Muscle building hypertrophy this is what you need to know

Muscle building& Hypertrophy: what you need to know about it!

Muscle building, i.e. the increase of muscle mass or. the increase in muscle cross-section, also called muscular hypertrophy in science.

In the 80's, muscle hypertrophy was primarily popular among bodybuilders. Today, building muscle mass is one of the most common training goals in the gym. The reasons to build muscle may vary from person to person. A large proportion of those who build muscle do so for aesthetic reasons. Others want to achieve an increase in physical performance through greater muscle mass. Health aspects can also be the intention for muscle building training.

In the following article, we will first discuss the physiological basis of muscle growth and the factors that influence it. Subsequently, the most important training parameters for an optimal muscle building training are explained and exemplary training plans are presented. Finally, an insight into the elementary basics of nutrition for successful muscle building is provided.

Physiology of muscle growth

In order to understand how muscle building works, it is first of all essential to know about muscle anatomy. The following graphic shows the anatomical structure of a human skeletal muscle.

A muscle consists of several muscle fiber bundles. These are formed from several muscle fibers. A muscle fiber in turn consists of several sarcomeres. This is the smallest functional unit of skeletal muscle. Sarcomeres contain the contractile elements actin and myosin (cf. structure of a muscle). Contractile means that these elements make it possible to contract the muscle.

Muscular cross-sectional increase can be achieved by two mechanisms: sarcomeric hypertrophy and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

Sarcomeric hypertrophy

During strength training, an intense tensile load is applied to the muscle. The mechanical overload of the muscle leads to a disturbance in the structure of the muscle fibers and the associated extracellular matrix. There is an adaptation reaction of the body, which tries to protect itself from future stresses of the same kind. During the regeneration phase, the number of sarcomeres is increased.

The new sarcomeres are formed in parallel with the existing sarcomeres. Therefore, it is also referred to as parallel hypertrophy. The result is an increase in the diameter of individual muscle fibers. Thus an increase of the total muscle cross section.

This hypertrophy mechanism is also described in the literature under the terms protein catabolism or theory of mechanical repair.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy

In addition to the increase in contractile elements, an increase in muscle cross-section can also occur through an increase in various non-contractile elements and fluid. This is referred to as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

The accumulation of glycogen in the sarcoplasm has a decisive influence on exercise-induced sarcoplasmic muscle growth. Because 1g glycogen binds 3g water. Due to the increased water binding in the muscle, the muscle volume and thus the cross-section is increased. Sarcoplasmic muscle growth is primarily achieved through metabolic exhaustion of the muscle.

The underlying mechanism that leads to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is also known in exercise science as the energy deficiency theory. In sarcomeric hypertrophy, muscle growth occurs through the proliferation of sarcomeres. In sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, the muscle cross-sectional area increases due to the expansion of the extracellular matrix.


Hyperplasia is the increase in the number of muscle fibers. Theoretically, hyperplasia could also contribute to an increase in muscle cross-section. However, an increase in the number of muscle fibers due to training has not yet been demonstrated in humans. Only in some animal experiments was it possible to prove that hyperplasia is possible in living animals.

Morphological versus neuronal adaptation

When strength training, beginners can expect significant increases in performance quite quickly. However, especially at the beginning, these are not (yet) due to the muscle growth. Strength increases in the first six weeks of strength training are primarily due to neuronal improvements. Only after that, visible morphological muscle growth could be detected in scientific studies by MRI.

Factors influencing muscle growth

Whether the targeted muscle growth actually succeeds, unfortunately, depends not only on the regular growth stimulus by a structured training and a complementary nutrition plan adapted to it. Ultimately, factors that cannot be influenced, such as genetics, also play a significant role.

Genetically determined muscle fiber spectrum

To understand the basics of muscular hypertrophy, it is important to know that there are different types of muscle fibers. For these are differently well suited for muscle growth.

Muscle fibers are generally divided into two fiber types: Type I and Type II.

Type I fibers, often referred to as slow-twitch fibers, contain a high proportion of myoglobin and are highly capillarized – that is, crisscrossed with fine blood veins. They therefore appear red under the electron microscope. This is where the term "red" muscle comes from. These muscle fibers are fatigue resistant and therefore predestined for activities that require local muscular endurance. However, these muscle fibers are not very fast. Cannot apply large forces.

