What is Functional Hypertrophy?

by Charles Poliquin 2/3/2012 4:03:21 PM

Muscle hypertrophy training, or doing resistance training that builds your muscles, is something everyone you wants to live a long, healthy, lean life should know about. Hypertrophy that is functional is not just for athletes, body builders, or young men. Rather, everyone will benefit from functional hypertrophy training because at its most basic level, this style of strength training will improve your body composition, make you more agile, mobile, and strong. This article will provide a basic introduction to functional hypertrophy. It will also include a deeper look at more advanced strategies used for hypertrophy that I recently covered in the Hypertrophy Bootcamp at the Poliquin Strength Insititue in East Greenwich, RI. What is Functional Hypertrophy? Hypertrophy is the growth of muscle and occurs because the existing muscle fibers get larger due to strength training. Mechanical loading, or weight lifting, triggers processes within the cells and muscle fibers that lead to protein synthesis and muscle growth. Functional hypertrophy is muscle growth that is strategic so that it grows your muscles in a way that will improve physical performance. For a sprinter, functional hypertrophy will involve training that is both heavy and fast to help the sprinter become more explosive and faster without inducing too much gain in total body weight. In comparison, a football defensive lineman needs to be explosive and quick but they also need to weigh a lot since they have to block and push players who weigh around 300 pounds. A lineman who is very strong who only weighs 180 lbs will get squashed by a 300 pounder even if the 180 pounder is stronger and can bench press more weight. What is Functional Hypertrophy for Non-Athletes?

functional hypertrophy can help you get rid of chronic pain and prevent injury. Be aware that the general population often overlooks the importance of neuromuscular strength for daily physical performance and longevity. This puts us at greater risk of fall. This can boost performance now. it may be impossible to activate them later in life. The neuromuscular system includes the central nervous system. Still. Naturally. It all has to do with which muscle fibers you grow with your training. There are two basic fiber types. making you fast and explosive. but it will also set the endurance athlete up for better mobility as they age because research shows that if type II fibers are not activated at an early age. a functional hypertrophy protocol done by an endurance athlete will increase the proportion of type IIA muscle fibers (one of the type II subtypes). On the flipside. which activate the muscles to contract. And the only way to activate the more powerful type II fibers is by strength training and doing explosive movements such as sprinting or jumping. the theory of maximizing muscle fiber development for performance will guide the protocol. Neuromuscular strength refers to how effectively your body recruits muscle fibers. Endurance athletes who do a high volume of aerobic training won’t gain significant muscle mass even from a functional hypertrophy protocol because research shows aerobic training creates a muscle degrading environment that cannot be overcome with strength training. The type II fibers are called fast-twitch fibers and they produce high amounts of strength and power. which is made up of the spine and sensory nerves. In general. and the motor neurons. particularly the higher threshold fibers. you increase the efficiency of the signal that gets sent from the central nervous system to the muscle. The type I fibers are called slow-twitch fibers and they produce low amounts of strength and power. Never having trained the type II fibers puts an individual at greater risk for muscle weakness and falls later in life. If you’re a non-athlete. type I and II. but are very fatigue resistant. In addition to improving body composition and supporting metabolism. Endurance running or swimming will favor type I muscle fibers. even elite endurance athletes such as marathon runners will benefit from strengthening their type II fibers. meaning that for slow movements or the lifting of light weights. Within the two fiber types there are at least seven subtypes but for now all you need to be aware of is the distinction between type I and II. They fatigue quickly. only the type I fibers will be used and only they will be trained and . and they are each broken into subcategories. which produces a proportionately larger loss in power and strength. In fact. An older individual’s functional hypertrophy program will also be different because it will be oriented toward improving physical performance. which are the type II fibers. which in this case is probably focused on mobility and structural balance. which is essential for longevity. Stronger type II fibers have been shown to decrease the risk of falls and fractures in older individuals. type II muscle fibers are more susceptible to loss of strength and size as we age. the type II muscle fibers are recruited after the type I fibers. injury. an endurance athlete’s functional hypertrophy program will be different from a tennis or football players program. What Are Other Benefits of Functional Hypertrophy for the General Population? Neuromuscular strength is a primary benefit of functional hypertrophy training. making it contract with more force and strength. and poor physical performance. When you build neuromuscular strength.The definition of functional hypertrophy for non-athletes is the same as for athletes—it grows your muscles in a way that will improve physical performance. functional hypertrophy training will allow you to strengthen your type II fibers. But. which are fatigue resistant and more powerful than type I.

