Hypertrophy. If you’ve been hanging out at any gym, I’m sure you’ve heard that term tossed around a few times. The concept of hypertrophy is getting quite trendy among gym goths and gym addicts. In fact, you might have even seen some ripped dudes mentioning hypertrophy as they discuss their gains and ultimate fitness goals.
Make no mistake. The reason why you’re hearing that term more frequently is because it’s a real thing. It is not some sort of fad diet or overly hyped supplement or weight loss system. Hypertrophy is rooted in the science of muscle building and maintenance. It’s the real deal.
Don’t mistake the hype for lack of substance. In this case, where there is smoke, there’s definitely fire.
What is hypertrophy anyway? Hypertrophy describes the physiological process where a muscle tissue or organ is enlarged by increasing its cell’s size. There’s a lot of initial confusion between hypertrophy and hyperplasia.
Hyperplasia refers to growing tissue or muscle mass by boosting the number of muscle cells. Hypertrophy bulks you up by just boosting the muscle cells you already have. You don’t have to increase the amount of muscle mass you have.
Instead, hypertrophy enables you to just get big with the same amount of cells.
How to trigger hypertrophy
Increasing the size of each muscle cell in certain areas of your body involves a careful process. How you eat as well as how you train must line up with this process. It all boils down to boosting the number of certain proteins contained in your muscle’s fiber.
I know this sounds like rocket science. But it really all boils down to working out the right way to increase the effect of the “contractile proteins” myosin and actin. You also have to eat right to increase the amount of these compounds in your system.
When everything lines up, you can jump start the hypertrophy process and get larger muscle mass.
The core of hypertrophy
I know that what I just described might seem like scene from the movie Weird Science. You might easily be forgiven for thinking that you’re doing something weird with your body if you are looking to trigger hypertrophy.
What if I told you that hypertrophy is actually built in to your muscle system? That’s right. It’s perfectly natural. When you trigger this physiological state, you are just pushing your body to tap its adaptation mechanisms.
You have to understand that your body is a well tuned evolutionary machine. That’s a fancy way of saying that it adapts to changes in your environment. Just as your eating patterns and weight change depending on how much food you eat, your body mass also adapts to how much daily exercise and physical activities you do.
There’s nothing unnatural about it. To trigger hypertrophy, you have to look at the fact that your body builds up strength, the more you repeatedly stress certain muscle tissues in your physique. Think about it, if your body didn’t have this ready built in process, you would easily injure yourself.
If you find yourself lifting a lot of heavier stuff than normal, you might hurt yourself. If your caveman ancestors had to run because a saber tooth tiger is out to turn them into lunch and they couldn’t adapt, you wouldn’t be here.
All human beings have a built in muscle strengthening and enlarging processes that are there as a response to potential stresses.
The secret to hypertrophy is strength training
Now that you know the evolutionary background of hypertrophy, the next step is to understand its triggering mechanism. To get really big muscles, you don’t really have to do anything out of the ordinary as far as your gym workouts go.
You just have to know how to push your limits to the point that the hypertrophy is triggered. In other words, if you think you’re already working out and you have adopted a comfortable routine, you might want to step out of your comfort zone.
You have to work out a little bit more intensely as far as your weightlifting goes. You have to put extra pressure on your muscles so that they experience the optimal level of stress. Once your muscles detect that you have increased your load just enough, it would then trigger the production of myosin and actin to create extra muscle fiber.
This leads to certain muscle masses in key parts of your body becoming stronger, thicker and larger. They have to because you have increased the load that you place on them. There’s nothing unnatural about this. This is just your cells responding to the stress that you’re putting on your muscles. This pushes them to increase their muscle mass content.
How does this work? Healthy muscle cells have a normal size range. When you repeatedly stress certain parts of your muscle mass, you take the same number of cells and push their built in internal adaptive response so as to push them to increase in size.
This is different from hyperplasia where all your muscle cells remain the same size. The only difference is you workout and eat in such a way that you push your muscle mass to increase through the addition of additional muscle cells. That’s not happening with hypertrophy.
Your quick and practical guide to hypertrophy enlargement
There are 2 key ingredients to growing muscle. First, you need to stimulate it the right way. Next, you have to allow it to repair in such a way that your overall muscle mass grows.
The stimulation is the easy part. You basically know your limit when it comes to bench presses, squats, tricep pulls and bicep exercises. You just have to push past your limit until you feel stress on your muscles.
It’s not going to feel all that nice for a few days after your workout. But that’s part of the game. As the old saying goes, no pain no gain. Believe me, when you’re feeling that pain that should tell you everything you need to know that you put the right amount of stress on your muscle mass.
This means that you have cleared the way for the next stage of the process which is adequate repair. Here’s how the repair process plays out. In between your muscle cells are dormant cells. These are your satellite cells.
They’re usually located in the middle of the basement and outer membrane of your muscle fibers. When you put a lot of stress on your muscles, your body goes into an immune system reaction. Your muscles inflame or grow in size as the cells repair themselves and clean up excess cells.
At the same time, this inflammation triggers your body to send out hormones like human growth hormone, testosterone and cortisol. All of these work to regulate the growth as well as repair mechanisms of your body.
Testosterone is especially helpful for hypertrophy because it increases the amount of protein your body makes. Protein, of course, is the key building block for larger muscle mass. When this process is triggered, the number of satellite cells in your body shoots up and these cells send out “daughter cells” to the microscopic tears in your muscle mass and essentially plugs them in.
How does this “plug in” process work? Well, the daughter cells release their nuclei contents to your muscle fibers. Keep in mind that you’re not adding cells to your muscle mass. Instead, the nuclei is released into the muscle cells which then thickens them and allows them to grow larger.
This is how your body responds to the stress you place on your muscles as you lift larger loads.
Safe and practical triggers for hypertrophy
Your first step to safely trigger hypertrophy is to determine what’s the maximum weight you can pull, lift or push for one repetition. Keep in mind that this number is going to vary between the different muscle groups that your workout.
Also, this number will change as your tolerance grows. Once you’ve identified this number, work on increasing it. This establishes your comfort zone.
Good news: you don’t have to be a hero
Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a hero. If you know that your maximum comfortable rep max for your biceps is 100 pounds, you don’t have to go crazy and try to life 120 pounds. Slow and easy can work just as well as fast and furious.
Try this multi-week routine to trigger hypertrophy. For the first week, start at 60% of your maximum rep and do 2 sets of 10 reps. On week 2, do 3 sets at 65%. The following week, stay with 3 sets of 10 reps at 60%. This enables your body to repair why you’re still going to the gym regularly.
On the fourth week, do 3 sets of 10 reps at 70% of your maximum rep weight. On week 5, do 3 sets of 5 reps at 70%. Again, this is the healing period for your muscle mass. On the following week, stick to 3 sets of 5 reps at 75% of your max rep weight.
Follow that up with 3 sets of 5 reps at 70% of max rep weight. The next week, you should ramp up to 80% of max rep using 3 sets of 5 reps each. Once that week is over, go back to 70% and do 3 sets of 3 reps. Follow this up with 75% max rep while keeping the 3 sets at 3 reps.
For the following weeks, you should go to 70% then back up to 80% max rep. If you follow these steps, you would not only get bigger because you trigger hypertrophy, but you would’ve avoided injury. This is a safe way of triggering hypertrophy without injuring yourself.