Type II fibers, also known as fast-twitch fibers, are less capillarized and contain less myoglobin. Accordingly, they appear white in the light microscopic image. This type of fiber is therefore also referred to as "white" muscle. Type II fibers reach significantly higher peak tensions. Are faster than type I fibers. This makes them ideal for strength-. Fast strength related requirements suitable. However, they tire quickly and are therefore only partially capable of performing activities that require a high level of muscular endurance.

There is also a mixed form of these two muscle fiber types. This is also called intermediate type. In the literature, differentiations are sometimes found between type IIa (intermediate) and type IIb (very fast twitch).

The proportion of type I and type II fibers is primarily genetically determined. On average, human muscle contains approximately the same amount of type I and type II fibers. Some individuals, especially long-distance runners, often have a greater proportion of type I fibers. Sprinters, on the other hand, have predominantly type II fibers. In addition, certain muscles are predisposed to higher percentages of a particular fiber type. For example, calf muscle contains m. soleus on average more than 80% type I fibers. The upper arm muscle m. triceps brachii, on the other hand, contains an average of about 60% type II fibers.

The growth capacity of type II fibers is significantly greater than that of type I fibers. Individuals who genetically have a higher proportion of type II fibers thus have a higher potential for muscle growth.


Hormones also influence muscle growth. The balance of muscle proteins is influenced in part by the neuro-endocrine system. Various hormones have been shown to alter the dynamic balance between anabolic (building up) and catabolic (breaking down) stimuli in muscle, thereby controlling an increase or decrease in muscle protein.


Testosterone is a steroid hormone derived from cholesterol. Testosterone has a strong anabolic (muscle mass building) effect. The anabolic effect of testosterone has been attributed in part to its ability to increase protein synthesis and inhibit protein breakdown. Men have an approximately tenfold higher amount of testosterone than women. This is thought, in part, to be the main cause of gender differences in muscle strength and mass.

Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1)

IGF-1 is a homologous peptide that has structural similarities to insulin. IGF-1 carries out intracellular signaling through multiple signaling pathways. These signaling cascades have both anabolic and anticatabolic effects on muscle. Thus promote increased tie growth – they suppress muscle breakdown.


Insulin is a peptide hormone secreted by the beta cells of Langerhans' cells in the pancreas. Insulin regulates glucose metabolism by allowing glucose to be stored as glycogen in muscle and liver tie. Insulin also has anabolic effects. Despite this characteristic, the greater influence of insulin in exercise-induced muscle growth is probably primarily due to inhibition of protein breakdown.


Muscular hypertrophy is already possible in childhood and adolescence. Especially in adolescence, the ability to build muscle mass increases rapidly, particularly in boys. This is due to the rising testosterone level.

Muscle mass reaches its peak in humans between the ages of 20 and 40 years. After that, the body loses about 0.5% of its muscle mass per year. From the 50. From the age of 1-2% per year. Especially the type II fibers are affected by this. However, regular strength training can attenuate muscle atrophy in the elderly and even lead to muscle growth.


On average, women have less muscle mass than men, both in absolute terms and relative to body weight. This is mainly caused by hormonal differences. Here the already mentioned testosterone plays the biggest role.

The optimal training for muscle building

Mechanical tension is one of the most important aspects in training-induced hypertrophy. Mechanosensors are sensitive to the intensity as well as to the duration of the mechanical load. Metabolic stress can directly send intracellular signals, which in turn induce hypertrophic adaptations. In order to generate a stimulus that is effective for training, the load intensity must be high enough. Thus, for a targeted muscle building only strength training comes into question. The training control in the strength training takes place over the load normative intensity, extent, density and frequency.

Intensity in muscle building training

Training intensity is one of the most significant factors in strength training. To induce muscle growth, targeted strength training at specific intensity ranges is required. In training practice, the intensity is usually expressed in relation to the one-repetition maximum (one-repetition maximum / 1-RM). 100% of the repetition maximum corresponds to the weight that can be lifted exactly once. To induce muscle growth, training weights are classically moved in the range between 60% and 80% of maximum strength. In these intensity ranges, 8 to 15 repetitions are usually achieved until the muscle is exhausted.

At very high intensities (>90% 1-RM), neuro-physiological adaptations are induced to a greater extent; however, the effect on muscle growth is no longer as high.

