If you’re interested in building muscle, you should most certainly be familiar with this term…
What is hypertrophy?
The enlargement of an organ or tissue from the increase in size of its cells. In our case, we are specifically talking about the increase in muscle tissue.
Accomplished by the expansion of the sarcoplasm (the cytoplasm of the muscle) inside the muscle fiber. Ultimately, the focus here is increased capacity for muscles to store glycogen.
Accomplished via the growth and multiplication of the myofibrils inside each muscle fiber. The myofibrils are the actual “motors” of the muscle fiber, made up of contractile proteins that make the muscle fiber contract. The main point here is the increase in size of myofibrils.
Let’s focus on sarcoplasmic hypertrophy first. So, we now know that it causes increased glycogen storage in the muscles…but how do we get there? Simply put – volume and time under tensions (TUT). When our aim is sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, we will need a program that includes high reps, short rest periods, more overall volume per body part than what a traditional strength training approach may prescribe. With this approach, we do not care much about the number on the plates or dumbbells…we are more concerned about how many times we can lift the weight and how long each set is lasting. In fact, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is thought to have very little actual effect on strength at all!
Now on to myofibrillar hypertrophy. How DO we blow up those myofibrils? Well, it’s really just the exact opposite approach as achieving sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. What you want now is heavy weight, lower rep ranges, and longer rest periods when needed. Simple as that! We want big, heavy exercises with explosive concentric movements.
Ok…so what do we DO with this knowledge? Well, first let’s define our goals. Is your primary focus getting bigger, or stronger? Contrary to popular belief, these are not necessarily the same goal. If you just want to blow up and get that pumped Mr. Olympia look, I suggest you focus on a program that will offer more sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. If, instead, you want to get downright STRONG…choose a program that is centered around compound exercises with low rep ranges and heavy weight.
My advice? Don’t settle for one or the other! Even if your main goal is to be super jacked and you don’t really care much about how much you can actually lift, you will eventually need to increase the amount of weight you lift in those high-volume sessions. If you just want to be Super Man and lift the house, it will still benefit you to increase your overall muscle size. So…why not have the best of both worlds? Rotate between a high volume and low volume program. Every other month, every two months, hell…every other week. Even better, if your training style allows for hitting every muscle group at least twice per week…make every other workout the opposite of what you did last time. For instance, if you trained chest and triceps on Monday with sets of 12-20 and short rest intervals…then when you hit those same muscle groups again on Friday, drop the reps and increase the weight.
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of what hypertrophy is, the different types, and how to apply this knowledge to your workouts.