Hypertrophy Training

Avatar for Hadyn Luke Hadyn Luke posted this on Friday 20th of January 2023 Hadyn Luke 20/01/2023


Hypertrophy Training


Hypertrophy is the increase in the size of a muscle due to an increase in the size of its individual cells. It can occur as a result of regular exercise and proper nutrition, and is a common goal for people who engage in strength training and bodybuilding. In this blog, we will explore the processes involved in muscle contraction, the biochemical reactions that take place after training to promote hypertrophy, and some recommendations for exercises, sets, reps, tempo, and rest times for maximizing muscle growth. We will also discuss how to progress from being a beginner to an advanced trainer and provide guidance on nutrition for energy and protein.

How a muscle contracts

There are two broad types of muscle contractions: isotonic and isometric. Isotonic contractions involve movement at the joint, while isometric contractions involve no movement at the joint. However, an isotonic movement includes an isometric contraction as well as two other types of muscular contraction:

Eccentric – when the muscle is lengthening
Concentric – when the muscle is shortening
Isometric – when the muscle contracts but no movement occurs at the joint

Broadly speaking, isotonic muscle contractions are generally regarded as the primary focus when trying to achieve hypertrophy due to the stimulus provided by eccentric and concentric contractions.

The process of muscle contraction begins when a nerve impulse reaches the end of a neuron (nerve cell). The neuron releases a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine into the space between the neuron and the muscle fibre. This causes the release of calcium from storage sites within the muscle cell caused Sarcoplasmic Reticulum.

The calcium ions bind to proteins called troponin and tropomyosin, which are located on the thin filaments of the muscle cell. This causes a ‘conformational change’ in the troponin protein, which allows the tropomyosin to move out of the way of the myosin-binding sites on the actin filament. This allows the myosin heads to bind to the actin filament and initiate the process of muscle contraction which binds to receptors on the muscle fibre and triggers a contraction.

During contraction, the myosin heads bind to the actin filament and use ATP (adenosine triphosphate) to produce a “power stroke” that causes the filaments to slide past each other. This process is known as the sliding filament theory.

Chemical processes that promote hypertrophy

During and after resistance exercise, the muscles undergo microscopic tears, which trigger the process of protein synthesis. This is when the body builds new proteins to repair and rebuild the muscle tissue, leading to an increase in muscle size.

After completing resistance exercise, several biochemical processes take place to promote hypertrophy. These processes include:

Signalling pathways

When a muscle is stimulated by exercise, various signalling pathways are activated, which ultimately leads to an increase in muscle protein synthesis and hypertrophy. Some of the signalling pathways involved include the mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) pathway, the MAPK (‎Mitogen-activated protein kinase) pathway, and the AMPK (Adenosine Monophosphate Kinase) pathway.

Hormonal responses

Hormonal changes in the body can also contribute to hypertrophy. For example, increased levels of testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) can stimulate muscle growth.

Energy metabolism

During strength training, the muscles require more energy to perform the exercises, which can lead to an increase in the number of mitochondria in the muscle cells. The mitochondria are the “powerhouses” of the cell and are responsible for producing energy, so an increase in their number can contribute to muscle growth. Resistance training will also improve the muscle’s ability to store glycogen Creatine Phosphate and ATP, to help recover from exercise and refuel/replenish for the next session.

Gene expression

The process of hypertrophy involves changes in gene expression, which refers to the regulation of gene activity. Certain genes linked to inflammation, oxidative stress, and insulin signalling (to name a few) are turned on or off in response to exercise, leading to changes in muscle structure and function.

Exercise recommendations for hypertrophy

To maximise hypertrophy, it is important to choose exercises that target the major muscle groups, such as the chest, back, shoulders, arms, and legs. It is also important to include exercises that target the smaller, stabilizing muscles, such as the rotator cuff muscles, and the core muscles of the lower back, hips and pelvis.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the following guidelines should be followed when it comes to intensity, sets, and rest periods for resistance training:

Intensity: For novice to intermediate clients, a load of 70-85% of the one-repetition maximum (1RM) should be used. For advanced clients, a load of 70-100% of the 1RM should be used.

Sets: Novice to intermediate clients should perform 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions per exercise. Advanced clients should perform 3-6 sets of 1-12 repetitions per exercise.

Rest period: For exercises that use higher intensities and heavier loads, a rest period of 2-3 minutes is recommended. For lower-intensity exercises with light loads, a rest period of 1-2 minutes is recommended.

It is important to progressively increase the difficulty of your workouts by increasing the weight or resistance you use or decreasing the rest time between sets. The number of sets and reps, as well as the tempo and rest times, can be modified to suit different goals and fitness levels.

