Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy

Resistance training (RT) is a primary exercise intervention used to develop strength and stimulate muscle hypertrophy. Increases in muscle mass constitute key components of conditioning in various sports. Additionally, an increase in muscle mass is one of the goals of bodybuilding, and many recreationally strength-trained individuals. Furthermore, adequate levels of muscle mass are an important issue from a health standpoint because its low levels are associated with increased risks of several diseases such as cardiovascular disease, and cardio-metabolic risk in adolescents, as well as type II diabetes in middle aged and older adults.

Muscle hypertrophy occurs when muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown and results in positive net protein balance in cumulative periods. This could be achieved with both RT and protein ingestion, which stimulates muscle protein synthesis and leads to decreases in muscle protein breakdown. From the nutrition point of view, protein intake alongside RT is a potent stimulus for muscle protein synthesis.

Effective hypertrophy-oriented RT should comprise a combination of mechanical tension and metabolic stress

Mechanical tension is created by using a heavy load and performing exercises through a full range of motion for a period of time. The time the muscle spends under tension provided by the external load (barbell, dumbbell etc.) creates mechanical tension in the muscle.

Metabolic stress is a physiological process that occurs during exercise in response to low energy that leads to metabolite accumulation [lactate, phosphate inorganic (Pi) and ions of hydrogen (H+)] in muscle cells.

For individuals seeking to maximize muscle growth, hypertrophy-oriented RT should be consisting of multiple sets (3−6) of six to 12 repetitions with short rest intervals (60 s) and moderate intensity of effort (60−80% 1RM) with subsequent increases in training volume (12–28 sets/muscle/week). Moreover, trained athletes may consider integrating advanced resistance training techniques and methods to provide an additional stimulus to break through plateaus, prevent monotony, and reduce the time of training sessions.

Evidence suggests some beneficial effects for selected RT techniques especially in the case of training volume, time-efficiency, and intensity of effort. Furthermore, even though most of these techniques and methods did not show a superior hypertrophy response compared to the traditional approach, it may serve as an alternative to prevent monotony or it could improve readiness to training sessions. To maintain high time-efficiency of training and when time limitations exist, the use of agonist–antagonist, upper–lower body supersets, drop sets, SST, and cluster sets may provide an advantage to the traditional approach.

Furthermore, persistence in training and diet is essential. Recently, research has shown that muscle hypertrophy that occurs at initial stages of RT (~4 sessions) is mostly attributable to muscle damage induced cell swelling with the majority of strength gains resulting from neural adaptations (8−12 sessions). Within the latter phase of RT (6−10 weeks), muscle growth begins to become the dominant factor.

Source: Krzysztofik, M., Wilk, M., Wojdała, G., & Gołaś, A. (2019). Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. International journal of environmental research and public health16(24), 4897.

Written by Dr Alexandros Mitropoulos (Exercise Physiologist-Fitness Trainer).
Email: alexandros.mitropoulos89@gmail.com

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