I've read a lot about size gains vs strength gains, where the difference is substantial and where size is certainly not linear to strength.

  • Strength appears to come from low reps with very heavy weight.
  • Size moreso from high repetitions.

Lately I've been trying out 2 sets for size and 2 sets for strength. So for example for barbell curls I might do this:

  • 8-10 reps of 8kg.
  • 8-10 reps of 10kg.
  • 4-6 reps of 16kg.
  • 4 reps of as heavy as I can (failing on the 4th).

Is this type of training effective, or should I just stick to one thing at a time (like weekly rotation between strength vs size)?

I seem to be breaking past a lot of plateaus in terms of the weight I was able to lift, but I am starting to think I may have slowed my size gains down.

With a goal of mass gain specifically, would this approach put on more size through being able to lift heavier weights in the high rep range? I found it hard to add extra weight each session sticking to 3-4 sets of 8-10. Then again I'm not sure if the much slower progression of weight I am able to lift while sticking to 4 full sets of high repetitions will actually benefit me more over time.

  • What are your goals? Are you training for strength or are you training for size? As with all training, specificity is key. You can certainly train for both, but you will not get as much gains in both as you would singly training for one or the other.
    – JohnP
    Feb 11, 2013 at 1:40
  • @JohnP The goal is size. In fact, the main reason that I am bothering with breaking it up to include strength stuff is that I figured to gain more size I'll eventually need to lift more weight.
    – Marty
    Feb 11, 2013 at 2:05
  • 1
    Usually I sequence my programs one for strength (8 weeks) one for size (8 weeks) and so on.
    – user981916
    Feb 11, 2013 at 12:33
  • @MartyWallace, you are correct, more weight at the same reps/sets = more volume. more volume = more size. May 24, 2013 at 16:59

2 Answers 2


It's possible and effective, but I would recommend going for the strength using compound movements first and the more specific hypertrophy second. The primary reason for this is fatigue management. The fatigue induced by a heavy set affects the longer lighter sets less than the other way around.

Wendler 5/3/1 program is built around this approach. The strength portion is first and features 3 work sets of 1-5 reps where the top set is for as many as you can do at the programmed weight. After you do the strength work, you add in 5 sets of 10 for hypertrophy. To complete the program you would also work on mobility and conditioning.

You'll find this approach works much better with heavy compound movements used for the strength work than it does with smaller isolation type movements.

  • Compound movements such as bench, squat, deadlift, pull ups, dips, all affect multiple muscle groups. Due to that fact, it is more effective at strengthening all the muscles being activated.
  • Isolation movements such as curls, triceps extensions, chest flies, are best done in volume for hypertrophy affect and/or joint health.

The bottom line is that the smaller muscles used in isolation movements are only going to get so strong on their own. In order for your mind and body to agree on heavier weight, the mind has to be assured that the rest of the body can handle it. It's one reason that deadlifts are limited by what you can grip. The mind puts the breaks on if it thinks you can't hold the bar, and this is an involuntary reflex. Since compound movements take care of multiple groups of muscles, when you go back in for isolation work you will be able to do that at higher weights.

The alternative approach also works. It's similar to how Hepburn routines splits things up. Essentially for a few months you are working on strength primarily, and when you can't make any more progress that way you switch to hypertrophy for a few months. And alternate.

I personally prefer to do the strength and hypertrophy work in the same session. Both are needed to get stronger (my goals), and it's just a matter of adjusting the proportion of work that goes into what I want to emphasize at any given time.

Just an additional note: don't get hung up on just one set/rep scheme. Sometimes when you are hitting a plateau, you need to change your approach. Sometimes you need to add sets, or reps. Other times you cut the sets/reps and add weight.

A simple and effective way to balance this out is to start with a baseline set/rep scheme. It can be 3x8 for example. Just keep at the same weight and try to work up to 4x12. When you hit that, increase the weight you are using and start over with 3x8.

  • For the sake of coming full circle with this thread, I have tried quite a variety of different routines at this point and what you've mentioned here has worked by far the best. The first half of my daily routine is 2-3 of the 'big lifts' and the latter half is hypertrophy work.
    – Marty
    Jul 21, 2015 at 7:00

I think to make it easiest for yourself, you should just follow one of those popular programs like a Wendler 5 3 1 or Starting Strength for at least 6 months and see how you like the results. Starting Strength is a good way to learn the big lifts that give the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to getting strong and big. Both of these programs teach you how to progress and how to customize your workouts to get the desired outcome, like size in your case.

For example, Wendler 5 31 has the main strength component that is based on your current strength levels and then assistance exercises that you can customize for your desired outcome. "Big But Boring" prescribes doing 5 sets of 10 at 50%+ of the training max of your main lift of the day. So for example, on squat day, you do your squats at the prescribed weights and then you do 5 set of 10 squats at a lower intensity.

I would recommend both of these programs for the sake of learning how to do the main lifts and having a program you can just plug and play. You can find them via google.

  • 4
    I'm not sure that this is answering anything. I'm familiar with and capable of performing those lifts, the question is asking whether breaking sets of those and other lifts into 2x heavy weight low repetition and 2x lower weight and higher repetition sets would be beneficial to a longer term goal of size gains, or whether I should alternate biweekly rather than halfway through a set for maximum results.
    – Marty
    Feb 12, 2013 at 7:09
  • While everything in this answer may be true, it doesn't really answer Marty's question.
    – user4644
    Feb 24, 2013 at 8:25

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