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Hypertrophy vs hyperplasia

Hypertrophy, as is well known, refers to the increase in cell size, which can be divided into sarcoplasmic (increase in the size of the non-contractile elements) or sarcomeric (increase in the size of the contractile elements). Although both are given simultaneously as an adaptation to the exercise of strength, one or the other will be given more depending on the type of training we follow.

However, it is likely that you are less familiar with the concept of hyperplasia, which refers to an increase in the number of cells or fibers from the existing ones.

It is true that the most convincing data supporting hyperplasia arise from animal studies; However, although the molecular mechanisms underlying this multiplication in humans are not known, there is some evidence that the number of muscle fibers can increase after birth as a result of training.

Human data

Counting human muscle fibers directly is complex and invasive. Therefore, most studies that analyze hyperplasia in trained subjects are indirect. All of them revolve around muscle measurements in athletes (bodybuilders, weightlifters, swimmers …) against “normal” subjects of the same age range. The results showed that:

  • The muscle perimeters (set of muscle fibers) were greater in athletes.
  • Observing small groups of muscle fibers, it turned out that their size was very similar between athletes and non-athletes.

Thus, the size of the muscle fibers is more or less similar and the perimeters are larger in athletes; it is postulated that they should have a greater number of fibers.

Therefore, according to the researchers, the hypertrophy and hyperplasia are complemented so that, in the first place, the size of the muscle fiber increased (hypertrophy); and then, they experienced secondary hyperplasia.

But in response to what kind of training?

Extrapolating the data in animals together with the evidence in humans, has reached the point of establishing that the main cause of muscle hyperplasia is the longitudinal tearing of the muscle fibers (“fiber splitting”) related to the eccentric training performed with high loads of training.

A muscle can produce more fibers if it is subjected to the appropriate stimulus, although in this case, unlike hypertrophy, there must be a very predominant overload of high mechanical stress (quasi-injurious, according to many authors), followed by a period of regeneration . In addition, this overload should be performed by eccentric supramaximal contractions (> 100% 1RM) since it is in this phase where the greatest damage is done to the muscle fiber.

In response to this stimulus, there are two main response mechanisms, as shown on the sides of this photo:

Left side: A supported hypothesis is that the muscle fibers, upon reaching a critical size from which further increases in size would compromise the ability of the cell to obtain nutrients, begin to divide and thus increase the total number of muscle fibers.

  1. In the following image, the hypertrophied fiber up to a maximum point (“B”, marked with an asterisk) begins to experience fissures (see arrow).
  2. As of that moment, a fiber begins to be divided in other smaller ones (“fiber splitting”), but whose joint size would surpass that of the initial muscular fiber.

Right side of the first image (main mechanism): The other adaptive mechanism occurs by the activation and proliferation of satellite cells . Satellite cells are involved in the regeneration of skeletal muscle in such a way that they are activated in response to microscopic muscle damage resulting from training. These new cells can donate their nucleus to an existing muscle fiber causing hypertrophy, or on the other hand, differentiate from another fiber because it requires excessive repair and thus form a new fiber (ie, hyperplasia).

Can I get it?

Probably, the average person going to the gym is not going to cause hyperplasia … but there are exceptions. Young subjects (<40-45 years *), experienced, with a high degree of hypertrophy and high percentage of type II fibers can achieve this through a training protocol oriented to it, as the example given below (based on periodization by movements : thrusts / sun Hip / tractions / sun Knee).

* With age, decreases the size (not the number) of type II fibers, which are the ones that have the greatest capacity to increase their size and thus stimulate possible hyperplasia. Besides being one of the main reasons why we also lose strength as we get older, it explains why young subjects are more likely to increase the number of muscle fibers.

Even so, do not forget that performing a controlled eccentric phase during training for most goals is critical, and not just for muscle growth.

Periodization example

Based on the pure eccentric method of González Badillo and Gorostiaga (2002), in my personal opinion it is quite demanding and should not be done more than twice a year, taking into account that it can be extended for 2 months.

The stiffness and rigidity derived from performing only eccentric could functionally incapacitate to follow a “normal” life, so it is proposed to intersperse unique sessions of eccentric training with unique sessions of hypertrophy throughout the entire mesocycle.

The weekly frequency should decrease in relation to a period of hypertrophy. This is difficult to establish in general, since it would have to be individualized according to factors of each person, but in any case, after a pure eccentric training session, 2 days of rest (even if active), it could be advisable for the maximum results

We could also indicate that in machines and pulleys it is easier to perform eccentric work, but with free weights an assistant ( spotter ) may be necessary .

Microcycle 1

DAY 1: SESSION 1 OF PURE EXCENTRIC TRAINING – PUSHES
Intensity Effective series by exercise Rep Rest series Eccentric tempo Concentric Tempo
105% 1RM 5 in multiarticular3-4 in monoarticular 2-4 4-5 min 3-5 sec Maximum, with help.

