What is Muscle Hypertrophy?

By Jennifer Stewartz MOTR/L

What is Muscle Hypertrophy?

Muscle hypertrophy refers to an increase in the growth of muscle cells. This occurs when muscle protein synthesis is greater than muscle protein breakdown resulting in a positive net balance of protein in the body. More simply stated, muscle growth happens when muscle protein synthesis occurs more than muscle protein breakdown. The resulting positive net balance of protein facilitates lean mass growth. Conversely, when there is a negative net balance of protein muscle atrophy may occur.

Illustration of how muscle hypertrophy occurs in the human arm muscle. JOI Rehab

The Process of Muscle Hypertrophy

What is Muscle Atrophy?

Muscle atrophy is the opposite of muscle hypertrophy. Muscle atrophy refers to the wasting and loss of muscles. This can occur with non-use of muscles along with insufficient amount of protein, among other causes.  Muscle atrophy can also occur due to swelling within the muscle itself.  This is very common in the knee with VMO of the quad muscle.

What is Muscle Hypertrophy Caused By?

Resistance training is the main form of increasing muscle hypertrophy. Another way to increase hypertrophy of the muscle is through the increased intake of protein. This increased intake of protein causes an overall increased net balance of protein. The positive net balance of protein causes anabolic growth to occur. Anabolic growth refers to the transfer and use of amino acids in the skeletal muscles from diet intake. The best way to activate this hypertrophy is through a combination of exercise and nutrition.

Is Muscle Hypertrophy Good?

In rare cases, muscle hypertrophy can be classified as a muscular condition, known as muscle hypertrophy syndrome or Myostatin-related hypertrophy. Muscle hypertrophy syndrome leads to increased development of skeletal muscles, causing the appearance of well-defined skeletal muscles along with decreased body fat. This condition is not considered serious and is not associated with any known medical problems. Therefore, muscle hypertrophy is considered a healthy occurrence. The development of lean muscle mass has many benefits. Increased lean muscle mass facilitates increased metabolism, decreased risk of diabetes, improved immune system among other benefits.

What are the Symptoms of Muscle Hypertrophy?

Muscle hypertrophy manifests as increased muscle mass and muscular strength. With increased muscle hypertrophy, muscles may be more well defined. Increases in strength can also be noted. Growth in muscle cells can be linked to increased cross-sectional muscle fibers as well as increase in myofibril proteins.

How do I Activate Hypertrophy?

Hypertrophy training is one way to achieve muscle hypertrophy. Hypertrophy training refers to a specific form of resistance strength training using a combination of mechanical tension and metabolic stress. Although there is varying literature about the most effective form of hypertrophy training, several basic principles have been found to be most effective. Hypertrophy training typically consists of multiple sets of exercises, short rest intervals, moderate to maximal effort intensity, and finally increases in training volume.

Man doing resistance training for muscle hypertrophy. JOI Rehab

Resistance Training can cause Muscle Hypertrophy

Anabolic Steroids to Achieve Hypertrophy

The use of anabolic steroids, accompanied by strength training, also leads to muscle hypertrophy. The abuse of anabolic steroids, though, has many potential side effects. While anabolic steroids can increase hypertrophy of the muscles, they can also lead to permanent and semi-permanent side effects on various systems of the body.  Common side effects of anabolic steroids include but are not limited to:

  • Prostate Issues
  • Hair Loss
  • Testicular Shrinkage
  • Acne

Most data on the long-term effects of anabolic steroids in humans come from case reports rather than formal epidemiological studies. Serious and life-threatening adverse effects may be underreported, especially since they may occur many years later.

Written By: Jennifer Stewartz MOTR/L

Watch this video from JOI and JOI Rehab on Ankle Resistance Band Exercises!

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