Hypertrophy, the process of growing bigger and stronger muscles, plays an important role in training. If you’re looking to bulk up and gain size, then learn more about hypertrophy and how to incorporate it into your training.
What is hypertrophy?
Aaptiv Trainer Jennifer Giamo explains, “Hypertrophy simply means an increase in muscle size due to the growth of muscle cells.” Your muscles are made of fiber. When stimulated properly, they can increase in size.
Taking a more in-depth look at hypertrophy, it can be divided into two types: myofibrillar hypertrophy and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Myofibrillar increases the number of myofibrils in the muscle fiber, as well as its size. This helps you get stronger.
On the other hand, sarcoplasmic is the increase in the volume of fluid in your muscles, which takes up 25-30 percent of your muscle tissue. This means the space between the muscle fibers expands, so you look bigger.
What are the benefits of hypertrophy?
One of the reasons people prioritize hypertrophy is because they want to get bigger muscles. By constantly stimulating the muscles in training, you will be able to pack on size.
Increased Strength and Power
Giamo lists improvement in your strength and power as another benefit of hypertrophy training. Setting your fitness goals, whether you to complete a 200-pound squat or be able to bench your body weight, is a great way to try to lift heavier and move more weight. You’ll have a greater work capacity.
Increased Caloric Expenditure
Another reason to start hypertrophy training is that you’ll be able to increase your caloric expenditure. Weight loss and gain all come down to the number of calories going into your body (through eating or drinking) and coming out (due to activity such as exercise). Amping up your training will help you burn an increasing number of calories, which aids in weight loss.
How to Include Hypertrophy in Your Training
Your body responds to strength training. Adding this stress to the body will cause your muscle fibers to adapt so that the next time you do the same exercises, they’ll be easier and take less effort.
Progressive Tension Overload
In this case, it’s important that you’re applying progressive tension overload. This means adding something to your exercises so that your body can grow. For example, there’s no use in always doing three sets of ten squats at 100 pounds. After a while, your muscles will adapt and become used to this exercise, so there’s nothing challenging them to trigger a response. Be sure to make the exercises harder for yourself each week.
There are different ways to change your workout and cause progressive tension overload. If you want to achieve sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, aim for high reps and low weight. The focus here is on muscle endurance as opposed to strength.
Myofibrillar hypertrophy prioritizes strength, advocating low reps and high weight. By doing fewer reps—anything from one to eight is a good range—and focusing on heavier weight, you’ll cause muscle fiber damage. When your body repairs the damaged muscles, it’ll also strengthen them, and you’ll get stronger and bigger. Giamo recommends “lifting heavier weights for fewer repetitions with a rest period of one to two minutes between sets” to really maximize results.
The American Physiological Society ran a study that tested the effects of strength conditioning on older men. Twelve participants were given a 12-week training program and then tested at the halfway mark as well as at the conclusion of the program. The researchers found that “strength gains in older men were associated with significant muscle hypertrophy and an increase in myofibrillar protein turnover.”
Women, we haven’t forgotten about you! The APS conducted a similar study with elderly women engaging in a 12-week resistance training program. They also found that muscle hypertrophy contributed to the participants’ increase in muscle strength.
In saying that, only go as heavy as you can while still executing the movement with good form and technique. If you start to compensate by using other muscles to complete the exercise, you’re missing the purpose of the movement and increasing the risk of injury. Really focus on that mind-muscle connection while training so that you know you’re targeting the intended muscles.
Give yourself enough rest time.
Don’t train the same muscle groups twice in a row. If you’re training properly, your muscle tissues need time to recover and repair. Working on your arms frequently won’t make them grow faster. In fact, it’ll have the opposite effect and actually slow down the growth process. So make sure you give your muscles at least one day of rest in between hypertrophy workouts. This downtime will help you get the most out of your training.
Don’t be afraid to do cardio, too.
There’s a common misconception that if you want to build muscle, you need to stay away from cardio. “There are many benefits from doing steady-state cardio, and [you can] still maintain muscle gains,” Giamo says. “The adaptations that occur when doing low-intensity cardio—increased stroke volume, venous return, and capillary density—help to combat fatigue and allow your muscles to recover.”
Remember, it’s a slow process.
Muscle growth doesn’t happen overnight. Growing muscle takes a lot of time and dedication. You need to consistently push yourself in training—as long as it’s safe—to challenge yourself and trigger muscle growth.
Other factors, including sleep, play an important role in hypertrophy as well. Make sure you’re getting enough rest at night so that your body can fully recover. Not enough high-quality sleep on a regular basis will be a detriment to your progress. Be sure to take care of your overall health—physical and mental—so that your body can function at its highest level. If you focus on the full package in your training, benefits like hypertrophy will come along, too.