An increase in muscular tension (force) is the primary requirement for initiating muscular growth, or hypertrophy with exercise training. An Increase in muscle size through increased protein synthesis during resistance training is a fundamental biological adaptation to an increased workload in both men and women regardless of age.
In good old plain English, if you eat right and train hard you will grow! Simple when you know how, isn’t it. Or is it? In determining your potential for growth there are three fundamental factors that you will need to understand more about.
This starts with Morphology, or the science of Body shapes. Each of us can be broadly placed in to one of three classifications based on the physical characteristics that we display. These characteristics are determined primarily by two main components – Body Fat and Fat free mass.
The classic Ectomorph
Long, rectangular shape, flat chested, slender in hips, no defined waist, poorly muscled on trunk and limbs: Small boned, limbs longer in relation to trunk. Relatively lower body fat than other types because of low body weight, but can have a high fat to muscle ratio due to poorly developed muscle. Faster metabolism.
The classic Endomorph.
Round, soft, pear shaped body: More fat distributed at the hips and thighs. Small to medium bones. Muscles not well defined. Higher fat to muscle ratio on trunk and limbs. Shorter limbs relative to trunk. Slower metabolism.
The classic Mesomorph.
The female may be classified as having an hour glass figure whilst the male would be more stereo typically described as having a Body building physique, broader at the shoulders and hips, narrower at the waist. Well-defined muscle on limbs and trunk. High muscle to fat ratio. Medium to large boned. This symmetrical body can look fit even without exercise. Moderate metabolism.
It is the fat free mass that is our primary concern here, more specifically the type of fibre that constitutes the muscular make – up of this Fat Free mass. Human skeletal muscle tissue is made up of two very different fibre types that are classified by their contractile and metabolic characteristics.
In FAST twitch fibre (which tend to predominate the Mesomorphic body shape) there is an ability to generate energy rapidly for quick powerful actions that are anaerobic in nature. The fast twitch fibre intrinsic speed of shortening and tension development is 3 to 5 times
faster than those fibre classified as Slow twitch. This means that they are very efficient for physical activities that require short sharp bursts of energy such as weight training and sprinting but not so good for endurance based activities like swimming or jogging.
In SLOW twitch fibre (which tend to predominate the classic Ectomorph body shape) there is an ability to generate energy over a much longer period of time but only at about 20/30% of the speed and tension of fast twitch fibre. This means that the slow twitch muscle fibres tend to lend themselves more effectively to those activities that are more aerobic in nature such as jogging, Cycling, Swimming, Rowing and Exercise to music.
So what does all this “Twitching” mean to the likes of the would-be Body builder?
Put simply, it means that your capacity for muscular growth is very strongly influenced by your genetically inherent body shape and more specifically the muscle fibre type that tends to predominate that body shape.
Does this mean that to save a lot of hard work and even more heartache you should give up before you get started?
Not at all…. We all have a tremendous potential to be realised within the constraints of our genetic make-up. Most certainly if your body shape and fibre type predominate the Fast twitching Mesomorph then with the right balance of Nutrition, Training and Recovery, the sky is the limit. For the rest of us mere mortals, the Ectomorphs among us can look forward to a “cut” (definition) that would be the envy of any top class Body builder. And what of our middleman / woman – the Endomorph – with a little more attention to body fat reduction techniques – a physique that would be the envy of any Mesomorph.
Exercise and Muscular Hypertrophy
The range of exercises available to the individual wishing to improve their physic is phenomenal. And would no doubt allow us to extend this article by another dozen pages, however there are some very important principles that we can apply to these exercises that are well within the realms of this text.
Free – Weights or Machines?
Both have positive and negative aspects. As far as free-weights are concerned, on the positive side they are extremely versatile allowing for a greater inclusion of accessory musculature than the majority of modular resistance machines. Because of this, the calorie expenditure and intensity, exercise for exercise, is perceived by many as greater in free weights than in modular equipment and probably accounts for the popularity of free weights in general. On the negative side the risk of injury with free weights is much greater than with resistance machines, particularly when training alone. From a mechanical perspective, in any free weight exercise you are only as strong as the weakest point in the arc of movement (leverage).
As far as machines are concerned, they are very safe and muscle specific allowing for changes in leverage via offset cams and pulleys. On the downside resistance machines tend to be so muscle specific that the total work carried out by associated musculature is far less than there free weight counterparts. I think it would also be fair to say that they do not have the versatility that is generally associated with free weights.
How often should I train?
This to a large extent is flexible around the time that you have available. Successful regimes can range anything from training one muscle group per day six days per week through to the more common four day split and alternate day training for the full body.
The amount of evidence based research on muscular Hypertrophy and optimum work / recovery ratio’s is very limited. This unfortunately gives rise to a lot of personalised “systems” that may or may not work for you. On that note my best advice to you would be to experiment with both work and recovery periods bearing in mind that there is growing consensus (again, as yet, not evidence) that after a heavy resistance work-out a muscle may require as much as four to five days to recovery completely.
How hard do I need to train?
Heavy weight and low rep / Lighter weight and higher rep? Both methods have staunch advocates and again research seems to be split. Those who believe that muscular growth or overload is best created by taking the target muscles to failure using whatever means necessary. And those who believe that it is best created by maximising the tension in a muscle without necessarily going to failure but more volitional fatigue.
To throw yet another hat into the ring I believe (and at this stage it is only my humble opinion) that in the same way that we all pre – dominate a particular body shape and muscle fibre type the methods for training should be different. An example of this might be: –
Mesomorph 3-5 sets 8 – 12 reps to failure
Ectomorph 3-5 sets 12 – 20 reps to volitional fatigue.
Endomorph 3-5 sets 8 – 12 reps to failure.
Per anatomical movement that each muscle group is responsible for.
Recovery is very closely linked to frequency and intensity. However the most important aspects of recovery are adequate sleep and optimum nutrition.
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