Muscle Hypertrophy

How to Stimulate Muscle Hypertrophy (Build Muscle)

The chances are you’ve heard a lot of different things about muscle growth, or “hypertrophy”. You might have picked some of these things up in body-building magazines or gym locker-rooms, and they might include ideas like:

  • Muscles respond differently to certain types of training
  • Tension means everything in muscle growth
  • Some muscle growth is better than others

I know I hear this stuff all the time!

So, what’s the real story?

If you’re confused, don’t worry. The truth is that muscle hypertrophy is a complicated topic, but here we’re going to get down to the bare bones. With this article, you’re going to get the Marc Dressen insight into what muscle Hypertrophy means, and how you can stimulate better muscle growth.

In this article, we’ll show you how to stimulate hypertrophy, so you can go back to your online fitness trainer and start showing off your progress. We’ll define muscle hypertrophy, tell you how to make hypertrophy happen, and discuss the best weight lifting solutions for results-driven muscle building.

Defining Muscle Hypertrophy

Hypertrophy sounds like a super scientific word, but it’s just the increase in size of an organ or tissue that happens through the enlargement of bodily cells. In other words, it means building muscles. When people talk about muscle hypertrophy, they’re often talking about two specific types, known as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, and myofibrillar hypertrophy.

To begin our journey into the world of hypertrophy, let’s look at the term “myofibrillar”. The word “Myo” means “muscle”, while “fibril” relates to a cellular structure a lot like threads of fibres. Myofibrils are something that is made up of a number of proteins that can simply contract, and they can allow muscles to function normally. Every muscle fibre contains a number of myofibrils.

In other words, myofibrillar hypertrophy refers to an increase in the number and size of the myofibrils in your muscle fibres. This increase enhances the force with which your muscles can contract.

Now, let’s move onto sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Sacro is a term that’s used to refer to “flesh”, while “plasmic” means plasma – the gel-like substance found in cells that contain a range of different elements essential to life. This means that sarcoplasm is the elements of muscle cells that are made up of plasma, including glycogen, proteins, collagen, water, and a range of other substances.

From the description above, you can probably deduce that sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is an increase of volume within the non-contractile and fluid components of the muscle.

Making Hypertrophy Happen

There are three different ways that I help my clients stimulate hypertrophy. The first is with progressive tension overload. This process refers to increasing the amount of tension in your muscle fibres, by increasing the amount of weight you lift over time.

The second option, is through muscle damage. This sounds a lot worse than it is, but it means causing micro-tears in your muscles through constant hard work. These microtears heal with the right rest and nutrition, and help your body to adapt and grow stronger.

The third option, is metabolic stress. The process of metabolic stress refers to working muscle fibres to their absolute limits through the repetition of various actions. You can think of this, and the other two options above as pathways to muscle growth, and they can be altered by how you train. One example is that heavy weightlifting emphasises the progressive tension overload and muscle damage in your body. Alternatively, working with lighter rep ranges emphasises metabolic stress.

Research suggests that progressive tension overload is the most important pathway of all for building muscle. If you want to build muscle fast, then you simply need to keep adding muscle to your bar over time.

Is Heavy or Light Weightlifting Better?

When it comes to muscle hypertrophy, you can build muscle with both light and heavy weightlifting. However, if you want to enhance muscle growth, then you’ll need to maximise your training with moderate volume and heavy loads. This means using about 80% of your 1RM.

A good example of the approach can be seen in a study conducted by scientists in central Florida. Researchers separated 33 physically-active men into two groups. The first group did four workouts a week in their 70 of 1RM range, while the other did four workouts a week in their 90% of 1RM range. The first group followed the “high-volume” moderate intensity body building routine. The second group went for moderate volume, and high intensity. The result was that the high-intensity group ended up with far more strength and muscle than the high-volume group.

If you’re wondering why the group with the heavier weights did better even though the other group worked out more often, the reasons are twofold. The first reason is that there were greater amounts of mechanical stress imposed on the muscles. This meant higher amounts of metabolic stress. Because there was more metabolic stress, the muscle fibres were more activated, leading to greater results across a larger percentage of muscle tissue.

How Frequently to Train Muscle Groups?

The chances are that you’ve heard before that training frequency is a lot like protein intake. Some people think that training a single major muscle group once a week is just like eating a low protein diet – both of these things harm your muscle growth. However, this isn’t true.

Increasing the frequency of your training just so that you can say you’re working out more often isn’t going to do amazing things for your results. Training countless times per week might not be better for gaining muscle, and how frequently you should train generally depends on the volume and intensity of your specific workouts.

The overarching rule when it comes to building muscle, is that the higher the intensity and volume of your individual workouts, the less frequently you’ll need to do them. In other words, if you want to increase the intensity of your training, then you might need to decrease the volume. However, if you decrease the intensity, you can increase the volume, and so on.

The Truth About Hypertrophy

Simply put, science tells us that building muscle and reaching your training goals isn’t as complicated as it might seem. Researchers will continue to advance our knowledge on how we can optimise our muscle-building results. However, most normal people who just want to be lean, muscular, and strong will already have the know-how they need from the guidelines above.

All you need to do is:

  • Focus on heavy weightlifting in your training
  • Focus on multiple compound exercises
  • Make sure that you’re always challenging yourself to accomplish more.

Marc Dressen
Personal Trainer London

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