Whether your goal is to get muscular, tone up or just generally fitter and healthier, gaining muscle mass is important to your overall goal.a
So, let’s discuss the concept of Hypertrophy
Just what is hypertrophy?
Hypertrophy refers to cellular growth. The opposite of hypertrophy is atrophy and in biological terms, atrophy refers to a degeneration of cells.
In order for muscles to grow, the muscle cells must be in a state of hypertrophy.
Several things need to happen in order for muscular hypertropy to happen including:
Response to stress – Ever work out and feel sore a day or two after? That soreness is called DOMS which is an acronym for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. DOMS are tiny micro tears in muscle fibres. The body generally adapts to continued stress as a coping mechanism. In the case of working out, the more often you tear your muscle fibres down with the right amount of training coupled with adequate rest and good nutrition, the better your body responds to this stress.
The way the body responds to the stress of repeat breakdown of muscle fibres from exercise is to rebuild the muscle stronger (And bigger) so it is harder to break down.
In other words, for effective muscular hypertrophy, you’re going to need to put the muscle under the correct stress for the right amount of time for your body.
Resistance training (usually weight training) offers the best type of training to stimulate muscular hypertrophy.
But not all exercise is created equal. There are things that happen on a cellular level that need to be taken into account. Under the right kind of stress, the body releases hormones and chemicals collectively known as metabolites which include lactate. That burn you feel when you work out is a sign that your body has released lactate into the blood stream. Along with the “pump” you feel during a workout, you’ve got good signs that you’ve stimulated a process called protein synthesis (which is pretty much the building of new muscle cells).
The muscles have cells around called sattelite cells which when activated, increase protein synthesis and hypertrophy. It is important that these cells are activated through training – The right type of training will do this. This is why not everyone that works out and feels sore will grow in the same way as another person for example, a marathon runner looks very different to a sprinter because of cellular adaptations to stress.
Rest – So training and tearing your muscles by increasing muscular tension is important but does that mean spending hours in the gym tearing your muscles down is the key? Actually, the truth is, muscles don’t grow when you train. Training is the worst thing you can do for muscle growth (stay with me here… I know I sounded like I’m contradicting myself) You see training breaks down muscle as we know and you can’t build something up if it’s constantly being broken down.
Training stimulates the cellular pathways for muscles to grow and it’s after training that the process begins. That’s why most experts agree you shouldn’t train the same body part back to back because you’re not giving it enough time to recover and repair.
Along with rest, you’ll need to make sure your nutrition is on point too. There are two major things to considder.
Calories – Firstly, you’re going to want to eat food! In order to build muscle. Most people are familiar with a calorie deficit to lose weight but in order to pack on the muscle, you’ll need to be in a calorie surplus. Now, before you sit down at the all you can eat buffet, If you eat too many calories than you’re using you will gain body fat and traditionally there’s a trade off between gaining muscle and a bit of body fat and losing body fat and not gaining (or even losing a bit of) muscle.
Although there are strategies you can employ to help boost muscle gain whilst burning fat, all you need to know now is to gain weight the same way as you would try to lose it, slowly, therefore, a surplus of 200-500 calories per day would be enough for most people.
Protein – Everyone knows now that protein is important to muscle gain thanks to the marketing companies and magazines doing a grand old job promoting protein supplements and weight gainers and it goes without saying, in order for muscles to grow and for you to have protein synthesis in the body, you’ll need to eat protein, and a fair bit of it too – but why?
Protein ingested by the body is broken down into amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle in particular, Branch Chain Amino Acids. Out of the branch chain amino acids, the amino acid Leucine has a profound effect on muscle sytnhesis and although BCAA supplements are all the rage, you can get Leucine from foods such as cheese, soy, beef and chicken.
You’ll probably need between 1.7-2g of protein per lbs of body weight along with a good training reigime, adequate rest and calories.
A little bit more about training.
We’ve already outlined the importance of Resistance Training for hypertrophy but there’s more to it then just lifting weights. Training variables are also important. Training variables are things you can change to effect an exercise and increase something known as progressive overload
Progressive overload is important to improving ones fitness levels as well as physique as it keeps the body from adapting and getting used to one type of stimulant.
The most ovbious training variable is load. In otherwords, how much you’re lifting and it goes without saying, the stronger you get and the more your muscles adapt, the more weight you should be able to lift but load is only one of the variables and it may also not be the most important (in isolation anyway)
Time under tension – Time under tension refers to how long your muscles remain tense and muscle grows with time under tension. You can throw the heaviest weights up and down but if you can’t keep the muscle under tension for at least 4 or 5 seconds, then your going to be gaining strength but not maximising hypertrophy.
The following video does more justice than words on the subject of time under tension.
Other variables that are important are sets, reps and rest – Typically, wth hypertrophy workouts, you want to be working at 60-80% intensity for reps of between 8-12 depending on the body part you’re working out with a set range of at least 3 sets typically.
That is why you’ll see a lot of programmes prescribe an exercise with 3 sets of 10 reps and although there are some training programmes which work on higher set ranges such as German Volume Training (Which require 10 sets for the main exercise), 3-4 sets is typically a good range.
I’m going to finish off this article with really why any of this matters