Hypertrophy is an increase and growth of muscle cells. Hypertrophy refers to an increase in muscular size achieved through exercise. When you work out, if you want to tone or improve muscle definition, lifting weights is the most common way to increase hypertrophy.
When weightlifting, you can perform many repetitions (reps) at a lower weight or lift a heavy weight for fewer reps. The way you lift will determine the way your muscles grow and change.
When you start exercising a muscle, first there an increase in the nerve impulses that cause muscle contraction. This alone often results in strength gains without any noticeable change in muscle size.
As you continue to exercise, there is a complex interaction of nervous system responses that result in an increase in protein synthesis. Over months, the muscle cells begin to grow larger and stronger. There are two essential components necessary for the growth of muscles—stimulation and repair.
Stimulation occurs during the contraction of the muscle—during the actual exercising. Each time a muscle is exercised, it contracts. This repeated contraction during a workout causes damage to the internal muscle fibers. These muscle fibers are broken down throughout the course of a workout. Once damaged, these fibers are then ready to be repaired
Muscle fiber repair occurs after the workout, while the muscles are resting. New muscle fibers are produced to help replace and repair the damaged ones. More fibers are produced to make up for the damaged ones, and this is where the actual muscle growth takes place.
How often to lift to achieve muscular hypertrophy?
How often you need to exercise to achieve muscular hypertrophy depends on your goals.
You could try one of these weight-lifting schedules:
- Lifting (especially heavy weights) three days a week. This allows you a day in-between sessions to let your muscles recover. Recovery is essential for muscle growth.
- Lifting just two days a week, depending on your current fitness level.
- Alternating between upper-body lifting and lower-body lifting on different days. This allows you to work different muscles while allowing time for rest and recovery.
Tips to make the most of your workout
- Use a reps-and-rest cycle. Research shows that weightlifters should aim for 6-12 reps per set. Allow 60-90 seconds between sets for rest. This will help achieve hypertrophy because your muscles will be fatigued.
- Lift enough weight. Don’t lift a weight that’s too light, as that won’t allow you to see the same gain of definition.
- Vary your exercises or activities. This will help you fire up different or multiple muscle fibres in the same movement or circuit.
- Consider working with a trainer. A certified trainer can help you create a weightlifting program to meet your goals.
Your muscles can adapt quickly to exercise. It’s important to continuously challenge your muscles in order to continue to see growth and increased definition.
To stay safe, never increase the amount of weight you’re lifting too quickly. Instead, aim for a gradual increase each week.