Higher repetition numbers (>15) with lower intensities lead to higher metabolic stress and thus probably induce higher sarcoplasmic hypertrophy but lower contractile hypertrophy. Therefore, the intensity range between 60-80% 1-RM seems to represent the optimal combination of mechanical tension and metabolic stress.

Training volume in muscle building training

Training volume refers to the number of repetitions in a given period of time, or. in a series. In principle, a higher training volume correlates with a higher muscle growth – at least up to a certain degree. Ultimately, this again depends on the performance level and training experience.

For beginners, one exercise per muscle (muscle group) per training session is sometimes sufficient to achieve a training-effective stimulus. This type of training is also referred to as one-set training (cf. cf. insert training or multi-set training). For advanced users, it is recommended to perform three training sets per muscle group. With six or more sets per muscle, no further benefit in terms of additional hypertrophy effects can usually be observed. For very ambitious athletes who train 4 or more days per week, split training can also be useful, in which several different exercises are performed for each muscle.

Significant for muscle building training is that the exercises are performed to the point of exhaustion – true to the motto: "No pain no gain". Therefore, we do not recommend giving strict guidelines regarding the number of repetitions, but actually perform as many repetitions as possible. Ultimately, the number of repetitions is thus based on the weight to be moved. The number of repetitions is only recorded after the execution for a later training analysis.

Stimulus density in muscle building training

The load or. Stimulus density is the temporal succession of individual exercises or sets. The pause between training sets should be about three minutes (rewarding rest), so that the muscle can replenish itself with high-energy phosphates until the next exercise is performed. If two exercises with different muscle groups follow each other, the break can also be shorter.

The use of supersets can be a means of deliberately depleting the muscle metabolically. However, for targeted muscle growth, the rewarding pause should be observed.

Training frequency during muscle building training

Training frequency refers to the number of training sessions performed in a given period of time, usually one week. To take advantage of the supercompensation effect, strength training to achieve muscle cross-section increase should occur at least 2x per week with at least 3-4 training-free days between training sessions. The higher the performance level, the faster the muscle regenerates – accordingly, the next training stimulus can then also take place more quickly (after 2 days).

Quality of movement execution

The quality of the movement execution is not part of the load normative, but it is essential for the training execution. It tells whether an exercise is technically correct or not. performed according to the trainer's instructions. Particularly with training beginners is to be paid attention to a technically clean exercise execution. This is not only important for injury prevention, but also for the effectiveness of the workout. Because by an unclean technique or by evasive movements with the exercises the target muscle is not optimally addressed, whereby the training effect sinks.

Exercise selection in muscle building training

In order for long-term adaptation to occur, a variety of exercises should be used in the course of a periodized training program.

The choice of exercise determines to a large extent how isolated a muscle is addressed. From a functional point of view, it is certainly advisable to choose complex exercises for whole muscle chains. From the point of view of muscle growth, however, the load of an exercise on a particular muscle can be better estimated the more isolated it is addressed.

In order to consider functional aspects as well as to include training of stabilizing muscles, a varied mix of exercises should be planned. Exercise selection should consist of free weights and machine-guided exercises, single-joint as well as multi-joint exercises. In general, it is recommended – especially as a beginner – to concentrate on the basic exercises such as squats or bench presses, and to complete the training session with a few, targeted isolation exercises (e.g., squats, bench presses, etc.). for the posterior shoulder), to be supplemented.

Working methods of the muscles during muscle building training

Three basic types of muscle actions are distinguished:

– positive dynamic (concentric work) overcoming – negative dynamic (eccentric work) yielding – static, holding (static work)

Working methods of the muscles

The amount of force that can be exerted at will is eccentric by approx. 20% to 50% higher than concentric. This means that a higher load can be applied to the muscle during training in eccentric exercises. In addition, the mechanical load on the muscle is highest in the eccentric phase. The higher mechanical tension per active fiber is probably due to a reversal of Hennemann's magnitude principle. During eccentric movements, type II fibers are selectively recruited at the expense of type I fibers. The higher load in the eccentric phase on the type II fibers increases the extent of muscular damage on these fibers. This mechanism is probably the hypertrophic advantage of eccentric movements.

In training practice, however, it is hardly possible to perform purely eccentric exercises. This is almost only possible with machine-controlled equipment such as isokinetes, which are rarely available. One way to support the eccentric phase in strength training is the method of forced reps, where a training partner supports the movement in the concentric phase, but the eccentric movement is performed by the trainee alone without support. This usually allows 2-3 more repetitions to be performed.

