What is hypertrophy and how can you optimize it

If you want to increase your muscle mass, it is essential to know what are the three main factors that cause this to happen, and if you still do not know what they are … it is 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 it on the phenomena of muscle hypertrophy.

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 organism due to the excessive proliferation of its cells (hyperplasia), or by an increase in cell volume. The organic hypertrophy can be consecutive to a greater effort or work of an organ (hypertrophy of the walls of the cardiac cavities, for example).

That is, hypertrophy is the growth of muscle cells.

Basically it is the factor that drives most people to look for a gym (apart from losing fat at the same time). Whether because they want an aesthetically appealing body, or just because they want to improve their performance in a competitive sport, gaining muscle mass tends to be a major factor.

There are two types of hypertrophy.

Myofibrillar – Growth of contractile fibers.

Sarcoplasmic – Represents an increase in the storage of glycogen and water, among other things.

There is also a phenomenon called Hyperplasia, which consists of increasing the number of cells, which will not be our focus in this article.

Science around muscle hypertrophy suggests that there are three main mechanisms.

  • Mechanical tension
  • Muscle damage
  • Metabolic stress


Mechanical Stress

The induced mechanical tension is considered essential for muscle growth, and continuous stimulation has an additive effect.

What does this mean?

It means that overload through mechanical tension increases muscle mass, while the reduction in that overload results in atrophy.

The effect of mechanical tension is so regularly pronounced, due to the fact that it is associated with exercise with weights, that it proves a disturbance to the musculoskeletal integrity.

While mechanical tension 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 major neurological adaptations, without equivalent gains in hypertrophy.

One way to guarantee sufficient mechanical tension is through a progressive increase in loads and / or volume, using loads equal to or greater than 65% of your 1RM.

Muscle Damage

The practice of weight training 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 these muscular damages happen, several signals are released by the body that regulate the proliferation and differentiation of satellite cells.


Metabolic Stress

There are a lot of studies supporting an anabolic function caused by metabolic stress.

Although metabolic stress alone does not seem to represent an essential component for muscle growth, there is evidence that it can have a great hypertrophic effect.

This aspect is proven, and can be observed empirically in the training of the most well-known bodybuilders, which are composed of moderate intensity (that is, a sufficient mechanical tension) and with enormous metabolic stress (through advanced techniques, such as supersets, drop sets, series giants, etc.).

Thus, despite the concept of progressive overload and increased loads (intensity and RM), we must include moderate repetitions in training, if the intention is muscle hypertrophy.

Each of the mechanisms described above is produced under different forms of training, and if the aim is to gain as much muscle as possible, we must focus on working on these three mechanisms.

In addition, 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 may be useful:

Training focused only on strength is a form of mechanical tension, but it is not the only way to gain muscle mass.

In fact, if the training consists of too high intensities and low volumes, the hypertrophy gains may fall short of expectations.

Try to take advantage of the various repetition windows.

Low repetitions – The heavier we train, the greater the mechanical stress produced.

Average repetitions – The greater the volume of training applied, within our fatigue management, the greater the metabolic stress.

High repetitions – High repetitions can be used on small muscles, and / or metabolic training days / blocks.

Some variation in training is important to cause muscle damage.

However, this variation should not be too frequent, as it is therefore difficult to guarantee a progressive overload in the long term.

Although DOMS, or post-workout pain, does not serve as a metric for effective training, it makes sense that they feel it regularly as a way of assessing 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 are applied to both men and women.

Finally, there is an infographic with a summary of the concepts in this article.

Fontes úteis

[1] – Mechanism of Muscle Hypertrophy by Brad Schoenfeld

Special thanks to Steve Hall for the excellent idea of the infographic.

Article written by Team Sik Nutrition

About the author

Team Sik Nutrition, is a recent group of people in love with the world of Fitness. The Team's focus is to guide, educate and motivate those interested in achieving their health and fitness goals. All this sharing is based on scientific facts and experience of the Team members.

The CEO of Team Sik Nutrition, is João Gonçalves. Amateur powerlifter, passionate about Fitness and writing articles.

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