Hypertrophy, or muscle growth, is not exactly rocket science. Understanding how it all works though, does require some basic knowledge. In this article, I will be discussing what hypertrophy is and how you can achieve it.
What is Hypertrophy?
It is general knowledge that resistance training leads to an increase of muscle strength. This is because of hypertrophy. It is an effect that we teach our central nervous systems.
- Hypertrophy is an increase of the diameters of individual muscle fibers. It is most visible in type II muscles, which excel in explosiveness and raw strength.
- Hyperplasia is an increase of the amount of muscle fibers. These fibers consist of myofibrils. Hyperplasia causes myofibrils to increase in number.
The latest scientific studies have proven that muscle growth for the most part has to do with hypertrophy. However, the effects of hyperplasia should not be thrown away just yet.
Research has shown that muscle growth through hyperplasia exists within animals. It could also contribute to human muscle growth. Furthermore, hyperplasia increases the amount and strength of connective tissues.
Hypertrophy on a Cellular Level
During contraction, the belly of the muscle expands. This causes connective tissues to become longer, which then stabilizes muscular tissue.
Thick muscle fibers contain a lot more contraction proteins than thin muscle fibers. This influences the rate of contraction. A muscle that has gained in mass contains more connective tissue, which makes the muscle more compact, more powerful and more resistant to injuries.
This is what actually happens if you exercise.
The type of muscle fibers has an important effect on whether a muscle can contract fast and powerful, or slower and less powerful. Different muscle stimuli will result in different muscle activation.
So How Do You Develop Muscle Growth?
I’m sure some of you might be asking yourself what the use of all the previous information is. We’re getting there, don’t worry!
Muscle growth is encouraged by stimulating them in different ways. So how should you train? Well, that all depends on your personal goals and aspirations.
In general, loading your muscles with 60-75% of your 1RM (the maximum weight you can handle for 1 rep) for a duration of 8 to 12 reps. However, it is entirely possible to gain more muscle mass with fewer reps.
Lifting up to 75% of your 1RM is recommended to beginners, though. Why? Well, because beginners often have no idea how to handle heavy weights. Therefore, one of the first things you should do when you’re starting in the gym, is determining your 1RM.
So, do you just go ahead and try to pick up a tremendously heavy weight? Well, that’s one way to determine your 1RM, but I would not recommend it because of the risk of injury.
Let’s say that you’re performing a set of 80 lbs squats, consisting of 10 reps. You can then make it easy for yourself if you take a look at the pyramid above. This 80 lbs is 75% of your 1RM, therefore your 1RM equals about 107 lbs.
Most hypertrophy workouts are carried out at 60-75% of the 1RM, often in 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps. It is important to lower the weight slowly (1-2 seconds) during what is called the eccentric phase. The concentric phase, should be explosive and short. To clarify: the weight should be moved with a lot of force.
Always keep a good form in mind. If you can’t carry out an exercise while using proper form, you will have to lower the weight.
Good exercises that promote hypertrophy include heavy compound exercises, as well as isolation exercises. The combination of both allows for muscles to be stimulated in multiple ways.
And what about rest?
Indeed, let us not forget about recovery. Most research states that about 48-72 hours is needed for muscles to fully recover. It can differ from person to person, though. Some people recover faster.
Muscle recovery is just one part of the recovering process, though. Strength training can really tax your central nervous system, which sometimes requires up to 96 hours (4 days) to fully recover. You don’t want to go too far with your workouts.
It’s important to listen to your body. If it has been 48 hours since your last workout and you’re barely able to move because your muscles are sore, just take the day off or do some light exercises.
Hypertrophy Post Injury
Training for hypertrophy isn’t something you can blindly start. If you want to start working out after an injury, it is recommended that you don’t immediately start trying to build muscle mass.
Recovering from injury requires three elements to be trained.
Hypertrophy training is classified as strength training. However, the first thing you should be training when you’re fresh from injury, is stability. You can then slowly start training endurance, speed and strength.
Keep in mind that these exercises should be done with about 50-60% of your 1RM, for the duration of 15-20 reps per set. This way, you won’t tax your muscles too much, but you’re still able to train the movements that are required to train with heavier weights later on.
Remember to always perform these workouts together with a physiotherapist.
Hypertrophy in a nutshell is the strengthening of connective tissues and muscle fibers. This causes muscles to become more compact, harder and stronger.
The most common way to accomplish muscle hypertrophy, is to do workouts with weights between 60 and 80% of your 1RM. You can calculate your 1RM with the first pyramid in this article.
Furthermore, studies have also shown that a lower amount of reps with more weight can lead to more hypertrophy. Lifting heavy increases strength and therefore muscle mass. I will be exploring this topic in a future post.
Please, leave your thoughts or questions in the comment section below!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is hypertrophy?
Hypertrophy is an increase in type II muscle fiber size, and therefore muscles in general.
How do you promote hypertrophy?
Generally speaking, loading your muscles with 60-75% of your 1RM for 3-5 sets, with a duration of 8-12 reps is very effective to promote muscle growth.
What exercises are best for hypertrophy?
A combination of heavy compound exercises and isolation exercises has proven to be the best way to stimulate muscle growth.