Speed of movement during muscle building training

The speed of movement in strength training is usually given in three values (given in seconds).

Example: 2/0/2

– The first value describes the duration of the eccentric movement phase. – The second value describes the duration of the static holding phase. – The third value describes the duration of the concentric movement phase.

Note: Depending on the literature, the order can also be exactly the opposite.

Depending on the extent of the movement and the exercise, the movement speed of 2/0/2 in strength training represents a classic tempo for orientation purposes. Due to the rather high intensities, fast movement is not possible anyway. Especially with advancing fatigue, the movement speed in the concentric phase will slow down.

In hypertrophy training, the eccentric phase can also be emphasized, since according to the theory of mechanical repair, the splitting of the myofibrils occurs primarily in the eccentric phase. Thus, movement speeds of 3/0/2 or even 4/0/2 are sometimes applied. On the one hand, this increases the duration of the eccentric phase, while on the other hand, the intensity of the exercise decreases due to the slower movement tempo. Whether a slower execution of the movement in the eccentric phase actually results in a hypertrophic advantage has not yet been clearly clarified scientifically and is questionable.

Range of motion during muscle building training

The range of motion (engl. Range of Motion (ROM) describes the oscillation range with which movements are executed. When comparing partial and complete ROMs, the advantage, in terms of muscle growth benefit, is on the side of complete ROM. Nevertheless, the use of so-called partial reps can also be used to vary the training process.

Exercise sequence during muscle building training

Current strength training recommendations call for large muscle and multi-joint exercises – basic exercises such as squats – to be performed early in training. Only then should small muscle and single-joint exercises – isolation exercises such as reverse butterflies for the rear shoulders – be performed. These recommendations are based on the amption that the performance of multi-joint exercises is impaired if the smaller synergists are already fatigued by previous exercises. Even if this has not been clearly clarified scientifically, adherence to this sequence makes perfect sense from the point of view of injury prevention.

If one wants to prioritize muscle growth in a particular muscle, it would be wise to train that muscle at the beginning of training. Because for the maximum number of repetitions not only the local fatigue is relevant, but also the central nervous system. This will increase with increasing training duration. Decrease the maximum number of repetitions. In order to stimulate the target muscle as intensively as possible, the highest possible number of repetitions should be performed, which is only possible at the beginning of the training session.

Summary of the section

The classic workout to achieve maximum muscle building effects should be designed like this:

– Intensity: 60-80% RM – Range: 3 sets per exercise (and muscle or. muscle group) – breaks: mind. 3min between series – Frequency: 2-3x per week – Exercise selection: different exercises – Method of working: if possible focus on eccentric phase – Movement speed: 2/0/2 (optional: 3/0/2 with focus on eccentricity) – Movement range: use full ROM – Exercise order: from complex to simple, prioritized muscle at the beginning

Training plan for muscle building

In order to build muscle optimally, strength training must be planned systematically. This is where a training plan helps. The training plan specifies how the strength training should be structured so that it leads to the desired success.

In a training plan for targeted strength training to build muscle, exercises are logged with the specification of the repetitions and weights that are to be performed according to plan in training. In addition, the frequency of the strength training should be recorded in the training plan so that sufficient training breaks are taken so that the trained muscle can regenerate.

Free training plan templates for muscle building

At the beginning of strength training, success can be achieved quickly in terms of strength gains or muscle building. The more trained the athlete is, the more variations must be incorporated into the training concept. After some time, the body adapts to certain loads in training, so that performance no longer increases. By varying the load (periodization), a long-term increase in performance can be realized.

Optimally, the training methods are changed every three to ten weeks. The more advanced the athlete or. the higher the performance level, the shorter the phases should be. It is not necessary to change all exercises in every cycle; especially for beginners it is sufficient to change the load intensity and thus the repetition range.

Below we are happy to provide training plan templates free of charge:

Training history analysis – Free template

A training plan is not only used to plan the workout. With the help of the training plan and a systematic training log you can also track with which methods you have achieved success, or when stagnations have occurred. For this purpose, a training history analysis is performed, in which the results of regular performance tests are recorded. In strength training, the one-repetition maximum (1-RM) is suitable, which tells how much weight can be lifted just once.

