training

The Ultimate Guide: Understanding & Creating Muscle Hypertrophy

April 14, 2016 David McAuliff

Far too often in the world of gyms & training, the basics are abandoned in favor of what is new, sexy & exciting. We live in a clickbait world where you’re either doing whatever is #trending, or you’re falling behind your peers and competitors. Now, this may be true in the worlds of tech, engineering, or marketing. But when it comes to adding functional strength and symmetrical, rock-hard muscle… the basics are what you need.  The tried and true heavy compound movements such as squat, bench press, and deadlifts will bring the muscle mass you desire. Let’s break down what exactly is meant my muscle growth (hypertrophy) and look at its types.Then we’ll examine muscle fibers and learn  we desire.

Muscle Hypertrophy

First off, let’s get down to the basics. What exactly is Muscle Hypertrophy?  Simply put, it’s best defined as the growth of muscle cells. This why we train, rest, supplement, and eat like we do – so our muscle cells can grow. The opposite of this would be muscle loss, resulting from times when protein breakdown exceeds protein synthesis. Your goal, muscle growth, is attained when you are able to adjust factors so that your protein synthesis exceeds any protein loss. You do this by training with mechanical overload, or in other words, lifting heavy weights. Protein synthesis can also be attained through anabolic hormone stimulation, but that’s a topic for another day. Let’s stick with the training!

Slow vs. Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers

Your muscles are actually made of two differing kinds of muscle fibers.  Fast-twitch fibers are used when you lift fast & heavy. They tire quickly, but are responsible for the 1RM and other low repetition, extremely high weight lifts. These fibers have the greatest potential for muscle size growth. This is why we’re predominantly trained to lift heavy – to grow big and strong. The other kind of muscle fibers are known as slow-twitch muscle fibers.  They aren’t stimulated until you reach the 10 to 12 to 15 repetition per set range.  They have more stamina and are dense in capillaries. Slower twitch fibers have the least potential for size growth. Many lifters training for decades with light weight never really gain new muscle mass because they’re targeting these slower-twitch muscle fibers. 

Mechanical Tension

We grow our muscles through the use of mechanical tension. When you pick up a deadlift bar and you can just feel the forces of gravity pulling the bar to the earth – and you move the weight anyway – you’re exerting a great deal of force upon that bar. Your ligaments, joints and bones are enjoying some of the workload of well, but they will grow.  Your muscles will! Using a full range of motion on your repetitions ensures the greatest possible amount of mechanical tension and maximum number of muscle fibers being stretched to that bottom position. Recruit the most possible muscle fibers, and you’ll create the most possible muscle growth. 

Muscle Damage

If you’ve experienced extreme soreness following your workout, then you already know what Muscle Damage feels like. Muscle fibers are torn or broken as you train.  In the 48 to 72 hours following a workout, these fibers repair, rebuild and regrow. If you have an adequate amount of amino acids in your body (from eating a diet rich in the right kinds of proteins), then your muscles will rebuild bigger, stronger, and thicker than they were before your workout. Continual and sustained training over weeks, months, and years leads to long-term muscle growth which can be spotted from a great distance as your body takes on pounds of new muscle, and a brand new look as well!

Number One Factor For Muscle Growth

Progressive overload is without a doubt, the single most important factor to consider when adding mechanical resistance training to the body. Training with a weight you’ve already mastered will result in no new muscle growth. Only by adding a small amount of weight to each workout – and forcing your body to grow to meet the demands of said training – will you be able to grow your muscles to grow in the long term. However, you must continually focus upon making this workload greater with each passing workout.  Once the muscles adapt to workout X, then your next workout needs to be X + 1. Then X + 2 should follow. Continually strive to force your body to move new weights for new numbers of repetitions with each workout, and you’ll continually grow. 

Determining Your Limits

Taking a look at the mirror, family members, and measuring your wrists and other joints can give you a pretty good idea as to how you’re basically “put together” in the genetic sense. Some lifters respond better to training than others. Some discover the ever-important mind-muscle connection faster than others, and grow faster as a result.  Whatever your genetic starting line will be (and they’re all different), it’s most important to remember that you’re only competing against yourself. It doesn’t matter than Ronnie Coleman had more muscle mass naturally by Senior Year of high school than most of us will attain in a lifetime – what matters is how much bigger & stronger we grow each year compared to our previous selves. 

Bringing It Together

It is up to you, as the intelligent lifter, to combine the knowledge you’ve gained into a long term muscle growth plan. Focus on the use of mechanical tension (lifting heavy weights) to mostly stimulate your fast-twitch muscle fibers (using heavy weight for low repetitions) in order to obtain muscle hypertrophy (increases of muscle size and strength). Your journey will differ from that of everyone else in the gym, but if you’re able to consistently increase the weight you’re using (progressive overload), your body will have no choice but to grow to meet the demands that you place upon it. Good luck!



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