a body building protocol would be pointless because these programs train you to get big. Forced repetitions at a slow speed. but a lack of scientific basis for training protocols has gotten in the way and produced misconceptions. or sarcomere hypertrophy. a common component of body building hypertrophy programs. should be avoided. a common area that you don’t find hypertrophy being very functional is in body building. For example. and hypertrophied. but the density of muscle fibers decreases. older individuals. For instance. you will want to train to be fast by including explosive movements in your protocol. if you’re training for sports that require quickness and speed.hypertrophied. Growing the sarcomere. When you lift heavier weights or perform explosive movements. the hamstring muscle is often lagging in the sport of body building and may be a weak link for many athletes. How Will functional Hypertrophy Support Optimal Body Composition? Training for functional hypertrophy will support body composition because it is about maximizing relative . but slow and may produce muscle imbalances if the fast and slow-twitch qualities of different muscles are not accounted for. it is logical that everyone would want to exercise so that they develop muscle that makes them perform better in sports and everyday life. Growing the sarcoplasm. involves the increase in non-contractile proteins and fluids between muscle fibers so that the cross-sectional area of the muscle is larger. is the increase in the size and number of sarcomeres in the myofibrils. For example. Studies have shown that body building programs that use slow training movements will hypertrophy primarily type I fibers. or sarcoplamic hypertrophy. Fast-twitch muscles respond best to lower reps and heavier weights. the “higher threshold” type II fibers will be recruited. Meanwhile. It puts athletes at risk of injury. poor hamstring strength and size can produce back pain and poor mobility. Sarcomere hypertrophy increases the density of myofibrils that contract to make a muscle motion. This hypertrophy leads to greater strength. An individual muscle fiber is made up of two components called a sarcoplasm and a sarcomere. This will sound technical but it’s an important distinction to understand. but body builders with the most impressive physiques may not be the strongest. trained. Body building is all about growing muscles. but it is possible to train the high threshold fibers with somewhat lighter weights and more repetitions that exhaust the motor unit. The reason is that the hamstring is fast-twitch when it flexes the knee (a butt-kick motion). Functional hypertrophy training will allow you to recruit these high threshold type II fibers for greater power and strength. This will improve neural drive and make you stronger. and females with less training and strength will not get the greatest benefit out of near maximal weights. For the general population. Be aware that the most common way to do this is by lifting very heavy weights that are close to the maximal amount you can lift. For the general public and for athletes. Another difference between body building hypertrophy and functional hypertrophy is the part of the muscle cell that grows. children. whereas slow-twitch muscles respond best to lighter weight and higher reps. which make up an individual muscle fiber. Sarcomere hypertrophy is generally what we are referring to when we talk about functional hypertrophy. Why Would Anyone Not Train To Maximize Functional Hypertrophy? Excellent question. and slow-twitch as a knee extensor. whereas the fibers that are built by power athletes and Olympic weight lifters are type II fibers. novice trainees. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy won’t increase muscle strength and is a technique used by body builders since it makes their physiques more imposing.

