• Introduction
  • What is muscular hypertrophy in sports?
  • Why are some people built with more muscle mass?
  • Benefits of muscular hypertrophy in sports
  • Building blocks of muscular hypertrophy training
  • Here’s how you train for muscular hypertrophy
  • Muscular hypertrophy needs lots of nutrients
  • Muscular hypertrophy needs plenty of rest
  • Final thoughts
  • Sources


Strength can be one of the biggest advantages that athletes have over their competitors. And, if you want to stay on top of the intensity of modern-day professional sports, you need to maintain a certain strength level. Muscular hypertrophy is one of the two main factors of strength and is also the best option if you are looking to increase strength as well as contractable muscle mass. This also makes muscular hypertrophy training the workout of choice for bodybuilders.

This article sheds light on the basics of muscular hypertrophy and its effect on athletic performance. You can also head straight to our muscular hypertrophy training post if you want to learn how to make your own training program. You’ll find some free samples too!

What is muscular hypertrophy in sports?

The word muscular hypertrophy comes from the Greek word ὑπέρ “excess” τροφή ”nourishment” and describes the enlargement of both mass and cross-sectional area. In a sports context, this means that you have more muscle mass available to contract which leads to better force production.

Thus, strength is a combination of two things;

  1. Hypertrophy, or strength of a single muscle cell
  2. Your ability to recruit motor units (muscles and their connecting nerves) to produce force. This is also known as muscular strength.

Muscular hypertrophy can be further divided into two categories; sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and myofibrillar hypertrophy.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy describes the increased amount of sarcoplasmic fluid within the muscle tissue. It contains valuable energy sources such as adenosine triphosphate (ATP) creatine phosphate (CP), glycogen and water. This, on the other hand, means that your muscles have more energy to use for athletic performance. However, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy has no effect on strength – only the size of the muscle tissue. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is more commonly known as “the pump”.

Myofibrillar hypertrophy describes the increased size of the muscle fibers. The reason for this is that due to well-balanced training, your body is able to increase the size and amount of actin and myosin contractile proteins (the contracting filaments) within the muscles.

Thus, increasing sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is the main goal for bodybuilding whereas other athletes benefit more from myofibrillar hypertrophy. However, it is important to remember that neither of these changes occur independently from one another – improving either one will also have an effect on the other to some degree.

*Note that sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is still debated in the sports science community. 

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Muscular hypertrophy

Refers to an increase in muscle tissue sizeDoes not increase muscle fiber contentIncreases muscle fiber sizeHigher number of contractile proteins produce a stronger contractionBuilds a foundation for sports-specific training

Why are some people built with more muscle mass?

Muscular hypertrophy has a few different factors like genetics, sex, training background, and nutrition. Each of these will also affect your body composition and ultimately, your athletic performance. 

Genetics refers to the hereditary attributes you gain from your biological parents. As far as athletic performance goes, the biggest physiological differences between individuals are height, muscle mass, the amount of slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers, and metabolism. These can not only determine how well we can adjust to longer exercises and how fast our muscles can produce force, but also how well our bodies can produce energy aerobically (with oxygen).

Sex also has a big effect on muscular hypertrophy and strength development. This is due to increased testosterone production during puberty, which is also an anabolic (boosts growth) growth hormone. And, since most of it is produced in the testicles, males show nearly 7 to 8 times greater amounts of testosterone than women. This results in an average of 36% higher muscle mass, and 60% higher overall strength. Of course, this plays a huge part in athletic development.

”There is no real genetic factor that inhibits you from increasing your muscle mass for better performance.”

Training background is another crucial factor in muscular hypertrophy. In fact, training can have an even bigger impact on your body composition than genetics. Therefore, there is no real genetic factor that inhibits you from increasing your muscle mass for better performance. However, having more muscle mass and a better strength foundation will inevitably impact how well and how fast you are able to gain more muscle mass.

Nutrition is another vital factor in muscular hypertrophy. This is due to the fact that an increased protein intake has a strong correlation between muscle mass development. Since protein is the main building block in muscle development and protein synthesis (process of creating protein molecules) eating more of it will ensure your body has enough nutrients to build more muscle tissue.

Muscular hypertrophy training consists of three main building blocks; training, nutrition and rest.

Benefits of muscular hypertrophy in sports

Muscular hypertrophy sports wide range of benefits for your overall health and athletic ability. This includes improved strength and power production as well as better anaerobic (without oxygen) endurance. And, since muscles also have a faster metabolism rate than fat cells, muscular hypertrophy helps maintain healthy body composition.

Muscular hypertrophy provides the biggest benefits for people who want to maximize their strength and size. For example, athletes in certain field- and court-based sports may need to train for muscular hypertrophy to better suit their playing style and position.

