Understanding Hypertrophy and Its Inducing Factors

Jan 02, 2023

Welcome to bodybuilding. You’re not big enough. Ever.

If you’re reading this post, chances are you’re trying to get “jacked”. You want to be that larger than the average person. Nothing wrong with that.

When I competed in bodybuilding and classic physique (shameless pat on my back, I just took first in my final show of classic physique!), my motivation was to look like Dave Draper. Draper was a big influence on my bodybuilding career because the judges from my initial start said I had that same physique. At 55 years old, I am now competing against my old version of myself. I want to continue to have that superhero symmetry look otherwise known as an x-frame. Wide shoulders, thick quads, big arms.

At a present bodyweight of 220-224 lbs, my goal this year is to break my squat, bench, and deadlift personal bests. I also want to add 10 pounds of lean mass to my frame by the end of this year. New year, new me. I hate that term, but I still have this need to compete with myself, as well as turn some heads. Call me out on being in vain. I don’t give a crap lol.

Anyway, enough about me. Let’s talk about muscle growth otherwise known as hypertrophy, and how to get you bigger-er. 

WTF is hypertrophy?

Hypertrophy is an important concept for folks who want to get bigger muscles, bodybuilding, and physique competition. It refers to the increase in the size of muscle cells, which is necessary for physical performance enhancement. In the study An Evidence-Based Narrative Review of Mechanisms of Resistance Exercise–Induced Human Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy, three primary factors were identified as creating a hypertrophic response in the body. Let’s look at what they are and how they can help you achieve your goals. 

  • Hypertrophy is an important concept for those who want to increase muscle size.

  • In the study An Evidence-Based Narrative Review of Mechanisms of Resistance Exercise–Induced Human Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy, three primary factors were identified as creating a hypertrophic response in the body.

  • These factors are: mechanical tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress.

  • By understanding these factors, you can better tailor your workout routine to achieve your desired results.

     

Metabolic Tension

The first factor that induces a hypertrophic response in the body is mechanical tension. This refers to the amount of stress placed on your muscles during exercise. In order for your muscles to grow, you need to push them past their current capacity. This means that you have to challenge yourself with heavier weights, or increasing your reps, or adding additional sets over a period so that your muscles are forced to adapt and grow stronger.
Tempo can also play an important role in this process; performing exercises with increaed under more time under tension, allowing for a marked chance of greater growth potential.

  • Refers to the amount of stress placed on your muscles during exercise.

  • In order for your muscles to grow, you need to push them past their current capacity.

  • This means that you have to challenge yourself with heavier weights, or increasing your reps, or adding additional sets over a period so that your muscles are forced to adapt and grow stronger.

  • Tempo can also play an important role in this process; performing exercises with increaed under more time under tension, allowing for a marked chance of greater growth potential.

Muscle Damage

The second factor is muscle damage, also known as microtrauma. This occurs when muscle fibers become damaged due to exercise, leading to inflammation and metabolic byproducts such as lactate and hydrogen ions being released into the muscle tissue. These byproducts cause discomfort and soreness—but don’t worry! They are part of the natural process of building muscle mass, as they signal the body to heal itself and rebuild stronger fibers than before. High-intensity (how heavy the bar is) workouts that involve multiple sets should be used if you want to maximize your results from this factor.
There’s a minimum amount of effective training volume that you need in order to increase the chances of growth. However, there’s also a set point where too much training volume can lead to delayed onset muscle soreness and obliterating your muscles so much that you cannot recover in time. 
As a guideline, lower body volume seems to tap out at 15-20 sets per week and for upper body, 10-15, but there have been studies we can point to that the body can tap out at 32 sets to induce growth. This is overkill. I have also read from scientists like Dr. Brad Schoenfeld that 10-30 sets are optimal.
I like to spread the volume across the week with full body training, as I can squat one day with enough to make some damage, but by 24-36 hours later, I can squat again in another form of the squat pattern. For example, back squat on day one, hack squat one day two, etc.
One or two body part workouts for five days’ work, but I prefer through the week. I feel it’s there're more calories burned per session with the added benefit of recovery.

  • Muscle damage occurs when fibers become damaged due to exercise, leading to inflammation and the release of byproducts like lactate and hydrogen ions.

  • This damage is part of the natural process of building muscle mass, as it signals the body to heal itself and rebuild stronger fibers than before.

  • High-intensity workouts that involve multiple sets are most effective for maximizing results from this factor.

Metabolic Stress

Metabolic stress is another factor that induces a hypertrophic response in the body. This occurs when energy systems within the body are taxed because of repetitive exercises or long periods of exertion without rest between sets (known as supersets). Metabolic stress causes lactic acid buildup within muscle tissues, which leads to greater muscular fatigue and strength loss over time, but again, don’t worry! The increased level of metabolic stress has been found to induce hypertrophy over time if done correctly, with proper rest periods included throughout your workouts.

  • Occurs when energy systems within the body are taxed because of repetitive exercises or long periods of exertion without rest between sets (known as supersets).

  • Metabolic stress causes lactic acid buildup within muscle tissues, which leads to greater muscular fatigue and strength loss over time.

  • The increased level of metabolic stress has been found to induce hypertrophy over time if done correctly, with proper rest periods included throughout your workouts.

Conclusion

If you want to make sure your resistance training is as effective as possible in stimulating hypertrophy, then you need to focus on these three key factors. Now that you know what they are, look at your current training program and see where you can make some changes to maximize your results.
If you’re not seeing the gains you want, maybe it’s time to consult with a professional who can help design a plan that targets all three areas.