and support hormone response for fat burning. Glutamine is the primary building block in the intestinal lining and it restores the intestines. and if there is a shortage. Research shows that BCAAs with extra leucine will trigger a gene signaling pathway for hypertrophy in older trainees that is inactive unless leucine is present. I suggest protein supplementation as well. Take a very large dose of glutamine (60-plus grams) and it will heal and guard the stomach. it makes sense that it would also support recovery from intense training and a new study in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism showed that it does. the most abundant amino acid in the body. meaning that a primary goal is to get the most powerful.strength for your weight. making you more anabolic. This lowers athletic performance in most sports and almost all recreational activities. while minimizing body fat. glutamine is beneficial if you have a stomach illness or are going somewhere with contaminated food and water such as Mexico. BCAAs that are enriched with leucine (the BCAAs include leucine. Glutamine and BCAAs are both amino acids. a large dose—called a bolus dose—is best to promote protein synthesis and recovery. Researchers found that glutamine is instrumental in tissue repair. On the flip side. They also improve insulin sensitivity. The second most important nutrient for functional hypertrophy is glutamine. BCAAs are found in high-protein foods such as meat and whey protein and can be taken in supplement form. you should take a large dose and recovery will be dramatically accelerated. and of course older trainees are one of the populations that will benefit most dramatically from functional hypertrophy since they are most susceptible to muscle loss and poor mobility. I have found that muscle gains from training often correlate with how strong the immune system is. improve your insulin health and blood sugar levels. but protein in dietary form should be the focus of your meals for functional hypertrophy. recovery from training will be impaired. if you overtrain. catabolic stress hormones will rise and you will likely feel under the weather. Carrying excess body fat or excess muscle mass in the form of sarcoplasmic hypertrophy will adversely affect endurance and places a burden on the cardiovascular system. Glutamine also plays a part in immune function such that if you are getting sick. and valine) are especially beneficial for older trainees. glutamine levels will drop. Glutamine also accelerates muscle glycogen resynthesis making it beneficial for strength athletes but absolutely essential for endurance athletes whose performance is limited by glycogen stores and quick replenishment of this energy source. What Do I Need To Know About Nutrition for Functional Hypertrophy? Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are the most important nutrient for functional hypertrophy because they will elevate protein synthesis and recovery. Researchers have recommended glutamine as a supplement for sick children and adults to speed recovery. For example. With all this data. If you’re part of the general population and are training for functional hypertrophy. BCAAs are just as important as for athletes because they will decrease soreness from lifting and speed the recovery process. which is essential for maintaining energy levels and improving body composition. improving gut health. and it is necessary for the body to heal wounds. but I want to stress the value . “usable” strength. An often overlooked key to functional hypertrophy is supporting it with nutrition because this will allow you to boost metabolism. isoleucine. Another benefit of BCAAs is that they support androgen receptor sites and have been shown to improve the testosterone to cortisol ratio. Following training. It also lowers inflammation and supports digestion.

there is a link to an article at the bottom of this page. and you subject your body to something it’s not used to. and drive to exercise will be better if you avoid carbohydrates for breakfast and before training. The Hypertrophy Boot camp Sounds Interesting. The Boot camp will help you set a new mentality of what your body is capable of and how you can train to get results. Be aware that the fuel you are burning when you are working out is what you ate in the past—although your energy levels and neurotransmitters will be influenced by what you just ate—because these nutrients have replenished cells and can support energy levels. There is no 15-minute “quick fix” for body composition and getting in shape as many fitness magazine suggest. Can You Give an Example of a Workout Technique For Functional Hypertrophy? A functional hypertrophy technique that I teach at my Hypertrophy Boot camps is the use of Giant Sets. but it is possible to improve body composition rapidly if you eat right. a lower body giant set would be eccentric-enhanced squats. and then has them train those methods three times a day for a week in the gym. Read about the Top Five Reasons to Vary Tempo in Your Workout here. I also cover nutrition for hypertrophy and always highlight the importance of BCAAs and glutamine. Training giant sets and using related training techniques such as varying tempo is the best way to subject your body to something it’s not used so that it has to adapt. especially high-glycemic carbs that contain a large amount of glucose and are digested rapidly will make you tired and elevate the neurotransmitters that make you lethargic and unmotivated. The same applies prior to strength training. To read more about varying tempo. but in general. which are best for body composition. dramatic gains. Eating carbs. What Else Would I Get Out Of It? The Hypertrophy Boot camp is a course that has students learning about the theories behind functional hypertrophy in class. focus. . The variation of tempo is a complex training strategy in which you alter the amount of time spent on different parts of the lift such as doing eccentricenhanced squats that use a slow tempo (4 to 6 seconds) for the down motion and a fast tempo (explosive) for the up concentric motion. This is an excellent way to shock the lower body into getting stronger and it will also train cardiovascular fitness. It triggers a robust anabolic hormone response and is particularly effective for boosting growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1. followed by trap bar deadlifts. amino acids are ideal as you are training and immediately after—this is where BCAAs and glutamine come in. A giant set is a group of four exercises that target one part of the body. supplement to support recovery and fat burning. For hypertrophy and the enhancement of protein synthesis. For most people who are not endurance athletes. you want to avoid carbs for breakfast because they will suppress the production of neurotransmitters that give you energy such as dopamine and acetylcholine. followed by heel-elevated squats to isolate the quads a bit better. Aside from practical tools that you can use in designing your own and your athletes’ workouts. This does not apply to everyone. Be sure to focus on getting ideal amounts of fiber from vegetables because they will provide antioxidants and low-glycemic carbohydrates. and it needs to be challenging and difficult if you want fast. you realize that your body will adapt to anything you subject it to. dramatic results. which is where many people go wrong with nutrition. Most people do not work hard enough to elicit these rapid. For instance. energy. and followed by lunges.of whole foods protein and fiber for functional hypertrophy.

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