Most of us have heard the word hypertrophy either from a personal trainer, someone at the gym, or on the label of our workout supplements. But not all of us know what hypertrophy is or how best to invoke it in our own workouts.
The word ‘hypertrophy’ has multiple uses in medical practice. In the area of fitness and working out, hypertrophy means the underlying physiological processes that cause muscles to grow both in strength and size. Hypertrophy is the purpose of most weightlifting exercises – whether to strengthen the muscle as a dancer or runner or to expand the muscle as a bodybuilder or powerlifter.
Hypertrophy works with two primary ways:
- Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is the foundation of increases in sustained energy and endurance.
- Myofibrillar hypertrophy is the basis of increases in strength, size, and speed.
Both will be at work whenever you are training with weights. And you control which outcomes you wish hypertrophy to produce by adjusting three primary controls:
- Amount of weight lifted
- Number of repetitions of each exercise
- Rest time between sets
Combining various adjustments of these three variables is your method of targeting your workout to either of the two primary goals most people pursue with weight training. So, let’s talk about these three primary controls in the context of your workout objectives. Most people pursuing a weight training regimen are interested in either one of two primary goals:
WEIGHT TRAINING FOR MUSCLE GROWTH
The way to catalyze muscle growth through hypertrophy is to fatigue the muscle to the point it triggers an adaptation response. To achieve this, lift heavier weights with fewer repetitions. Taxing the muscle to the point of an adaptation response means flexing hard enough to force so much blood through the muscles that the muscles develop microscopic tears. Speeding blood flow to these “micro tears” heals them, creating new muscle tissue.
When lifting heavier weights, remember that you will require a longer rest period before each set to balance your workout and prepare your body to move its attention to a new muscle group. Even if you’re a total gym beast, don’t underestimate rest periods – they are crucial to an injury-free workout and optimizing muscle size.
A heavy hypertrophy workout should be done only about three times a week – giving you a full day between workouts to obtain adequate water, protein, and sleep to recover from the workout you just did.
WEIGHT TRAINING FOR ENDURANCE AND TONE
Not everyone wants huge shoulders or sleeve-busting biceps. If your goal is simply to look trim, fit, and healthy, you can gain a lot of fitness with lighter weights.
Working out at lower weights (with higher repetitions) produces a lean, toned, hard body that is slightly V-shaped and usually flexible and energetic. Lifting lighter weights with more repetitions will catalyze strength, tone, and flexibility while increasing muscle size less.
And tone and endurance workouts – lower in hypertrophy – can be safely done five or six times every week. The reduction in muscle trauma requires less recovery time between workouts, making this workout safe to perform often.
Working out with lower weights may also get you in and out of the gym a little faster because these workouts usually require less rest between sets. Keep the pace – and your heart rate – up and this workout will firm you up without making you outgrow your blazer.
If you’re uncertain, speak with a doctor. If you have questions about hypertrophy, weight training, or any of the conditions discussed here, connecting with a doctor in a discrete setting has never been easier.
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