and decrease the reps)

2-4 sets depending on reps

eg. 2 sets x 10 reps or 4 sets x 6 reps

Intermediate/Advanced: 1-8 reps (1-6 advanced)

4-10 sets depending on reps

E.g. 4 sets x 6 reps or 6 sets x 4 reps


Beginner: 2:2

Intermediate/Advanced 2:2 up to 6:3

Rest between sets 

Beginner: 2-3 min for heavy

Intermediate/advanced 3-6 mins for very heavy


– Its a good idea to do some ‘warm up sets’  of the first 2-3 exercises. This means doing a set of 5-8 repetitions with a much lighter weight to warm up the appropriate muscles and practice the movement. Once you have done a warm up set for compound lower body, an upper body “push” exercise and an upper body “pull” exercise you do not need to do warm up sets for the other exercises

– whatever goal you are working at you should always be feeling the last few repetitions of an exercise strongly. You should stop the number of repetitions before you lose good form but you should not be able to many more repetitions, if you can not do a single additional repetition at the point that you stop this is called performing to failure and is the ideal level to be working at to achieve the most benefits