What difference does heavy lifting make to your workouts? Here, we take a look at the benefits of strength sets.

The benefits of strength sets and powerful performance



While muscle hypertrophy focuses on building the muscle’s fibres and cells, strength is neurologically focused and involves conditioning the nervous system to withstand a greater force of stress.

“While training for muscular hypertrophy will result in some strength benefit, if strength is the primary goal, the training must focus on not just building the muscle fibres, but training the central nervous system to efficiently fire the muscle fibres,” says personal trainer Sofia Toumbas.

“This is why some smaller built athletes are still incredibly strong – the size of the muscle does not always equate with strength.”

Muscles are made up of type I slow twitch, type IIA fast oxidative and type IIB fast glycoltic fibres, and each are recruited in greater force depending on the type of exercise you are participating in. Groups of fibres are attached to a single motor unit comprising motor neurons that innervate the fibres and force them to contract in response to stress. The result? Power.

“The response of the CNS is directly proportionate to the load you are lifting. To make a muscle stronger, the body needs to adapt to greater loads than it’s used to,” says Toumbas.

“The more motor units activating, the more muscle fibres contract and the more strength you have. As the saying goes, there is ‘strength in numbers’.”

Building strength requires lifting a heavier weight to activate the faster twitch fibres for greater motor unit recruitment. Given the type IIB fibres are extremely sensitive to fatigue, they tend to lose the ability to generate force after only a minute – meaning more rest is required between sets. Toumbas suggests five-minute rests between sets to avoid fatigue and injury, while frequency should be based on your age and fitness level.

“Strength modalities tend to use low repetition, high sets and longer rest intervals and are comprised of our major compound lifts, such as the squat, deadlift and bench press,” says Toumbas.

“If you have been training for years, your nervous system will be able to adapt faster as opposed to a beginner, who may feel fatigued for longer due to the new stressors that have been placed on the body and its systems.”