A free template for a training history analysis to log your training is available for download here:

Nutrition for muscle building

Nutrition has a significant influence on the success of muscle building. With an inadequate diet, no muscle building can take place, no matter how hard and consistently you train.

Energy Balance

The energy balance, the result between energy intake and energy demand, has a decisive influence on the ability to build muscle.

A negative energy balance means that the energy intake is lower than the energy demand. This condition leads to catabolism, which is a phase in which the organism breaks down the body's own energy-rich substances. Muscle growth is not possible with a negative energy balance.

Balanced energy is also suboptimal for muscle growth. Even if the energy intake and energy demand are balanced over a certain period of time, there will be periods of time when there is an energy deficit.

The body must be in an anabolic phase in order for muscle growth to be stimulated. This can only be achieved if there is a permanent positive energy balance. The energy intake must therefore be constantly higher than the energy demand. Combining strength training with a caloric surplus enhances the anabolic effect.

Macronutrient distribution

Proteins The pure consideration of the energy balance is not sufficient. Because the body needs not only energy for muscle protein synthesis, but also the "right building blocks".

Muscle tie consists primarily of proteins – that is, proteins. It therefore stands to reason that the amount of protein ingested has a significant influence on the build-up of muscle mass (cf. "The role of proteins in the diet"). The DGE recommends a daily protein intake of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for adults doing light physical work. Athletes have a higher protein requirement. This is around 1.4 to 1.7 g/kg/day. The optimal amount of daily protein intake ultimately depends on both energy balance and body composition.

Carbohydrates Carbohydrates consist of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The energy required by muscle during exercise comes from ATP, which is derived primarily from carbohydrates. Even though carbohydrates can be synthesized from proteins via gluconeogenesis, a deficiency is certainly a hindrance to the achievement of high performance in strength training. A low intake of carbohydrates is apparently already sufficient for the achievement of strength performance. It should be noted, however, that the brain primarily relies on glucose as an energy source, and consumes approx. 120 g required. However, this amount can also be provided by gluconeogenesis.

There is no sound evidence on the optimal amount of carbohydrates to consume in order to induce the best possible hypertrophy effects. The daily intake of 3-7 g/kg body weight can be taken as a rough guide. The range of this recommendation is of course very high; however, the interindividual requirement probably also varies considerably.

Fats Fat is the most energy-rich nutrient. And our depot fat is the largest energy store in the body. Fats serve as a cushion for mobile organs and are an indispensable building material for our cell membranes.

Despite the high importance of fats for the organism, the influence of fat intake on muscle growth is small. However, fat consumption has an influence on testosterone synthesis, so there is an indirect influence. Omega-3 fatty acids also cause increases in cell membrane fluidity, which could also have a positive effect on protein metabolism.

According to the recommendations of the DGE, about 30% of the total energy intake should come from fats. Saturated fatty acids and trans fatty acids should be consumed in small quantities, as they have a negative effect on blood fat levels.

Most intake recommendations for athletes are usually based on a specific indication of protein and/or carbohydrate amount. The amount of fat to be consumed is ultimately determined by this information. For athletes, the rule of thumb is 1 g fat per kilogram per day. There is room for improvement, but care should be taken to ensure that lower intakes do not result in insufficient intake of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins.

So to ensure the optimal intake of nutrients for your muscle building, you should study food science. How many carbohydrates, proteins and fats are contained in which foods and which are particularly suitable for strength athletes, you will learn in our nutritionist training.

Nutrient Timing

In addition to the amount of macronutrients, the timing of intake is also relevant. This is also referred to as nutrient timing. Especially directly after training – until about two to three hours afterwards – the body is in an anabolic window, in which the supply of carbohydrates and proteins is important to stimulate muscle growth.

Due to the amino acid availability and the simultaneous stimulated insulin release from the carbohydrates, muscle protein synthesis should be maximally stimulated. Recommended is 45-75g of carbohydrates and approx. 15-25g protein. A positive side effect of simultaneous carbohydrate intake is that the depleted glycogen stores are replenished.

In addition, the supply of protein should be as continuous as possible to stimulate muscle anabolism and inhibit muscle catabolism. The anabolic effect of a protein-rich meal lasts for about five to six hours. From this it can be deduced that meals should be supplied at these intervals so that proteins are consistently available to the organism and the body is constantly in the anabolic phase.

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