What is hypertrophy?

What is hypertrophy

Why is hypertrophy important?

How does it happen?

Training factors that influence hypertrophy

How to programme for hypertrophy

In this article we discuss hypertrophy. The scientific term used for the physiological process of building new muscle tissue.

So what is hypertrophy?

Well put simply, muscular hypertrophy is increasing the size of muscle tissue.

Hypertrophy is, by definition, the enlargement of an organ or tissue from the increase in size of its cells. Not to be confused with hyperplasia, the process of increasing the number of cells, hypertrophy is the process of increasing the size of the cells that are already there.

This occurs through a physiological process that leads to an increased number of contractile proteins (actin and myosin) in each muscle fiber.

Why is hypertrophy important?

Skeletal muscle hypertrophy is extremely important in sports like weightlifting and bodybuilding, but here’s just a few of the benefits of muscle hypertrophy….

  • Increased muscular development
  • Decreased chances of injury
  • Increased strength and power


Muscle growth is an obvious benefit of hypertrophy as the physical aspect of it is highly sought for many gym goers and athletes alike.

Hypertrophy prevents injuries as motor learning and aerobic/anaerobic are improved which promotes better muscular functioning.

For power athletes, hypertrophy is extremely beneficial to performing at a high level as a result of better power output. These same athletes can benefit greatly from adopting some sarcoplasmic training as well.

Moderate reps and resistance can increase muscle size, strength and prepare an athlete for advanced training. Additional, higher reps can allow for better nutrient transfer to muscle cells, injury prevention, and improved functional muscle tissue capacity.

These benefits have long been discussed and believed to be why bodybuilders (Or anyone training for mass) experience the number of size gains that they do.

The “pump” may not allow for hypertrophy to occur on its own but the shuttling of nutrients from increased blood flow is acknowledged as a large contributor to muscle growth.

How does muscular hypertrophy happen?

Muscle hypertrophy involves an increase in size of skeletal muscle through a growth in the size of its component cells. Two factors contribute to hypertrophy: sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which focuses more on increased muscle glycogen storage; and myofibrillar hypertrophy, which focuses more on increased myofibril size, however the cause of hypertrophy is as a result of direct stimulus, causing fracture and muscle damage through micro fibre tears and then your ability to recover.

When you start exercising a muscle there is first an increase in the nerve impulses that cause muscle contraction. This alone often results in strength gains without any noticeable change in muscle size. As you continue to exercise, there is a complex interaction of nervous system responses that result in an increase in protein synthesis over months and the muscle cells begin to grow larger and stronger.

There are two essential components necessary for the growth of muscles—stimulation and repair. Stimulation occurs during the contraction of the muscle, or during the actual exercising of the muscle. Each time that a muscle is exercised, contraction occurs. This repeated contraction during a workout causes damage to the internal muscle fibers. These muscles fibers are broken down throughout the course of a workout. Once damaged, these fibers are then ready to be repaired. This is where the muscle growth occurs.

Training factors that influence hypertrophy

1- Eccentric muscle action has been shown to be most beneficial as compared to concentric and Isometric muscle actions for muscle hypertrophy.

Studies have shown a 40% increase with eccentric training only, as compared to 25% increase with concentric training only.

2- Load is stimulus for anabolic hormonal response and up-regulation of anabolic hormone receptors.

3-Circulatory factors related to blood flow or a lack of blood flow play a role in muscle growth.

Studies that have restricted blood flow during lifting weights and used light loading of 10%-50% of 1 RM have shown prominent increase in muscle growth comparable to heavy lifting.These studies suggest a possible role of metabolic stress in muscle growth.

It has been shown that occlusive resistance exercise elicits a  more pronounced lactate and growth hormone response than low intensity training without occlusion.

Note : Occlusion during training can reduce acute muscular endurance, presumably due to the acidic environment.

4- Water content of skeletal muscle plays a role in muscle hypertrophy.

Studies show that increased cellular hydration decreases protein breakdown and increase protein synthesis.

Creatine supplementation increases cellular hydration, leading to initial weight gain and ultimately an increase in muscle growth as a result of training.

5- Nutritional factors influence muscle hypertrophy.

How to programme for hypertrophy

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As the key component for inducing muscular hypertrophy are placing muscle groups under novel stimulus, so that you cause micro fibre tears, resulting in repair and ultimately growth. The training style that should be thought of above all others is ultimately strength training with a focus on progressive overload.  

In terms of rep ranges, it’s widely acknowledged that rep ranges in the 1-5 range are best for strength training, 6-12 for hypertrophy and 15+ for endurance, however, as long as the total work output of your training is increased over time, and you’re in a caloric surplus, you will stimulate growth.

What can we do to improve our chances? (The basics)

Find out your base metabolic rate, here’s a guide on how to do so, and consume a calorie surplus, with 1g per lb of bodyweight protein consumed daily.

Work = load x volume x frequency

This is extremely important, there is a linear positive correlation between volume and hypertrophy, as there is with frequency.

To stimulate the best hypertrophic response, you should be aiming to train each muscle group as frequently as you’re able to recover AND with the highest amount of volume you’re able to recover from AND be consistently lifting heavier loads with standardised form.

Programming wise, if you’re new to training, and looking to grow as quickly as possible, I’d urge you to start with full body work every other day. Keep your volume low as you can build this over time but your frequency high. An example workout would be;

Full Body 1

  • Squats
  • RDL
  • Seated Row
  • Incline Bench
  • Pullups
  • Dips

You can really take this kind of workout very far, you’ll pack on size very quickly if you’re doing this and variants of these exercises every other day. Maybe 2 sets per exercise, with the first set in the 6-12 rep range, second set slightly lighter in the 10-15 rep range, taking every set of every exercise to failure.

You’ll find it challenging for sure, and it won’t necessarily be fun, but my god will you grow!

Realistically, you’ll be able to train like this and variations of this for your first 2-3 years in the gym, without the need to increase your total volume. At that point, doing these types of movements, you’ve probably packed on a lot of size and learned how to train, and can then look to things like an upper/lower split, or Push Pull Legs, but please stay clear of the bro split!


If there’s one piece of advice I could give you, it would be that! Focus on getting stronger in the gym, train each muscle group as frequently as you’re able to recover AND stay in a calorie surplus for a long time.


If you’d like some help in structuring your programming, send me an email!

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Categories: Training