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If you adhere to a strength program and are looking to increase muscle mass, then understanding the latest research for hypertrophy development is crucial to your gains.

WORDS Stent Card (Masters in Physiotherapy)

It’s well known that strength training and maintaining strength is one of the best things you can do for your current health and future wellbeing. Whether you are performing rehabilitation work post-injury; an athlete wanting to improve performance; a police officer requiring the ability to control confrontations; or an elderly person wanting to maintain independence and quality of life: strength training will benefit you.

If you adhere to a strength program, muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth) will occur. Hypertrophy is linked to strength. As muscle cross-sectional area increases (what occurs during muscle hypertrophy) so does strength. Increased muscle mass is a primary goal for many. Therefore understanding the latest research for hypertrophy development can help clinicians, personal trainers, strength coaches, athletes, and gym-goers.


I will try to explain very basic muscle contraction anatomy.

A muscle fibre has numerous myofibrils. Between each part of a myofibril, found between two ‘Z lines’, there is a single contractile element known as the sarcomere. Each sarcomere has a thick filament with the protein myosin and a thin filament with the protein actin. A muscle fibre will contract when the sarcomere contracts as a result of the actin and myosin filaments sliding over one another.

Having that little piece of information of muscle contraction will help you understand the “how” of hypertrophy. During hyper trophy the contractile elements (described above) simply become larger. You do not get any more muscle fibres, you simply increase the size of muscle fibre (not length). When you are lifting weights, little perturbations occur inside the muscle. This causes a cascade of events that result in an increase in the size and number of the thick and thin filaments (actin and myosin) and the number of sarcomeres. The final result is what you see in the mirror: an increase in muscle crosssectional area; simply larger muscles. Muscle tissue is not just made up of cells; it has what is called an extracellular matrix and during hypertrophy it also gets larger. The extracellular matrix is the outside part of a cell which provides structural and chemical support.


There are two ways by which mechanical loading can occur: either actively (force production) or passively (stretching). When you lift a weight through a full range of motion, during the lowering phase of the lift a passive stretch on the muscle occurs. Then, on the contraction part of the lift, the muscle is actively loaded. Animal model studies have demonstrated that passive stretching alone can
produce muscular hypertrophy. It is for this reason that going through a full range and not just focusing on the weight lifted is important. Keep in mind they are still unsure if this occurs in humans, however it may give you another reason to ensure you are performing your lifts with full range, and getting that passive stretch.

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