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Hypertrophy, aka ‘gains’, is the process of increasing muscle through growing component cells. It might sound simple but there are so many factors to consider when increasing muscle size is the goal. We have compiled an expert guide on hypertrophy, which will cover training, nutrition, and supplementation, specifically for hypertrophy.
As we said, hypertrophy, in its simplest form, is the increase in muscle size through growing component cells. There are two system of hypertrophy, namely sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and myofibrillar hypertrophy
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy refers to increased muscle glycogen storage. Essentially, it looks at muscle growth in terms of how much glycogen the muscle is storing, as the more muscle glycogen you have, the fuller, or ‘bigger’, you look. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is more aesthetic than functional, as there is an influx of sarcoplasmic fluid into the muscle tissue, without accompanying strength in muscle tissue.
Myofibrillar hypertrophy is the process whereby actin and myosin contractile proteins increase in amount, leading to an increase in muscle strength and size. Think of a tube of wires (essentially, muscle strands are similar to wires) that contains 5 bundles of 20 wires each. Myofibrillar hypertrophy will lead to each bundle of wires having 21, 22, or 23 wires, and so on until there is absolutely no more room for the lining (connective tissue – fascia) to support all the bundles.
Before we start looking at the intricacies of training, diet, and supplementation, one topic needs to be covered beforehand. This isn’t always spoken about, but I think it’s something you need to always keep in mind when you are training for hypertrophy.
Fascia refers to the connective tissue that surround muscle tissue throughout the body, and acts a sort of ‘framework’ to support muscle tissue and other vital tissue as well. The one problem most lifters run into is that they reach a certain point where, no matter how hard they try, they cannot put another ounce of muscle on. This is known as the ‘natural plateau’ and all it really means is that your body cannot support any more muscle tissue because the connective tissue – specifically fascia – is at its absolute maximum.
There is a way to grow this connective tissue, and was coined by Hany Rambod, aka the Pro Creator, who developed the system of Fascia-Stretch Training 7, or FST-7. FST-7 is a way for you to ‘grow’ fascia tissue to support a greater amount of muscle tissue, as well as give current muscle bellies better thickness, roundness, and fullness. FST-7 works on a simple principle; stretch fascia tissue to create microscopic tears, in order for the connective tissue to grow new fibres, making it larger and stronger. The best part about FST-7, which we will discuss in greater detail further on, is that it is fairly easy to implement into any routine.
Training for hypertrophy is quite different from most other training protocols. It focuses more on stretching muscle tissue repetitively rather than optimising the performance aspects of skeletal muscle. It takes a dedicated, strong-willed mental shift to undertake hypertrophy training, because you need to ensure you are not simply displaying your physical attributes, but working the muscle to grow.
You might have heard some people talking about 8-12 reps, and that muscle tissue can only grow in this rep range. Yes, there is evidence to suggest that, but there a number of other factors involved. Muscle tissue only degrades and regenerates when exposed to resistance, and the greater the resistance that the muscle tissue must overcome, the greater it will grow, if it is given the correct amount of resources. However, dependent on the muscle group and the exercise you are doing, you do not need to stick to exactly 8-12 reps.
Some movements will yield greater results if you use 6 reps such as squatting or deadlifts, whereas others will benefit from 15 reps, such as calf raises. The only drawback to the higher rep movements is that there is lowered resistance. Personally, I prefer to use 8 reps for compound movements and 10 reps for all others. This is my personal preference, one that I have spent a considerable amount of time figuring out.
When it comes to an actual regimen on what you should do, when to do it, how to do it, and so on, is not too far off from regular strength training. The difference will be the inclusion of isolation exercises and the shift from 3 reps to 6-8 or 8-12 reps. If you want a detailed look at what routines you can employ, click here.
Ever heard the saying, ‘abs are made in the kitchen’? Well, that’s pretty much the same case here. No matter how hard you train, and what supplements you take, you will never grow without quality, nutritious food, and tonnes of it (maybe not literal tonnes).
Whole foods are your friends when you are looking for growth, and no matter what anyone tells you, fast food does not count as nutritious food. You can use these kinds of meals to treat yourself, but the same rule as when you are losing weight, in that you can’t just eat junk food whenever you want.
What type of food is, again, a subjective topic. For the most part, you want to stick to foods such as rice, quinoa, potatoes, and similar types of starch. Many physique athletes and elite bodybuilders tend to go for the lowest-GI option available (brown rice, sweet potatoes, etc.) but this will depend on your body’s ability to digest these foods and what your personal preference is. For example, too much potato and I tend to bloat and feel heavy and sluggish, but I don’t like brown rice, so I opt for Basmati rice instead. It keeps me full, trim, and digests easily.
As for protein, there are certain things you will need to keep in mind, as some protein sources have different amino acid compositions and digestion rates. Chicken is generally the easiest option, as the bland taste allows you to add whatever spices and seasonings you want. Unless you plan on competing, you can use sauces, but just beware their sugar and sodium levels. Red meat is best used at night time, or on a heavy day such as back and chest, when you need that extra bit of energy. You also do not need to stick to the same boring food every day. You can use different recipes, different methods, etc., so long as you keep those whole foods in your meals.
Supplementation is what comes after your nutrition and training is down. There are endless amounts of supplements you can take, and if your goal is to pack on lean muscle, then supplements should definitely be on your list. It is important to note that, while supplementation is necessary, it will not give you magical results. You will still need to train intense, eat right, and if you use supplements wisely, you will reap maximum benefits.
Mass builders, creatine, and nitric oxide boosters are vital. Mass builders will give you good, healthy surplus of calories, creatine will increase strength and endurance, allowing you to train longer and harder, and nitric oxide boosters will push more blood into muscle tissue, forcing them to stretch, as well as push oxygen and nutrients into the muscle. These three elements are the basic principles of muscle growth.
Other compounds you should be on the look-out for are creatine, beta-alanine, betaine, citrulline malate, arginine, taurine, as well as BCAAs. When combined, these ingredients work synergistically to enhance muscle growth potential, as well as optimise the recovery process, allowing you to get back into the gym faster, and harder.
Hypertrophy is reliant on intense training, clean and abundant eating, and smart supplementation. The great thing about hypertrophy is that it leaves plenty of room for experimentation, so try eating different foods on different days and observe their effects. This way, you learn more about what your body can handle and what it prefers, so that when you do employ a stringent regimen, you can optimise and streamline your performance.