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

Top 5 Ab Exercises

Effective, fun and easy on the lower back… that’s a lot to ask from an abdominal exercise. However, this is a list of 5 ab exercises that I find to meet the desired criteria and truly exhaust the abdominal muscles.


As with all exercises, keeping proper form is key. Two things to remember:

  1. Form & Movement. You don’t want incessive, uncontrolled movement. An effective movement implies contraction (achieved at the slightest curvature of the back), keeping form at contraction point, then repeating. Bringing you head/ legs all the way up as fast as you can won’t do you any good and it may leave you with lower back pain.
  2. Focus. Truly focus on the abdominal contraction so you isolate the lower back and avoid pains.

My top 5 Ab Exercises

1. Plank (yes, yes, the almighty plank)

  1. Assume the push-up/ press-up position. Your hands should be straight, directly under your chest, and shoulder-width apart. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles, so keep your bellybutton sucked in (keep your abs contracted) and don’t let your backside hang down.
  2. Keep this position for at least 20 seconds and gradually increase your planking time as your core becomes stronger.

2. The Mountain Climber

  1. Assume the plank position;
  2. Alternating the legs, aim for your knee to come as close as possible to the chest.
  • Do not lose proper form in order to touch your knee to the chest;
  • When you come to be in good control of the movement and desire to increase difficulty, you can add ankle weights if they feel comfortable.

3. Seated Flat Bench Leg Pull-In

  1. Sit at the end of a flat bench, hold the sides of the bench with your hands and suspend your (crossed) legs until they are parallel to the floor.
  2. Pull your legs to your torso by bending the knees.

4. Knee to Elbow Decline Crunch

  1. Lie on a declined ab bench with your hands to your head.
  2. Crunch (slight curvature of the back until contraction point) while aiming with one elbow to the opposite knee.
  3. Alternate elbows.

4. Kneeling Cable Crunch alternating with Knee to Elbow Kneeling Cable Crunch

  1. Kneel before a cable-weight set.
  2. Grab the handle above your head and pull down as if you’re aiming to touch your elbows to your knees.
  3. Alternate this movement (both elbows to both knees) with the Knee to Elbow variation (elbow to opposite knee).

Breakfast Cheesecake

If I hear overnight oats one more goddamned time… Well, oats are still great. But what if we took the ingredients for various oat-bowls and made… a breakfast cake? Well, we’ll add some dairy and make it a cheesecake, but still… we’ll have a fun, healthy, made-ahead coffee and cake breakfast to look forward to every morning!


1. Prep

  • Preheat oven at 325° F or 160° C
  • Take the Greek yogurt and the cream cheese out of the freezer (to be used at room temperature)

2. Blend

  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1/3 cup dates and 2 tbsp coconut oil (or 1/3 cup melted butter)
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon

3. Line the bottom of a cake tin with parchment paper, add the blended mixture and place it in the oven for 5-8 minutes, just enough for it to dry and set. Take it out and let it cool for a few minutes until you make the next layer.

4. Blend

  • 500 ml Greek yogurt
  • 220 g cream cheese
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup of honey or maple syrup, or 1/2 cup agave nectar, or 1 tsp stevia
  • 1/4 cup whole-wheat / spelt / soy / coconut flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of Himalayan salt

5. Pour this second layer over the crust and put it back in the oven for another 40 to 50 minutes, until it sets. Let it cool completely and place it in the refrigerator for 3 hours min. or overnight.

6. Add the following to a sauce pan

  • 2 cups of blueberries/ strawberries/ raspberries/ mix
  • 3/4 cup water
  • sweetener of your choice, to taste (maple or agave syrup, stevia, etc.)

Place the pan on medium heat and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and let it simmer.

Sprinkle 1 tsp of gelatin over 1 tbsp of water and mix thoroughly. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then stir it in the simmering berry sauce until well combined. If the sauce becomes a little too thick until the cheesecake sets in the freezer, you can place it back on the oven and stir in a few tbsp of water until it reaches the desired consistency.

 

Pour this final layer over the cooled cheesecake the following morning and enjoy!

Health-foods grocery list

They say not to go grocery shopping when you’re hungry. I say not to do it without a proper grocery list. Download the health-foods grocery list and make sure you’re always able to find proper, complementary nutrients in your kitchen.

You may print it out as is or edit it to a specific budget and personal preference. However, I suggest keeping your weekly meal plan as diverse as possible, building upon an essential-nutrients base. According to your lifestyle, begin constructing that strategic meal-plan tailored to reach your optimal nutrition targets.

Click here to download the grocery list

Recipes and meal plans coming soon!