Exercises:

  • Press flat bench with bar.
  • Press military sitting with bar (place insurance).
  • Parallel funds with ballast.

The session can be completed with pure eccentric abdominal work, since this type of methodology can affect the abdominal content (liver, pancreas, intestine …).

DAY 2: SESSION 1 OF HABITUAL HYPERTROPHY TRAINING – DOMINANT HIP

(Training methodology that each one usually follows for hypertrophy)

DAY 3: SESSION 2 OF PURE EXCENTRIC TRAINING – TRACTIONS
Intensity Effective series by exercise Rep Rest series Eccentric tempo Concentric Tempo
105% 1RM 5 in multiarticular3-4 in monoarticular 2-4 4-5 min 3-5 sec Maximum, with help.

Exercises:

  • One-handed rowing It can be done with dumbbells or, in this case, it may be safer, in leverage machine.
  • Dominated with ballast, helping in the concentric phase.
  • Alternate biceps curl with dumbbell on inclined bench (“only” 3 sets / arm).

The session can be completed with pure eccentric abdominal work, since this type of methodology can affect the abdominal content (liver, pancreas, intestine …).

DAY 4: SESSION 2 OF HABITUAL HYPERTROPHY TRAINING – DOMINANT KNEE

(Methodology of training that each one usually follows for hypertrophy)

DAY 5: SESSION 3 OF HABITUAL HYPERTROPHY TRAINING – PUSHES

(Methodology of training that each one usually follows for hypertrophy)

DAY 6: SESSION 3 PURE EXCENTRIC TRAINING – KEY HINTS
Intensity Effective series by exercise Rep Rest series Eccentric tempo Concentric Tempo
105% 1RM 5 in multiarticular3-4 in monoarticular 2-4 4-5 min 3-5 sec Maximum, with help.

Exercises:

  • Dead weight pulling the bar from the rack and starting the movement with the eccentric phase (towards the ground). To raise it to the rack, it would be necessary the help of 2 partners on the sides.
  • Inverted hyperextensions with ballast in a specific leg bank.
  • Femoral curl standing, lying or sitting. Although the movement is not dominant in the hip, the hamstrings are the main knee flexors. By also having an extension function on the hip, it is interesting to include it on this day to work both patterns of the same muscle group.

The session can be completed with pure eccentric abdominal work, since this type of methodology can affect the abdominal content (liver, pancreas, intestine …).

DAY 7: SESSION 4 OF HABITUAL HYPERTROPHY TRAINING – TRACTIONS

(Methodology of training that each one usually follows for hypertrophy)

DAY 8: SESSION 4 OF PURE EXCENTRIC TRAINING – DOMINANT KNEE
Intensity Effective series by exercise Rep Rest series Eccentric tempo Concentric Tempo
105% 1RM Indicated in each exercise 2-4 4-5 min 3-5 sec Maximum, with help.

Exercises:

  • Squat (3 series). For the ascending phase of the movement, the help of 2 companions on the sides would be necessary.
  • Leg press (6 series). An exercise where this methodology can be applied in a more secure and localized way than in squats. Therefore, it becomes more important.
  • Unilateral quadriceps extensions (3 series).

The session can be completed with pure eccentric abdominal work, since this type of methodology can affect the abdominal content (liver, pancreas, intestine …).

Microcycle 2

The methodology to follow, along with the exercises, is the same as in the microcycle 1, but with an increase in intensity. They will not be addressed specifically every day or session, but the load factors would look like this:

Intensity Effective series by exercise Rep Rest series Eccentric tempo Concentric Tempo
115% 1RM 5 in multiarticular3-4 in monoarticular 2-4 4-5 min 3-5 sec Maximum, with help.

It is advisable, and it would be intelligent, to reduce the load (especially intensity) in the days of “habitual hypertrophy training”.

Microcycle 3

Likewise, the methodology to be followed, along with the exercises, would be the same as in the previous ones, but with an increase in intensity, which will reach its peak. They will not be addressed specifically every day or session, but the load factors would look like this:

Intensity Effective series by exercise Rep Rest series Eccentric tempo Concentric Tempo
130% 1RM 5 in multiarticular3-4 in monoarticular 2-4 4-5 min 3-5 sec Maximum, with help.

It is advisable to reduce the load (especially intensity) in the days of “usual hypertrophy training”.

Microcycle 4

Likewise, the methodology to be followed, along with the exercises, would be the same as in the previous ones, but now with a decrease in the load with respect to microcycle 3. They will not be specifically addressed every day or session, but the load factors would look like this:

Intensity Effective series by exercise Rep Rest series Eccentric tempo Concentric Tempo
120% 1RM 4 in multiarticular3 in monoarticular 2-4 4-5 min 3-5 sec Maximum, with help.

It is advisable to maintain the load as in microcycle 3 on the days of “usual hypertrophy training”. In case of not supporting it, the rest could be reduced or increased.

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