Muscle hypertrophy ¦ Process and Training

If you are training to gain, the goal of your training is to increase muscle mass. Increased muscle mass is achieved through the process of muscle hypertrophy, i.e. an increase in dimension of individual muscle fibers. Challenging training will cause the skeletal muscle to adapt to the workload, thus increasing muscle fiber capacity.

Process

Don’t have time for technical jibber-jabber about muscle fibers? Skip to Quick recap!

Skeletal muscle fibers composing the muscle tissues have metabolic (relating to the biochemical and energetic transformations) and mechanical (relating to movement) differences, therefore being classified into 3 different types: slow-oxidative fibers, fast-oxidative fibers and fast-glycolytic fibers.

When an exercise is performed, we need to recruit (activate) motor units in order to produce the force demanded by the exercise. A motor unit is composed of an efferent neuron (a neuron that carries motor impulses) and all the same-type muscle fibers it innervates. As we can see in the table below, the smaller the neuron size (hence motor unit size), the easier to excite and therefore recruit. However, it isn’t an easy come, easy go type situation, as the easiest fibers to recruit are the hardest to fatigue and vice-versa.

 

Type I 

Slow-oxidative

 Type II

Fast-oxidative

 Type III

Fast-glycolytic

Resistance to fatigue

High

Intermediate

 Low

Motor unit (innervating neuron) size

Small

 Intermediate

 Large

Recruitment

First

Second

Third


Quick recap. Muscle growth (muscle hypertrophy) implies an increase in the size of muscle fibers. The 3 types of muscle fibers are innervated by motor neurons thus composing motor units, which are recruited to produce the force needed to perform during training. During a challenging exercise, recruitment happens gradually between the 3 types of muscle fibers until achieving complete muscle fatigue (failure). The muscle fibers will subsequently increase in capacity and size up in order to adapt to the workload.

Training

So basically what we need in order to achieve muscle growth is to fatigue the muscle to the point of failure so that we make sure we’ve put all those muscle fibers to work. Here are four examples of how to do that, for you to choose the method you are most comfortable with and enjoy the most.


DROP-DOWNS (Drop sets)
  • Decreased weight per set;
  • Same number of repetitions.
You gradually decrease the weight per set, doing the same number of repetitions.
Choose the no. of reps so that you don’t compromise proper form, but you do achieve failure by the end of each set.
Drop-downs imply reaching failure and decreasing the weight a minimum of 3 times (triple-drops), which should do the job. They can be performed with both weight machines and free weights, such as dumbbells.

However, drop sets greatly fatigue the muscles, that’s why it is recommended to do only one drop set per muscle group. Drop-downs are great for stimulating muscle hypertrophy, just be careful and don’t over-train.


REVERSE PYRAMID
  • Decreased weight per set;
  • Increased number of repetitions;

Reverse pyramid training implies going heavy for the first few reps and then decreasing the weight and increasing the no. of reps throughout the following sets. Reverse pyramids also promote hypertrophy and it’s usually the go-to method when training for size.


SUPER-SETS

Super-setting simply means that you perform two exercises in a row, without resting in-between. For example, you go from the bench press straight to lat pull-downs, forgoing any rest between the two.


GIANT-SETS

Following the same principle as super sets, giant-setting implies performing three exercises in a row, without stopping in-between.

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Resources

Muscle Fiber Types

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