The physique you want is literally sculpted with muscle. It doesn’t matter if you want washboard abs or bulging biceps, you need to add muscle while lowering your fat percentage. Diet can handle fat loss, but what about the muscles? Increasing your muscle mass is a combination of physiological responses that change your body composition, including a process called hypertrophy.
It’s a word you’ve definitely heard thrown around the gym before, but what is muscle hypertrophy? Pull up a seat. It’s time to learn what happens to your muscles when they grow.
What is Hypertrophy?
Scientifically speaking, hypertrophy is the physiological response that increases skeletal muscle mass and the cross-sectional area of muscle when work is done against a form of resistance. There are two types of muscular hypertrophy:
- Myofibrillar hypertrophy – an increase in the size and number of myofibrils (threadlike cellular structures) in the muscle fibers. An increase in myofibrils increases contraction force.
- Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy – an increase in the volume of the sarcoplasm, a fluid, non-contractile part of the muscle. Increased sacroplasmic volume will increase the size of muscles but not the power.
How Do Genetics Impact Hypertrophy?
Hypertrophy impacts everyone the same way, but the results you get will be different from your training partner. The reason is your genetics. Some people have a tremendous ability to get a greater degree of hypertrophy in less time. The same and appearance of your muscles are also determined by genetics. That’s why some people have a perfect pair of six-pack abs while others might have an unsymmetrical line or a five-pack. Tendon length is also genetic and will affect the shape of muscles. Since shorter tendons add tension, those with longer tension tend to have less muscle growth and size than people on the opposite end.
What is The Best Way to Stimulate Hypertrophy?
Applying your general understanding of hypertrophy, it’s now time to learn how to apply those principles to your workouts. Building muscle quickly is a direct result of three factors:
- Progressive tension overload
- Muscle damage
- Metabolic stress (fatigue)
Let’s break these down.
Progressive Tension Overload
This is part of your lifting technique. You can add progressive overload by increasing the weight that you lift over time. Other components of your workout can also be changed to overload the muscles and prompt the hypertrophy, such as frequency, volume, tempo, and so on. For example, you might throw in plyometrics or HIIT training once a week to “shock” the muscles.
Research has found that progressive tension overload is the best way to grow muscles. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, military press, and bench press have been noted as highly effective for targeting several muscles at once and prompting hypertrophy.
When you workout, you are damaging your muscles and creating micro tears in the fibers. As the microtears heal, your muscles increase in size. The damage needs to be repaired with protein, which is why you need to pay attention to the quality of the food you eat if you want to optimize hypertrophy. Rest is also extremely important.
However, while research is mixed, it is recommended that, if you want to maximize your hypertrophy, you need to train heavy and with moderate volume. This means lifting about 80% of your 1RM with 3-4 sets and 8-10 repetitions.
A study down by the University of Central Florida separated 33 physically active men into two groups. The first group did 4 workouts weekly that consisted of 4 sets, 10-12 reps at 70% of the 1RM. The second group did 4 workouts weekly by at 4 sets, 3-5 reps at 90% 1RM. What the researchers found was that after 8 weeks of training, the high-intensity group that worked at 90% of their 1RM had significant muscular and strength gains when compared to the high volume group.
Why? The second group overloaded their muscles more, created more damage, and more stress. In turn, this stimulated a greater adaptive response from the body.
Muscles won’t grow unless they are pushed beyond their metabolic limits. You need to activate the anaerobic system. For advanced lifters, you can do this by lifting to fatigue with as many reps as possible (AMRAP, Pyramid sets, supersets) and assisted reps.
You can stress you muscles by following a workout similar to what was in the research above. Ideally, you want to workout at least 3 times a week.
Supplements For Hypertrophy
What about supplements? There is a lot of pseudoscience in the health and fitness world, but there are indeed some supplements that can aid in muscular recovery and growth.
Creatine has a bad reputation, but it is perfectly safe for men and women of all fitness levels. Creatine works by building muscle, improving sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, and reducing soreness caused by high-intensity workouts. Look for a creatine powder that contains high-quality ingredients, such as creatine monohydrate, L-carnitine and L-tartrate, and some corosolic acid.
It doesn’t matter what kind of protein powder you pick up, as long as it is pure protein. Since protein is the building block of muscle, you’re going to need an adequate amount of this macronutrient if you want to see your muscles grow.
Aside from these two supplements, make sure that your diet is on point. You need to get enough protein throughout the day, along with healthy fats and complex carbohydrates to help your body recover and grow.
Hypertrophy is a straightforward process. You apply progressive tension overload to your body, increase stress and fatigue, and your body will respond by making your muscles stronger and larger. Although genetics play a role in how much muscle you can gain, everyone is capable of building the physique that they want by using a high intensity routine and tweaking your nutrition.