What is muscle hypertrophy?

Personal/Fitness Training Blog

Hypertrophy is when the cells in an organ or tissue enlarge in size.

Both cardiac and skeletal muscles can adapt to a regular, increasing workload that exceeds their capacity. With cardiac muscles, the heart pumps blood more effectively. Skeletal muscles become more efficient at transmitting forces through tendinous attachments to bones.

How does hypertrophy happen?

When you start exercising a muscle, there is an increase in the nerve impulses that cause muscle contractions. These contractions alone can place enough stress on the muscle for it to gain strength without any noticeable changes in the size of the muscle.

As you continue to exercise these nerve impulses become more complex. This can result in an increase in protein synthesis over months and the muscle cells begin to grow noticeably bigger and stronger.

In order for hypertrophy to happen, there are two essential things that need to take place:

  1. Stimulation

Stimulation occurs when you are exercising the muscle. Each time the muscle is exercised, contraction occurs and muscle fibres are broken down.

  1. Repair

Once the muscle fibres have been broken down, dormant satellite cells are activated. Your immune system then responds with inflammation.

A hormonal response is also triggered, which causes the release of growth factor. This is made up of cortisol and testosterone. These hormones help regulate cell activity. Growth factors help to stimulate muscle hypertrophy while testosterone increases protein synthesis.

In response, the satellite cells multiply and their daughter cells move to the damaged muscle. They fuse with the muscle and donate nuclei, which helps the muscle thicken and grow.

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Types of hypertrophy

There are three types of hypertrophy:

  1. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy concentrates on increasing the amount of the non-contractile fluid found in your muscle (sarcoplasm). This helps build the overall size of the muscle.

  1. Myofibril hypertrophy

Myofibril hypertrophy focuses on strengthening the contractile part of the muscle (myofibril). This strengthens the muscle fibre and makes the muscle very dense and strong.

  1. Transient hypertrophy

Transient hypertrophy is a temporary increase in muscle size that happens during, and immediately after, weight training owing to fluid accumulation in the space inside the cells.

Hypertrophy is different for everyone

Even though the process of hypertrophy is the same for everyone, the results may differ depending on the genetic make-up of your muscles. For some people, it happens faster and to a much larger degree. For others, it can test patience and resilience.

Sometimes, your muscle’s appearance may vary because of something as simple as the length of your tendon. People with shorter muscle tendons tend to develop bigger muscles, whereas someone with longer muscle tendons may see less growth and shaping even if they are doing the same exercises.

Hypertrophy is most commonly found when doing weight training exercise programmes. Through the stimulation and repair process that muscles endure, muscle fibres are broken down and multiply in order to repair the damage. This makes the muscle grow bigger and stronger. This is known as hypertrophy.

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