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Get Jacked: The Science of Muscle Hypertrophy

Updated: May 29, 2023

Muscle hypertrophy refers to the process of increasing muscle size and is a common goal for many individuals who engage in resistance training. Hypertrophy occurs as a result of the body's adaptation to the stresses placed on muscle tissue during exercise. Over time, this leads to an increase in muscle mass and strength.


There are several mechanisms involved in the process of muscle hypertrophy. These include mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage. In this article, we will explore each of these mechanisms in detail and how they contribute to muscle hypertrophy.


1. Mechanical Tension


Mechanical tension is the force generated by muscle fibers during exercise. When muscles are exposed to high levels of mechanical tension, it can lead to muscle damage and the activation of satellite cells. Satellite cells are responsible for repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue, which can result in muscle hypertrophy over time.


Mechanical tension can be increased through a variety of training methods, including heavy lifting and progressive overload. Heavy lifting involves lifting weights that are close to the individual's maximum capacity for a given number of repetitions. Progressive overload involves gradually increasing the weight lifted over time to ensure that the muscles are continually exposed to a stimulus that challenges them.


In addition to heavy lifting and progressive overload, mechanical tension can also be increased through exercises that emphasize eccentric muscle contractions. Eccentric contractions occur when a muscle lengthens under tension, such as during the lowering phase of a bicep curl. Eccentric contractions are thought to be more effective at inducing muscle damage and activating satellite cells compared to concentric contractions, which occur when a muscle shortens under tension, such as during the lifting phase of a bicep curl.


2. Metabolic Stress


Metabolic stress occurs when muscles are subjected to high levels of metabolic byproducts, such as lactate and hydrogen ions, during exercise. This can cause cellular swelling "The Pump", and the release of growth factors, which can stimulate muscle growth.


Metabolic stress can be increased through exercises that involve high repetitions, short rest periods, and moderate weights. This type of training is commonly referred to as hypertrophy training or pump training. Hypertrophy training is designed to create a metabolic environment that stimulates muscle growth. By performing high repetitions with short rest periods, the muscles are kept under tension for an extended period, leading to an accumulation of metabolic byproducts.


In addition to high repetition training, metabolic stress can also be increased through exercises that involve continuous tension on the muscles. For example, exercises such as leg extensions or cable flys, which maintain constant tension on the muscles throughout the entire range of motion, are thought to be effective at inducing metabolic stress.


3. Muscle Damage


Muscle damage occurs when muscle fibers are torn or damaged during exercise. This damage can stimulate the activation of satellite cells, which are responsible for repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue. Over time, this process can result in muscle hypertrophy.


Muscle damage can be increased through exercises that involve eccentric muscle contractions, as discussed earlier. In addition, exercises that involve a stretch-reflex, such as plyometrics, are thought to be effective at inducing muscle damage. Plyometric exercises involve quick, explosive movements that stretch the muscles before contracting them forcefully.


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