In the world of fitness and nutrition, there’s a lot of terminology. Hypertrophy training refers to exercise with the intent to increase muscle size and volume. However, this doesn’t mean that hypertrophy training is simple strength training. There’s actually a surprisingly complex amount that goes into this excellent workout pattern.
What Is Hypertrophy Training
Hypertrophy training is a specialized form of training geared towards muscle growth. Muscle-building exercises are those which expose the muscles of the body repeatedly to resistance. This resistance can be found in exercise machines, free weights, or bodyweight exercises.
Hypertrophy Training vs. Strength Training
Hypertrophy training resembles regular strength training in the sense that both will, over time, lead to increased strength. However, only hypertrophy training can effectively lead to muscle growth. To illustrate this point, we will be using yoga as a comparison.
A disclaimer: Yoga is a wonderful technique, which can be used for impressive gains in strength, flexibility, and other core fitness metrics. It can also be used as a recovery tool to aid stiff or fatigued muscles. We are merely saying that hypertrophy training is more effective for physical muscle growth.
Yoga relies on a variety of poses, placing the weight of the body on various muscle groups in order to promote strength and general fitness. However, because the human body is generally capable of lifting itself, this makes it difficult to build the muscles a bodybuilder may have.
Because muscle hypertrophy occurs when the muscles are under repeated, high-level duress, it is easier with yoga to gain strength over time rather than expose the muscles to enough resistance in order to improve the quantity, rather than quality, of muscles.
How Does Muscle Growth Occur
In order to continue talking about hypertrophy training, it is important to understand specifically how muscle growth occurs. Lifting weights doesn’t immediately create muscle growth. Rather, the new muscle begins to grow after a routine is underway.
There are two key steps in muscle growth, as follows:
Stimulation: Stimulation is, of course, created by repeated contraction of the muscles during exercise. Repeated exposure to this stress causes damage to the muscle on a cellular level. This triggers a recovery response in the body, causing inflammation and increasing testosterone and other hormones associated with growth. Note that this muscular “damage” is not the same thing as damage caused by injury or overexertion, which are to be avoided.
Repair: After the body has gone to work, muscle fibers are repaired while at rest, and new muscle fibers grow in order to supplement the damaged ones.
Over time, this cycle leads to an increase in lean muscle mass. The tendons of the body will grow thicker, resulting in increased size and appearance, and bigger muscles will result in increased strength and increased possibilities for regular strength training.
Essential to the body maintaining this rhythm, aside from repeated exercise, is protein synthesis. Protein synthesis refers to the process of the body using protein to contribute to muscle growth when repairing damaged muscles.
While protein helps the body function normally, consuming high amounts of it can be especially beneficial when working towards muscle growth as a goal. Fortunately, there are plenty of interesting ways to get your daily protein without subscribing to the time-honored tradition of shakes and bars.
Types of Exercise for Hypertrophy Training
Overall, intense resistance training two to three times a week is ideal, as this provides frequent exercise while still giving ample time for recovery from the strain put on your muscles. For more productive hypertrophy training, some exercises are more conducive to growth than others. These include compound exercises that target multiple muscle groups, such as the bench press or pull-up.
It’s important, as with any exercise, not to overexert yourself. Overtraining can put you out of commission, setting you back in terms of progress and, in the worst-case scenario: causing lasting injury. Far from simply being a good source of fuel, there are plenty of foods that aid the recovery process to keep the cycle of growth and stimulation going.
Because of the recovery time demanded by hypertrophy training, exercises targeting multiple muscle groups help maximize the total volume lifted (more on that in a bit) while ensuring a full-body workout in a smaller number of days.
Additionally, if you alternate between the upper and lower body, you give affected muscle groups more days to recover, allowing you to push yourself to a greater degree on days when the muscles are in use.
How Much Should I Lift To Engage Hypertrophy
It is important to note here that there are multiple forms of hypertrophy. While there are some genetic components that can support muscle hypertrophy, for most individuals, there are two main types that are attainable:
Myofibrillar hypertrophy: This refers to hypertrophy of the small fibers which make up muscles and is best achieved by focusing on strength in your reps.
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy: This refers to the increase of sarcoplasmic fluid around the muscles, which includes energy-bearing substances like water, glycogen, and ATP.
A medium-sized rep count is essential to muscle hypertrophy. Single repetitions of a maximum weight do the most to improve strength, whereas extremely high reps of low weight do more for general endurance. Hypertrophy hits a sweet spot of six to 12 reps at a weight which is challenging but manageable. This maximizes both the volume the muscles lift and the stress that they are put under by individual reps.
Generally speaking, while any hypertrophy training will affect both previously stated types, myofibrillar hypertrophy will occur more in response to a lower rep range at a slightly higher weight and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy at a slightly higher rep range at a lower weight.
Regardless of what type you are aiming for, you should still be pushing your limits with your selected weight so that while you are not straining yourself to work out, going beyond your intended number of repetitions would be difficult.
Additional Consideration For Training
Be aware that everybody is built differently based on genetics. The way your body naturally is can affect the speed at which muscles grow, the size they grow to, as well as their overall appearance. There is no uniformly right way for muscles to grow, though proper form and regulation can assist with uneven growth across muscle groups.
During training, weight is important. However, starting at too high a weight can lead to injury. When prepping, it’s best to start with what you may think is too low a weight and increase as needed.
Also, switching up your routine can be essential for overcoming a plateau. If your body grows accustomed to the same exact routine, it may be harder to see prolonged growth without expanding the range of your workout.
Lastly, but most importantly: Stretch. It can be tempting to jump straight into lifting, especially with the amount that you’ll be doing, but stretching beforehand can improve circulation to the muscles to be worked out, as well as improve performance. All this serves to ensure you have a truly productive session and avoid injury by only causing “good damage” to your muscle fibers.
Benefits of Hypertrophy Training
Now that you have a thorough understanding of what hypertrophy training is and how to undergo it, it’s time to list some of the benefits it has to offer:
Strength: While regular strength training improves strength through muscle efficiency, hypertrophy training does the same by increasing muscle size. If eventually paired with regular strength training, it will allow a degree of power far beyond your previous reach.
Health: Exercise to increase muscle mass can help stave off the ill effects muscle loss can have in elderly individuals, who tend to see a consistent decline in muscle mass every year after entering middle age. What’s more, resistance exercise is known to even increase skeletal strength, reducing the individual's risk for osteoporosis.
Injury Prevention: Hypertrophy assists with building thicker muscles, which then become less prone to injury than less developed musculature. Additionally, having thicker tendons can give strength to protect against slip and falls and other related injuries in old age.
Energy Usage: Hypertrophy training is, in a word, intense. A massive amount of energy is burned not only by the workout itself but also by the natural process of muscle repair your body undergoes following the workout. While not a primary benefit, this can make a subtle aid in weight loss and general fitness.
Confidence: Working out and especially pushing yourself beyond what was previously possible for you to feel good. It's unsurprising that for many, the gains they feel in the gym can go beyond having a positive impact on mental health as a whole.
Final Analysis on Hypertrophy Training
Whether you want to push yourself through a plateau or add an extra layer of depth to your existing strength training, hypertrophy training is a deeply rewarding way to take your fitness to the next level. When exercising, make sure to wear the right clothes, stay hydrated, and always prioritize safety.