There are two main types of workouts for hypertrophy: full-body workouts and split workouts. Full-body workouts involve exercising all of the major muscle groups in a single session, while split workouts involve dividing the muscle groups into separate sessions. Both types of workouts have their benefits and can be effective for hypertrophy. Full-body workouts are more time-efficient and can be great for beginners, while split workouts can allow you to focus more on specific muscle groups and may be more suitable for advanced lifters.

In addition to targeting the major muscle groups, it is also important to include exercises that improve your overall health and functionality. This can include exercises that improve flexibility, balance, and coordination, as well as exercises that improve cardiovascular endurance. By including a variety of exercises in your workouts, you can help ensure that you are well-rounded and able to perform activities of daily living more easily.

Progressing from beginner to advanced trainer

As a beginner, it is recommended to start with bodyweight exercises and gradually add weights as you become stronger. This will allow you to get accustomed to the movements and develop proper form before adding additional challenges. Some bodyweight exercises to consider include push-ups, pull-ups, dips, squats, and lunges. However, it would also be good practice to introduce low-intensity dumbbell/barbell exercises such as bent-over rows, variations of a hip-hinge pull, and variations of different push exercises.

As you become more comfortable with your workouts, you can gradually increase the intensity and frequency of your training. This may involve increasing the number of sets, reps, or weight, or decreasing the rest time between sets. Advanced trainers may also benefit from incorporating different training methods, such as forced reps, drop sets and negatives, to challenge their muscles in different ways.

It is important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to progressing your workouts. Everyone is different, and the rate at which you progress will depend on your individual goals, fitness level, and recovery ability. It is important to listen to your body and make adjustments as needed to ensure that you are challenging yourself without overdoing it.

Variables of Hypertrophy

  • Volume (sets, reps): For example, performing 3 sets of 8-12 reps of a given exercise can lead to greater muscle activation and hypertrophy compared to performing only 1 set of 8 reps.
  • Intensity (weight, % of 1RM): For example, lifting a weight that is 70-80% of your 1-rep max for a given exercise can lead to greater muscle activation and hypertrophy compared to lifting a weight that is only 50% of your 1-rep max.
  • Frequency (training days per week): For example, training a muscle group 2-3 times per week can lead to greater muscle activation and hypertrophy compared to only training it once per week.
  • Tempo (speed of movement): For example, performing a bicep curl with a 3-second eccentric (lowering) phase and a 1-second concentric (lifting) phase can lead to greater muscle activation and hypertrophy compared to performing the exercise with a quicker tempo.
  • Rest intervals: For example, taking 2-3 minutes of rest between sets of a given exercise can lead to greater muscle recovery and therefore greater hypertrophy compared to only taking 30 seconds of rest between sets.
  • Exercise selection and variation: For example, including a variety of exercises such as barbell squats, lunges, and leg press in a leg workout can target different muscle fibers and lead to greater overall hypertrophy compared to only performing squats.
  • Nutrition (caloric intake, macronutrient ratios): For example, consuming a diet with a calorie surplus and adequate protein intake (1.6-2.2 g/kg body weight) can support muscle growth and recovery.
    • Eat a balanced diet: In addition to getting enough protein, it is important to consume a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. A well-balanced diet can help provide the energy you need to fuel your workouts and support muscle growth and repair.
    • Eat frequent, small meals: Instead of eating three large meals a day, consider dividing your daily intake into smaller, more frequent meals. This can help keep your energy levels stable and prevent overeating.
    • Include protein with every meal: Make sure to include protein in every meal and snack to help support muscle growth and repair. Good sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans, and tofu.
    • Eat pre- and post-workout snacks: Consuming a small snack before and after your workouts can help provide energy and support muscle recovery. Some good options include a banana and a handful of nuts before your workout, and a protein shake or Greek yoghurt with fruit after your workout.
    • Stay hydrated: Proper hydration is important for optimizing muscle function and performance. Aim to drink about 15-30ml per Kg of body weight per day, and more if you are exercising or in a hot environment.
    • Micronutrient intake: Certain vitamins and minerals are important for muscle function and repair. These include vitamins D, C, and E, as well as minerals such as calcium, zinc, and magnesium. It is generally recommended to get these nutrients from whole foods rather than supplements, but a multivitamin may be helpful if you are unable to meet your nutrient needs through food alone, but always consult a GP before doing so.
  • Sleep and recovery: For example, getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night and allowing for proper recovery time between workouts can support muscle repair and growth.
  • Hormonal response: For example, engaging in high-intensity resistance training can increase testosterone levels, which can support muscle growth and hypertrophy.
  • Genetics: For example, individuals with a greater proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers may have a greater potential for hypertrophy in response to resistance training compared to individuals with a greater proportion of slow-twitch muscle fibers.

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