Muscular hypertrophy training is often regarded as physically more straining than endurance training due to the sheer amount of weight used. But, that doesn’t mean that strength training would have a negative effect on your performance or health. In fact, working with more resistance has proven to strengthen your joints, limbs, connective tissue and ligaments as well. This also makes you less prone to injuries later on.

Building blocks of muscular hypertrophy training

Muscular hypertrophy training consists of three main building blocks; the stimulus that starts muscle growth, having enough nutrients for repairing the muscle and resting well to maximize recovery. In order to maintain muscle growth in a healthy and effective way, all of these components must be in balance. Otherwise, you may end up damaging your body more than improving it.

Here’s how you train for muscular hypertrophy

In order to facilitate growth in a muscle, you have to train it the right way. For muscular hypertrophy training, this means stimulating as many motor units as possible during multiple dynamic movements. Whereas muscular strength training refers to a single near-maximal repetition, muscular hypertrophy training utilizes more repetitions with slightly less resistance. 

This sort of training causes small tears, or microtrauma, in the muscle fibers which the body begins to repair. These small tears are also the main culprit of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which can last for several days after a heavy workout.

Our bodies respond to these microtraumas by repairing and adding more muscle tissue to damaged areas. This phenomenon is also known as  supercompensation and it strengthens the muscles and prevents similar “injuries” in the future. Thus, if you want to keep adding more muscle mass and become stronger you must also progressively overload the muscle in order to facilitate more growth. In practice, this means you have to constantly increase the intensity or training volume as your body adapts to physical stress.

”Your diet can have nearly as big of an impact on your progress as your training.”

Training alone doesn’t guarantee healthy athletic progression. You must also know when to train your muscular hypertrophy for the best results. That’s why muscular hypertrophy training is often performed well before competitive season to ensure you have enough time for building more muscle mass. As you get closer to competitive season you can focus on maintaining your performance and staying healthy. However, it may still be smart to keep some important muscular hypertrophy workouts in your routine even during competitive season.

Athletes often forget that muscle growth happens when you rest.

Muscular hypertrophy needs lots of nutrients

Nutrition is a crucial factor for muscular hypertrophy. In order to maintain an anabolic (growth) state, you need to sustain a positive energy balance. This means that you must consume more calories that you use. Having a calorie surplus leads to weight gain in the form of fat or muscle mass. Thus, athletes need to make sure they get enough protein, especially branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) to promote muscle growth. A commonly recommended amount of daily protein intake is around 1,2g – 1,8g for every kilogram of bodyweight. 

Since proper nutrition boosts the production of growth hormones and maintains the energy storages in your muscles, you need to make sure to eat as often and as well as possible. One simple guideline is to eat every three hours or so with lots of protein especially if you are trying to increase muscle mass.

Muscular hypertrophy needs plenty of rest

Muscular hypertrophy training is incredibly straining for your body. For this reason alone you need to make sure that you rest enough to let your body recover. In fact, athletes often forget that muscle growth happens when you rest. That’s also why some bodybuilders take naps right after their post-training meals.

During rest your muscles rebuild themselves by adding more contractile proteins into a single muscle fibre. This means that each muscle cell become larger in size while their actual amount stays the same. However, there have been studies stating that muscle cells can split into two under extreme stress. This is called hyperplasia and is still under debate among sports scientists.

Resting also activates the parasympathetic nervous system that speeds up recovery. Additionally, sleeping also releases growth hormones in your body and can even boost your testosterone levels.

We’ve also created an in-depth article about muscular hypertrophy training packed with valuable information. If you want to know how to make your own workout program or take a sneak-peek at our selection of free samples, click the button below.

Final thoughts

There’s no question that muscular hypertrophy can provide a much needed boost in an athlete’s performance. Furthermore, increased muscle mass can also shape your physique and improve how you feel about yourself. In fact, having more sculpted muscles is also highly connected to mental wellbeing as well – if you know you look good, you’ll feel good too!

If you are serious about increasing muscle mass through muscular hypertrophy training, you must follow a very well-balanced training routine. Not only should this concentrate on actual training, but also put focus on the right nutrition and sufficient rest. Otherwise you may end up doing more harm than good for your body.

But before you go, here’s a quick recap of hypertrophic strength training:

  • Increases contractable muscle mass, volume and cross-sectional area (CSA)
  • Increases strength
  • Boosts growth hormone production
  • Focuses on both slow and fast muscle cells
  • Anaerobic energy production with lactate
  • Often utilises isolated muscle exercises
  • Training method for bodybuilders
  • Damages the muscles more than other training methods
  • Requires plenty of nutrition to maintain anabolic state (muscle growth)

Did you learn anything new about muscular hypertrophy in sports? Let us know in the comments below!


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