“The “latest and greatest” technological advances in human performance can often cause us to overlook the basics.”
By Destiny Snape
Athletes are under constant pressure to maximize their performance with the best nutritional programs, training regimens, supplements, and recovery techniques. There are hundreds of studies promising the most effective ways to improve athletic performance using never-before-seen methods. With all the information out there, it’s easy to be sucked in. The “latest and greatest” technological advances in human performance can often cause us to overlook the basics. Strength, for example, is a vital component in developing a competitive edge over competitors. When it comes to strength, specifically hypertrophy, a 2017 study found that there are many advantages that athletes experience such as increased muscle fiber size, increased explosive strength and power, and increased work capacity.
The stigma surrounding hypertrophy and athletes is often negative with a fine line between the emphasis on performance or physique. The primary goal for an athlete is to be functional in their sport. It would not be beneficial for an athlete to focus on hypertrophy with the sole purpose of just being “bigger”. Athletes need to be able to produce force relative to their body weight, which ultimately translates to greater strength for sport-specific tasks. With the variety of sports today, everyone seems to have different ways in which to achieve muscular hypertrophy. Outside factors will also impact how it is achieved. For example, genetics influences the body of each athlete and the rate at which they develop muscle.
There are three different body types: ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph. Each body type has special characteristics that help determine what type of training style and nutrition they should follow to achieve their goals. Ectomorphs typically have a more difficult time gaining muscle and fat and tend to have a faster metabolism. Their training style should be more focused on compound movements, which incorporates multiple muscle groups. Endomorphs can build muscle relatively easy but can also store a good amount of fat as well because of their slower metabolism. Their training style should incorporate more interval training to help boost their metabolism long after their workout is over. Mesomorphs are in the middle. They can build muscle while storing low amounts of fat and tend be naturally athletic. A mesomorph body type has a bit more freedom in their style of training because they can see results with pretty much any style. They can see results with even a moderate approach. These body types all have their unique ways in achieving muscle hypertrophy and should be considered when developing individual programs. Promoting muscle growth is a tricky process and must be done correctly.
Muscular hypertrophy is facilitated by engaging as many motor units as possible during a specific movement according to a 2017 paper. Working with a higher rep range (about 8-12 repetitions) while using a moderate to heavy resistance results in a microtrauma of the muscle fibers. This trauma to the muscle is the primary reason an individual experiences soreness following a workout. However, this process is essential to muscle growth. In response to the microtrauma, the body begins to repair the muscle by adding additional muscle tissue to the damaged area to strengthen the muscle. This process is also known as supercompensation, which follows a training period. Ultimately, this leads to higher performance capacity. Adaptations occur which places greater emphasis on the importance of progressive overload. Progressive overload is how, after supercompensation, an individual continues to see growth over time. Growth can be achieved by increasing the resistive weight each week, increasing the number of repetitions performed, or decreased rest time. You must progressively increase the intensity or volume of your training to force the body to adapt to new levels of stress. Although stressing the body to adapt is how muscle growth is promoted, too much stress and not enough recovery is detrimental to the body. Hypertrophy training places a high strain on the body. For your body to recover properly, plenty of rest is essential. Many people believe that the muscle builds while training, but that is false. The body repairs the muscle while resting. According to a 2019 study, sleeping this gives muscle fibers a chance to rebuild by adding more contractile proteins. The parasympathetic nervous system is activated which speeds up recovery, and growth hormone is also released which stimulates tissue growth and repair. Athletes should try to get 7-9 hours of sleep to promote muscle growth and repair.
In addition to training for hypertrophy and proper recovery, proper nutrition is necessary for muscles to have enough fuel to grow. This “anabolic state” requires that a positive energy balance is needed for muscles to be able to properly repair themselves and grow. When in a positive energy balance, the athlete is consuming more calories than they are using. This will help them increase their weight as fat mass or muscle mass. (Focusing on consuming higher amounts of protein, specifically 1.2g-1.8g per kg of bodyweight and incorporating balanced diet will help minimize the amount of fat mass gained.) Proper eating frequency is vital to maintaining proper energy stores throughout the day. Eating smaller portions multiple times throughout the day (every 3-4 hours) is an efficient way to achieve this. Try to spread out your protein consumption throughout the day. Avoiding eating large amounts of protein at one time is the way stimulate protein synthesis. Nutrition plays a huge role in how an athlete will respond to their training program. Overlooking this piece will hinder reaching their maximum potential.
It’s time to explore how an athlete benefits from hypertrophic training. One of the primary benefits of training for muscular hypertrophy is increased muscular development. This is accompanied by increased explosive strength and power training capacity allowing the athlete to improve performance. This can translate into the athletic movements they are required to perform. They may also experience increased work capacity, allowing them to perform more efficiently and effectively for a longer period of time. Increased fat oxidation and glucose sparing occurs. This is beneficial for sports that are performed at a high intensity. When an athlete is training above the lactate threshold, their body shifts to glucose as the primary source of energy. Unfortunately, glucose stores are not as sustaining as fat stores. This can be a limiting factor when it comes to energy production. By increasing fat oxidation, the athlete would be able to perform at a high intensity in relation to increased power and force output. Finally, hypertrophy training stimulates an increase in fast twitch muscle fibers. Type-2 fibers (fast twitch muscle fibers) are the “Holy Grail” responsible for firing quickly and producing significant power and strength. These muscle fibers are advantageous to almost every anerobic athlete providing them with the ability to perform optimally. All these benefits allow the athlete to perform in the most productive way. This helps the athletes prevent injuries while strengthening their bodies.
Hypertrophic training has many benefits to an athlete looking to improve their performance. It is important for them to be able to perform at their absolute best when important competitions, matches, or meets present themselves. There is so much more substance to hypertrophy training than simply improving physical appearance. Although an athlete may experience several benefits from this style of training, it’s important to establish proper training regimens. This also means establishing the proper timeline to incorporate hypertrophy training into their regimen. Outside of training, ensuring that detailed nutrition and recovery plans are being followed is essential. Being an athlete is a full-time job. Ensuring an athlete is receiving the best plan to promote their success is an important component.
Boyle, M. (n.d.). Retrieved from Strength Coach: https://www.strengthcoach.com/public/1824.cfm
Dewar, M. (2017, December 4). Retrieved from BarBend: https://barbend.com/fitness-athletes-focus-hypertrophy/
Kiikka, D. (2019, September 9). Retrieved from The Sports EDU: https://thesportsedu.com/muscular-hypertrophy-definition/
Lylemcd. (2019, November 20). Retrieved from Body Recomposition: https://bodyrecomposition.com/training/supercompensation-oftraining#:~:text=In%20the%20context%20of%20training%2C%20the%20supercompensation%20model,baseline.%20Over%20time%20it%20falls%20back%20to%20normal.
Trinh, E. (n.d.). Retrieved from JEFIT: https://www.jefit.com/exercise-tips/three-different-body-types#:~:text=What%20are%20the%20Three%20Different%20Body%20Types%3F%20The,eating%20habits%20accordingly%20to%20reach%20your%20fitness%20goals.