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Get bigger: Hypertrophy

For the purposes of this article, I am including hyperplasia when I mention hypertrophy – I am generally referring to more/larger muscle – an increase in lean body mass.

This article will address 2 questions:

1. Why is it important?

2. How do you get it?

Why is it important?

More muscle can eventually be converted into more strength. A muscle fibre can only get so strong before it reaches its strength capacity. Eventually, to get stronger more muscle fibres are required. Additionally, to get close to a muscle’s strength capacity requires a lot of training to elicit tiny strength gains. An easier way to get stronger is to use new muscle. It can be thought of like a pyramid:

Muscle is also a protective tissue against contacts (eg. in rugby). Less muscle means less protection for the skeletal system when it the body encounters a contact. Less protection for the skeletal system means that there is more risk of it being injured.

Muscle helps with balance. At a low level, muscle is required for simple tasks like balancing when standing on one leg. More muscle doesn’t automatically mean better balance though. This new muscle needs to be trained (muscular coordination learnt) before it improves balance. This can be scaled up. For example, balance and control of the shoulder musculature is required when performing a Turkish Get-Up. At heavy loads this will require a significant amount of muscle (for example using a 40kg KB).

Importantly for contact sports, muscle helps with momentum. It can be viewed that one of the deciding factors in any contact within rugby is momentum. If it is a front-on collision between a defender and an attacker, or the attacker just needs enough to brush past a defender, the player with the most momentum (as long as technique is sufficient) will win the collision. Whilst the player with the most momentum (mass x speed) will win the collision, no matter what the mass consists of (eg. fat/muscle mass), if the mass is mostly muscle mass it is easier to gain even more speed, and therefore more momentum. This is because, as discussed in the speed article, the muscle helps produce speed, whereas fat mass does nothing to help this.

How do you get it?

1. Mechanical tension

2. Metabolic stress

3. Muscle damage

These do tie in with each other, but to summarise:

Mechanical tension requires lifting heavy loads, putting the musculoskeletal system under great stress.

Metabolic stress requires a large volume of repetitions at medium to light loads with little rest, so that the body does not have time to recover and flush out the waste products created and replenish the muscles with oxygen. The same effect can happen with some repetitions at heavy loads, but with little rest.

Muscle damage happens as a result of either of these methods as that is what training does; it damages muscle so that the body can supercompensate and build stronger, bigger muscles to protect itself from the same damage in the future.

How does this look in a programme?

There are a variety of ways to do it, but no matter what daily split you use you want to lift very heavy loads for a few reps, some moderately heavy loads for a few more reps, and some lighter loads for many reps. This could all be done in one session, or you could do a high/low split to allow the CNS to recover, with the heavy lifting on one day and the lighter loads for a large volume on the next. Another tool you could use to help create metabolic stress and, therefore, muscle damage, is occlusion training. Without going into the details of this training, it is designed to prevent the movement of blood into/out of the muscle, meaning that the working muscle is starved of oxygen, creating a metabolic environment that craves oxygen. This also creates more muscle damage as instead of some muscle fibres continuing to work as they recover a little between reps and sets, they are not able to recover due to the lack of oxygen. Therefore, they cease to work and, according to the size principle, the next line of muscle fibres are recruited to help complete the reps. When oxygen is finally released back into the muscle that was working it is consumed very quickly.

Enjoy your training,


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