How to maximise hypertrophy, also known as an increase in muscle cross sectional area (or simply put – growth, gains) is an important consideration for many athletes or weekend warriors. An increase in hypertrophy often results in a more favourable body composition, increase in strength levels and an increased metabolic rate.
Research suggests two primary methods for stimulating hypertrophy;
1. Increased mechanical stress on the muscle tissue
and 2. Depletion of intramuscular energy due to metabolic demands.
These two demands on the body ultimately lead to increased protein synthesis which results in muscle hypertrophy.
Increasing mechanical stress on muscle tissue involves the use of resistance training. Eccentric muscle contractions (where the muscle is lengthening whilst under tension, such as the hamstrings in the Romanian Deadlift), place the highest mechanical stress on muscle tissue, and therefore are important in gaining hypertrophy.
Training volume can be defined as sets x reps, and is an important consideration for hypertrophy. Volume is a strong stimulus for muscle growth as it causes an increase in anabolic (growth) hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone. Higher volumes with moderate loads stimulate these hormones to the greatest degree, so ensure when you are training hypertrophy that you are using high volume, moderate intensity in your workout.
An example of this would be 4 x 10 reps with a 60% maximal load. Research has demonstrated that rest intervals of 1 minute or less produces higher levels of anabolic hormones during the workout compared to 3 minutes rest. So keep your volume high and your rest times short!
There are a few factors that affect the effectiveness of your hypertrophy training.
Genetics is a big factor; this affects resting hormone levels, performance abilities and motor control under fatigue. This is the reason why you can be doing the exact same hypertrophy programme as your mate, same loadings, rest and everything, yet you both achieve differing results.
Training experience can also affect hypertrophy as with experience, the body requires more extreme stimuli to achieve the same results. So if you are wondering why your newbie mate is improving his maximum squat week-on-week and growing massive quads in the meantime whilst you are stuck on the same loading with minimal growth each month, that'll be why. Try adding in more volume and a greater variety of exercises to give the body something new to adapt to.
Eating goes hand in hand with hypertrophy training. The increase in anabolic hormonal profile caused by the high volume training, means the body needs plenty of protein to meet the requirements for protein synthesis and subsequent growth. Additionally, a well balanced diet with plenty of nutritional density will be required to meet the training demands.
High volume training is hard work! So you need to give it the respect it deserves by fuelling up effectively to make sure you get through those tough sessions without cutting down any of the volume.
Aim to record your hypertrophy gains. There is nothing more satisfying than tracking your workout using a training log. Additionally, try taking before and after measurements of limb girths so you can see your size increases and enjoy the benefits of all your hard work!