To completely understand how our muscle grow and find out how to get them big you have to get to know the most important process in bodybuilding – what is hypertrophy and what is causing it.
Muscle hypertrophy is simply the growth (increase in size) of muscle tissue. This is really the foundation of bodybuilding training – our main objective.
What causes hypertrophy – how our muscles grow
When we lift weights or perform any other type of resistant training or sport we cause very small damage to our muscles. Every repetition is causing small tears in the muscle fibers. It is called microtrauma.
After finishing activity and consuming post workout nutrition our muscles start to repair themselves. Our body use protein to heal the damaged tissue with overcompensating it – it makes it a little bit bigger and stronger. This is generally how our muscles grow.
The most ‘damage’ to muscle fibers occurs when we lower the weight down (during negative part of movement – eccentric) not pressing up. That’s why it’s very important to pay attention to tempo during performing each exercise. Let’s say we are doing barbell curls: we curl the weight up (1 second), flex the biceps and lower it down slower (about 2 seconds).
How to keep muscles growing steady
After each workout, few meals and recovery our muscles become a bit bigger and stronger. However they get use to the same stimulation very quick. The same weight used over and over during training won’t cause significant damage to muscles to cause any growth.
To keep muscles growing we have to keep increasing the weight that we train with over time. It’s called progressive overload.
For example if we bench press with 60kg (135lb) week after week and month after month we will notice growth only in few first weeks of training. After that muscles will get use to the same load and they will not grow any more. Doesn’t matter how hard you will train and how big a pump you will have.
On the other hand if you add some weight each week to the barbell (even 2.5kg – 5lb) after two months you’ll be training with 80kg (185lb) and your chest will be getting bigger continuously throughout this period. Constant progress is the key to steady growth of muscle mass (hypertrophy).
What stops hypertrophy
Too hard training and therefore too big damage to muscle fibers stops the growth completely or even reverses it. It happens nearly most of time to beginning bodybuilders. It is a very common mistake. New boys usually try to prove how hard they are and they perform far too many sets with too heavy weight on a first session. It results in a massive DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness. For a next few days they are so sore that they are not able even to lift their hands. But this is not the end of the story. Because muscle fibers has been damaged too much they are not able to repair themselves properly; sometimes even for weeks. On the next training session they are weaker than on a first one. Time they should notice the biggest growth is very often wasted. Trainee usually gets demotivated and quits after first month or two of training.
It doesn’t happen only to beginners. It’s actually very popular and often recommended to blast each body part to the level we can’t feel our muscles any more. And even if we are able to cope with this kind of training, without performance enhancing drugs (steroids), we can’t make any progress. Too much stimulation, training always to failure, prevents muscles from getting stronger and therefore bigger. It’s the progressive overload (adding weight over time) that makes muscle grow not the extremely hard workouts with the massive pump.
Hitting the same muscle group too often without giving it enough rest also stops the hypertrophy. Again there are many newcomers who like to train biceps every day. As a result muscles have no time to ‘heal’ and therefore grow. Before they are able to repair themselves they are being damaged again by another heavy session of curls. Training frequency is another very important aspect of bodybuilding. Each muscle group needs around 48 hours to regenerate. Muscles grow when we are resting not when we are training.
Not enough protein is another reason we can’t notice any gains. When muscles don’t have enough building material they simply can’t grow.
Lifting the weight up and down without control and not slowing down in a negative (eccentric) part of movement can make training completely ineffective as well. Remember to lower barbell down slower than you were pressing it up. This part of exercise stimulates growth the most. It makes you also really ‘feel’ the trained muscle group.
Generally hypertrophy is a growth of certain tissue. Bodybuilding has many benefits. It stimulates muscle but also bone hypertrophy. Our whole body becomes bigger and stronger; even joints and tendons. Of course if we train right with a correct technique and nutrition.
Working out too hard – with too many sets and exercises will slow down or even stop the hypertrophy completely. Training the same muscle group each day is also wrong and counterproductive.
To keep making progress you have to focus on adding weight each week/month and year. This is what really makes muscle grow in a long term. If you lift the same weights for a whole year you will look the same for the whole year. Doesn’t matter how hard you will train.