Muscle Hypertrophy is the scientific name for the process by which your skeletal muscles grow as a result of exercise, specifically resistance (weight) training.
Simply put, the cells of your body respond to minor damage done to your muscle fibers during physical exertion by repairing this damage during periods of rest and building up the muscle fibers to be able to better withstand similar stress in the future.
Your body has an amazing ability to adapt. If you lift a 30-pound dumbbell 10 times today, in a few days you’ll be able to lift 30 pounds 12 times, and eventually 35 pounds.
Your body will respond and adapt to the physical demands you and your training or coaching client, place on it, in this case, by growing bigger and stronger. Side note, the example above is an oversimplification of progressive resistance, one of the most effective methods to encourage hypertrophy.
When developing a training plan for a client there are some key points to remember and put in place as you structure the right programme:
Most people don’t realize that there are two different types of muscle hypertrophy:
- Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy – Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy involves training that increases the volume of the non-contractile muscle cell fluid, sarcoplasm. In this sort of muscle hypertrophy, you’re focused on increasing the size of the muscle. However, most of this growth is based on liquid and not on real muscle tissue growth. With Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy, your muscle cells fill up with a fluid called Sarcoplasm. This expands the size of the cells, which gives you the appearance of bigger muscles. These often look rounded and not toned as the muscles expand similar to small water-filled balloons. In addition, since most of the growth is based on the liquid, this type of hypertrophy does not bring with it additional strength.
- Myofibrillar Hypertrophy – Myofibrillar hypertrophy is the growth of muscle contractile parts. This type of muscular hypertrophy results in an increase in muscle tissue density. You’re adding more muscle fibers, making the tissue denser. As more fibers are created, your strength and physical ability increase, often dramatically. However, this muscle growth is less visible as the muscles do not grow outwardly as much as they do with Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy. However, the muscles may appear firmer and more defined with this type of growth.
Do you need to pick one over the other? The reality is that no exercise is entirely one or the other, but a combination of the two. You can, however, do exercises that favor either sarcoplasmic hypertrophy or myofibrillar.
Your choice depends on what your training goals are. If your goal is to become a bodybuilder, you should focus on achieving sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. If you are a strength athlete, you would want to focus on myofibrillar hypertrophy, to maximize your strength without having to carry excess mass, although some athletes may need both.
Each type of hypertrophy has its place and serves different goals: aesthetic and functional ones. For the best body, you need to combine the two.
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