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  • Writer's pictureBreanne Kunstler

Get pumped! What is 'hypertrophy' and how do we get it?

Our member and physiotherapist, Shae Martello, tells us how to get big and powerful muscles to do the activities we enjoy.


‘Hypertrophy’ is my favourite word. Hypertrophy is the enlargement of an organ or tissue from the increase in size of its cells. Muscle hypertrophy is the growth and increase in size of muscle cells. We know that skeletal muscles are important to move our bodies, but did you know that they also keep us in static positions when we are not moving and contribute to nutrition and wellbeing by storing and utilizing energy sources? From a functional perspective, the activation and movement patterns of muscle groups are the most important factors. However, there are some particular muscle group that could benefit from being a bit larger.


In the shoulder, having a larger anterior deltoid muscle (the muscle at the front of your shoulder) can protect against dislocation. With shoulder problems, the first priority to ensure your rotator cuff muscles (the deep muscles of the shoulder joint) are strong and working properly.


The largest muscle in your body is the gluteus maximus, your buttock muscle. Together with gluteus medius and minimus, these muscles make up your ‘glutes’. The glutes are important in extending our hips and keeping our bodies upright, helping us stand from sitting or squatting, run and jump. If you picture Australian hurdler Sally Pearson and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, it’s no wonder they are Olympic champions. Having bigger muscle cells in your glutes means more power generated into hip extension which is required to push off to run or jump, not to mention having a nice round rump to hold your pants up.


How do you grow bigger muscles? Resistance training. Yes, I’m talking about weights. There is a debate in the fitness world over what is the ultimate rep range or optimal dosage for improvements in a specific area. It is widely agreed that for adults to improve power, they should be lifting heavy enough to be able to complete between 1-8 repetitions, 8-12 for strength and 12-20+ for endurance, 2-3 sets per exercise. Resistance training should be included as part of your fitness regime 2-3 times per week.


In relation to muscle hypertrophy, there is no clear guideline. Studies have reported that regardless of the rep range, muscle growth will occur if you achieve volitional fatigue. Volitional fatigue is the point at which you are unable to perform another repetition without assistance. So, if you feel another rep in you, then push it out, or you’re not going to grow.


After training, your body needs rest and recover to repair and lay down new tissues. Sleep is the most important aspect of recovery. If you aren’t getting between 7 and 10 hours a night, then you are not allowing your body enough time to replenish and grow. Other important elements of recovery include stretching, hydration and nutrition to build up and replenish energy stores. In order to grow, muscles also need fuel, which comes from quality food and a varied balanced diet. All of these factors need to be considered when approaching a hypertrophy program.


If you think you could benefit from bigger muscles, speak to your physiotherapist about what training approach would be best for you.


Shae Martello is a physiotherapist at Healthfocus Physiotherapy in Albury, NSW. Shae has an interest in researching how nutrition affects recovery in adjunct to physical activity, and also safe resistance training for adolescents to improve performance. Shae promotes physical activity to her clients by brainstorming how it can fit into their daily routine and helping them explore other options if they do not have an interest in conventional activities. Shae's personal favourite form of physical activity is resistance training and she attempts to educate all clients on the benefits, especially adolescents. Call (02) 6041 5744 to make a booking to see her today!

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