Hypertrophy and how you can optimize it
If you want to increase your muscle mass, it is essential to know what are the three main factors that lead to this happening, and if you still don't know what they are…it's a good idea to read this article!
Today we are going to address a subject related to training concepts and what is the impact of training on muscle hypertrophy phenomena.
First of all, let's start by identifying what hypertrophy is.
Hypertrophy is the increase in the volume of an organ or structure of the body due to an exaggerated proliferation of its cells (hyperplasia), or due to an increase in cell volume.
Organic hypertrophy can be followed by greater effort or work by an organ (hypertrophy of the walls of the heart chambers, for example).
In other words, hypertrophy is the growth of muscle cells.
Basically it's the factor that drives most people to look for a gym (apart from losing fat simultaneously).
Whether because they want an aesthetically appealing body, or just because they want to improve their performance in a competitive sport, muscle mass gain tends to be a preponderant factor.
There are two types of hypertrophy.
Myofibrillar – Growth of contractile fibers.
Sarcoplasmic – Represents an increase in glycogen and water storage, among other things.
There is also a phenomenon called Hyperplasia, which is an increase in the number of cells, which will not be our focus in this article.
The science surrounding muscle hypertrophy suggests that there are three main mechanisms.
- mechanical stress
- Muscle damage
- metabolic stress
Induced mechanical tension is considered essential for muscle growth, and continuous stimulation has an additive effect.
What does this mean?
It means that overloading through mechanical tension increases muscle mass, while a reduction in this same overload results in atrophy.
The effect of mechanical strain is so regularly pronounced, because it is associated with exercise with weights, that it proves a disturbance to musculoskeletal integrity.
While mechanical strain alone can induce hypertrophy, it is extremely unlikely that it is solely responsible for the muscle gains associated with exercise.
In fact, there is evidence that certain types of training, which imply high levels of muscle tension (heavy training being >90% 1RM for moderate volumes), tend to generate great neurological adaptations, without equivalent gains in hypertrophy.
One way to ensure sufficient mechanical tension is through a progressive increase in loads and/or volume, using loads equal to or greater than 65% of your 1RM.
Exercise with weights can cause local muscle damage, which under certain conditions, and in theory, will generate a hypertrophic response.
This conclusion is based on the fact that when this muscle damage occurs, several signalers that regulate the proliferation and differentiation of satellite cells are released by the body.
There are a lot of studies supporting an anabolic function caused by metabolic stress.
While metabolic stress by itself does not appear to be an essential component of muscle growth, there is evidence that it can have a major hypertrophic effect.
This aspect is proven, and can be observed empirically in the trainings of the best known bodybuilders, which are composed of moderate intensity (ie, sufficient mechanical tension) and enormous metabolic stress (through advanced techniques, such as supersets, drop sets, giant series, etc).
Thus, despite the concept of progressive overload and increased loads (intensity and RM), we must include repetitions moderate training, if the intention is muscle hypertrophy.
Each of the mechanisms described above is produced under different forms of training, and if the intention is to gain as much muscle as possible, we have to focus on working these three mechanisms.
Furthermore, all the mechanisms are interconnected, and it is impossible to train “just one”, but it is possible to focus on some phases/training/months on some of these factors.
And now, what do we do with this information?
Basically, when you understand how the processes involved in muscle hypertrophy work, it becomes simpler to build your training.
Some tips that might be helpful:
Training only focused on strength is a form of mechanical tension, but it is not the only way to gain muscle mass.
In fact, if the training is composed of too high intensities and low volumes, the hypertrophy gains may be less than expected.
Try to take advantage of the various replay windows.
low reps – The heavier we train, the greater the mechanical tension produced.
Average repetitions – The greater the volume of training applied, within our fatigue management, the greater the metabolic stress.
high reps – High reps can be used on small muscles, and/or metabolic training days/blocks.
Some variation in training is important for causing muscle damage.
However, this variation should not be too frequent, as this way it is difficult to guarantee a progressive overload in the long term.
Although DOMS, or post-workout pain, are not a metric for effective training, it makes sense to feel them regularly as a way to assess that there are some new stimuli for the body.
The effects at the level of hypertrophy are genderless, that is, the rules discussed in the article apply to both men and women.
Finally, here is an infographic with a summary of the concepts in this article.
 – Mechanism of Muscle Hypertrophy by Brad Schoenfeld
Special thanks to Steve Hall for the great infographic idea.
Article written by Team Sik Nutrition