What is it and how do we achieve it? You may have heard the term hypertrophy training around the gym and online when people talk about weights and strength training programs. The word hypertrophy means: “the increase in the volume of an organ or tissue due to the enlargement of its component cells.” As you have probably guessed muscle hypertrophy training is referring to training programs that increase the size of our muscles. To achieve muscle hypertrophy you must train the muscle specifically to make it want to grow. Training for hypertrophy can be achieved via many different systems of training. The key to muscle hypertrophy is creating an environment for the muscle where you are stimulating an adaptive response that increases the ability of the muscle to generate force or resist fatigue in anaerobic conditions.
To optimally achieve this there must be progressive overload and consistent stimulation. The principle of progressive overload is that you increase the working load gradually over time so your muscles accommodate for the additional resistance with the objective of gaining muscle mass via strength increase. An example of this would be that on every exercise you do each week you will be either increasing the load (weight on the bar) or increasing the volume (the amount of reps and or sets) if you can aim for even 2.5% increase each week, over 12 months you will have made substantial gains on your lifts. If you lift the same weights week in and week out you will remain the same week in and week out. It’s important to remember just because you are sore or what is better known as DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) after your workout does not mean you have stimulated hypertrophy, as other training will bring this on also so chasing this feeling is not what stimulates growth. Going to gym and guessing your way through a session or training to get sore is not always going to get you the best result.
Another thing to note is Periodisation Training programs, these have been shown to stimulate more muscle hypertrophy on top of progressive overload. Periodised training programs normally consist of three parts. They are setup in a fashion that has a set period (normally 4 to 6 weeks) that loads the muscle to the point of what is called over reaching. Then a period of de-load (normally 1 to 2 weeks) where either the weight, or volume or both is reduced allowing the muscle to recover but still stimulated. Then another period of loading is introduced and so on. These programs can range anywhere from 12 weeks to 12 months.
On the World Wide Web there are literally thousands of training programs, each touting themselves as the greatest. There is no ‘one’ greatest training system, it comes down to what works best for you and they all certainly have their pros and cons. The ideal program is one you can maintain physically without injury and mentally without causing long term nervous system and immune system fatigue.
Some things to keep in mind when you are choosing your program:
1) What is your main goal?
2) What training frequency suits you? ie. How many days a week you want to train.
3) What style of training do you prefer? ie. Olympic lifting, Strongman, Power lifting, Weight lifting or Weight training.
4) Is it sustainable for the length of the program?
Something you should notice with all good hypertrophy training programs is that they focus on the five or six main lifts, Bench Press, Squats, Over Head Press, Deadlifts, Rows and Pullups/Pulldowns. These are known as compound exercises. Though most programs will incorporate isolation movements (biceps curl, triceps extension, lateral raises etc) it is the compound exercises that should be the focus.
In summary, muscle hypertrophy can and will be achieved if you follow the basic guidelines and fundamentals of training.
- Stimulate adaptive response by maintaining progressive overload.
- Incorporate a periodised training system.
- Focus on compound movements.
- Don’t chase DOMS.
- Follow the program.
- Be consistent.
It is these key factors that have never and will never change.