Muscle Growth, Hypertrophy or ‘Tone’
Muscle growth is largely attributable to an increase in muscle fiber size as an adaptation to neuromuscular stimulus. Quality nutrition fuels it, and despite the effort in the gym, it is during your sleep that the magic happens.
Muscle growth is generally known as ‘hypertrophy’ amongst the male population. And amusingly it is widely known as muscle ‘tone’ amongst the female population. It is a complex biological process, and there is still much to learn.
IT TAKES TIME
The time it takes for muscle growth is slow. It takes months and years to become apparent because the body naturally resists this change.
At the beginning of a strength training program, the primary physiological mechanisms taking place are adaptations to your nervous system rather than muscle fiber growth. So if you are hoping for muscle growth, don’t expect too much too soon.
The amount of muscle mass you can grow is determined by your:
- Exercise program quality
- General physical activity
- Sleep quality
- Possibility of any underlying medical conditions
While you can’t change the genetic makeup of the body you have inherited, you can change or manage all of the other factors. A quality program will increase muscle mass as well as improve your mobility, prevent injury, and incorporate muscle balance. All of these things lead to you moving better and allow you to reach further into building strength sustainably.
Beware of supplement powders, pills, and products that claim to increase muscle mass. These can be a waste of your money, and at worst they can be harmful to your health. Also beware of excessively high protein diets as these can put unhealthy pressure on your body, especially your kidneys. If you want to increase your protein intake, then do it in a balanced way by also increasing your intake of vegetables and fruit, and consult a dietitian.
If you are a skinny ectomorph hardgainer like me who struggles to put on weight, you may want to eat more by splitting up your eating. You can do this by having four or more meals throughout the day. You may also want to limit the amount of aerobic exercise you do and build your aerobic capacity through power training, which also induces muscle growth.
TRADITIONAL REST PERIODS
Traditionally, trainers have prescribed shorter rest periods between sets for the goal of stimulating hypertrophy. The reasoning believed was that this induced higher levels of growth hormone, along with other mechanisms. However, some recent research contradicts this method. It suggests that longer rest periods (3 mins or more) may be superior not only for improving strength but also for hypertrophy.
MUSCLE FOR SPORT
For the majority of sports, an increase in hypertrophy without a proportionally high increase in strength or power is counterproductive. One reason is that an increase in hypertrophy doesn’t necessarily translate into an increase in muscle contraction velocity, i.e., power. Excessive hypertrophy can also have negative impacts on muscle force creation due to a change of pennation angles being sub-optimal. Adaptations of the nervous system is an essential factor for increases in strength and power.
AGING AND LONGEVITY
As your body ages, it begins and continues to lose muscle mass. The term for this muscle loss is sarcopenia or muscular atrophy. This process can be reversed or at least restrained with regular strength training. Which is why strength training is vital for injury prevention and maintaining mobility as you get older.
1. Longer interset rest periods enhance muscle strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men. Schoenfeld BJ, et al. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Jul;30(7):1805-12. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26605807
2. The effect of inter-set rest intervals on resistance exercise-induced muscle hypertrophy. Henselmans M, Schoenfeld BJ. Sports Med. 2014 Dec;44(12):1635-43. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25047853
3. Nutrition and physical activity in the prevention and treatment of sarcopenia: systematic review. Beaudart C, et al. Osteoporos Int. 2017 Mar 1. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28251287