Optimal Hypertrophy for Sports Supertraining Extract

Published: 10th August 2009
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Mel Siff talks hypertrophy in this extract from his textbook Supertraining, as taken from health.groups.yahoo.com/group/supertraining - of which the best posts are listed at melsiff.com



In both Olympic lifting and powerlifting, optimal and not maximal hypertrophy
is a central feature of the game, unlike bodybuilding where it does not
matter whether one is relatively weak or strong with reference to one's
bodymass. All that matters is well-defined, symmetrical muscle bulk in
bodybuilding, but in the lifting sports, your size and impressiveness of
appearance earn you scant respect - all that counts is what you lift.

Optimal hypertrophy means continuing to develop building muscle only as long
as that extra bulk continues to provide you with significant increases in
strength and power. If you add 10kg to your bodymass and your total
increases by only 5kg in a higher bodymass division, then your relative
strength has decreased and that added hypertrophy is wasted on you.

This is a serious problem in contact sports such as football where the common
belief is that virtually any form of added mass is good for the game
(especially defensive players), whereas in reality it would be a lot better
if the added bulk was mainly solid, functional muscle which added strength,
power, speed and agility.


Research from Russia even suggests that there are two different types of
muscle hypertrophy: sarcomere hypertrophy (of the actual contractile
components) and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (of non-contractile proteins and
semifluid plasma between the muscle fibres), with the latter type of
hypertrophy being more in evidence in bodybuilding (Siff M C "Supertraining",
2000, Ch 1.13).


To provide some more relevant information on this important and controversial
topic, I have included this fairly lengthy extract from "Supertraining" (pp
67-69) for those who may be interested:

Other research has found that hypertrophied muscle fibres need a
significantly larger tissue volume to perform a given amount of work. With
the development of non-functional muscle bulk (sarcoplasmic hypertrophy), the
increase in muscle mass outstrips the development of the circulatory system,
resulting in decreased nutrition and oxygenation of the muscle, slowing down
the metabolic processes in the muscle and less efficient disposal of
metabolic waste products from the musculoskeletal system (Zalessky &
Burkhanov Legkaya Atletika 1981: 1-7).

Furthermore, adaptation occurs more slowly in connective tissue (such as
tendons and ligaments) than in muscle and any increased tension made possible
in the musculotendinous complexes by the increased muscle mass can cause
damage to these structures (Zalessky & Burkhanov, 1981). Thus, excessive
hypertrophy usually leads to slower muscle recovery after exercise,
deterioration in speed, speed-strength and speed, as well as an increased
incidence of injury.


This might suggest that all muscle fibre hypertrophy lowers work capacity.
Hypertrophy is an adaptive response to physical stress and does offer the
benefit of increased mitochondrial surface area, which provides for more
efficient energy processes than would an increased number of mitochondria.
With a rapid increase in loading, the size of the mitochondria continues to
increase markedly, but their number decreases and the concentration of ATP
drops, thereby diminishing the partial volume of the contractile myofibrils.

The resulting energy deficit soon inhibits the formation of new structures
and the decreased amount of ATP stimulates various destructive processes
associated with decrease in the number of myofibrils. This process is
referred to as irrational adaptation.

Growth of any living structure is related to the balance between its volume
and its surface area. When muscle hypertrophy occurs, the surface of the
fibres grows more slowly than their volume and, this imbalance causes the
fibres to disintegrate and restructure in a way which preserves their
original metabolic state (Nikituk & Samoilov, 1990).

It would appear that light and medium increases in loading require less
energy, facilitate cell repair, minimise the occurrence of destructive
processes and stimulate the synthesis of new, non-hypertrophied cellular
structures. Medium loads applied with a medium rate of increase in loading
produce intense muscular development, the process in this case being referred
to as rational adaptation.

The fact that conventional isometric training improves performance in static,
rather than dynamic, exercise may be due to the different structural effects
of isometric training on the muscle fibres, muscle cells, connective tissues
and blood capillaries.


This work seems to corroborate the hypothesis referred to earlier that there
may be an optimum size for muscle fibres undergoing hypertrophy (MacDougall
et al, 1982; Tesch & Larsson, 1982). The importance of prescribing
resistance training regimes which produce the optimal balance between
hypertrophy and specific strength then becomes obvious. Thus, it is not only
prolonged cardiovascular training which can be detrimental to the acquisition
of strength, but multiple fairly high repetition sets of heavy bodybuilding
or circuit training routines to the point of failure may also inhibit the
formation of contractile muscle fibres.

Therefore, it is vital to monitor regularly changes in muscular structure and
function alongside changes in size and mass. In most cases the taking of
biopsies is not possible or financially practical, so that indirect
assessment of the adaptive processes is necessary. Increase in hypertrophy
of a given muscle zone may be assessed from muscle girth and skinfold
thicknesses at that site, while factors such as relative strength, maximal
strength and the strength deficit (see "Supertraining", Ch 1) serve as useful
indicators of functional efficiency.


Bosco (1982a) cautions against the indiscriminate use of resistance training
that typifies much of the 'cross training' prescribed with weights and
circuits by Western personal trainers and coaches. He emphasizes that,
although heavy resistance training serves as a powerful stimulus for the
development and hypertrophy of both ST and FT fibres, the invaluable role
played by FT development can be impaired by the accompanying growth of ST
fibres, because the latter appear to provoke a damping effect on FT
contraction during fast movement.

This is due to the fact that, during high speed shortening of muscle, the
sliding velocity of ST fibres can be too slow and therefore, may exert a
significant damping effect on the overall muscle contraction. He concludes
that the central role played by the storage and release of elastic energy by
the connective tissues of the muscle complex should never be ignored in sport
specific training programmes.

Dr Mel Siff
Author of Supertraining + Facts and Fallacies of Fitness

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