By Stefan Ianev
Although most people lift weights to look good naked and improve their self-confidence, weight training, especially training for hypertrophy has numerous other health benefits which can improve the quality of your life.
Whether your goal is aesthetics, improved performance, or you are simply seeking better health, hypertrophy training is an integral part of the equation.
Let’s look at some of the benefits of hypertrophy:
Strength Potential: All things being equal a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle. The cross-sectional area of your muscles is like the size of an engine…the bigger the engine, the more power it can generate. Of course, strength is also dependent on the efficiency of your nervous system and the ability to fire all your motor units in synchrony at the highest possible frequency. That’s why the more advanced a lifter is, and the more efficient their nervous system is, the greater the role muscle size plays in getting stronger.
Storage of Elastic Energy: Hypertrophy work, especially when the eccentric action is emphasized, can make the tendons and the part of the muscle closest to the tendons (distal portion) thicker. This will allow you to store more elastic energy when absorbing force (e.g. when your foot strikes the floor when sprinting). This can then be turned into potential energy which will, in turn, make the following concentric action more powerful. A thicker tendon also has a strong stretch reflex which is key in being powerful, fast and agile.
Power Potential: Hypertrophy is the foundation for strength i.e. the ability to generate force, and strength is the foundation for power i.e. the ability to generate force as rapidly as possible. By increasing the force component of the power equation, you will automatically become more powerful. To maximize power output however, you should also train the ability to express force rapidly.
Injury Prevention: Thickened tendons are less likely to get injured than smaller or thinner ones. Hypertrophy training, especially when emphasizing the eccentric action, can make the tendons thicker which will help reduce the risk of injuries. Also, as you age, the loss of muscle is one of the main causes of many serious injuries due to falls. Preserving muscle mass, or increasing it, will reduce the risk of this happening.
Increased Insulin Sensitivity: Hypertrophy training increases insulin sensitivity through several pathways. One of the ways to is simply by creating more room in the “storage facilities”. The more room there is in the muscles, the easier it is to store nutrients and the less insulin your need to produce. If the muscles are almost full it becomes much harder to get those nutrients in and you must produce more insulin to get the job done.
Hypertrophy training also relies heavily on carbs for fuel. You will use up a lot of muscle glycogen when training for hypertrophy. By using muscle glycogen, you are making more room in the muscles which means that it will be easier to store the carbs you eat, and thus you will not need to produce as much insulin to get the job done.
Hypertrophy training has also been shown to increase protein content of GLUT4, insulin receptors, protein kinase B-alpha/beta, glycogen synthase (GS), and GS total activity (1). The increased concentration and activity of these enzymes increases glucose transport and storage into the muscles.
Energy Expenditure: Hypertrophy training also increases energy expenditure through several pathways. Firstly, a high typical hypertrophy workout can burn anywhere from 300-600 calories or more depending on your strength, body weight, and work capacity (2).
Secondly, after the workout is over, your energy expenditure will stay elevated above baseline for a few hours. This is in part due to the elevation of adrenaline and cortisol that occurs during your session. Generally speaking, we are talking about 5-10% of the energy expenditure from the session. If your workout “cost you” 500 kcals, then you will “burn” an extra 25-50 kcals in the hours after your session; not huge, but it still counts.
Lastly, repairing damaged muscle tissue and synthesising new muscle tissue is an energetically costly process. Studies have estimated the energy cost of depositing 1kg of skeletal muscle tissue to range from 1450 Kcal to 1780 Kcal (3).
Quality of Life: There is a strong correlation between muscle mass and quality of life in older populations. In fact a recent study by Haraldstad K et al showed that elderly individuals
significantly increased their health-related quality of life after 12 weeks of resistance training (4).
Prevention of Muscle Moss: Muscle loss as you get older is well established. In non-training individuals roughly 0.5 – 1% of the muscle mass is lost every year from the age of 50. A 70-year-old adult can thus have lost up to 20% of their muscle mass (5). Hypertrophy training is an effective way of preventing or even reversing this process.
Reduced Risk of Osteoporosis: The benefits of resistance training on the prevention (and even reversal) of osteoporosis are well established. To quote a recent paper, “Resistance exercise exerts a mechanical load on bones consequently leading to increase in the bone strength. Based on the available information, resistance exercise, either alone or in combination with other interventions, may be the most optimal strategy to improve the muscle and bone mass in postmenopausal women, middle-aged men, or even the older population” (6).
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- Holten MK, Zacho M, Gaster M, Juel C, Wojtaszewski JF, Dela F. Strength training increases insulin-mediated glucose uptake, GLUT4 content, and insulin signaling in skeletal muscle in patients with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes. 2004;53(2):294‐305. doi:10.2337/diabetes.53.2.294
- Reis VM, Júnior RS, Zajac A, Oliveira DR. Energy cost of resistance exercises: an uptade. J Hum Kinet. 2011;29A:33‐39. doi:10.2478/v10078-011-0056-3
- Slater GJ, Dieter BP, Marsh DJ, Helms ER, Shaw G, Iraki J. Is an Energy Surplus Required to Maximize Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy Associated With Resistance Training. Front Nutr. 2019;6:131. Published 2019 Aug 20. doi:10.3389/fnut.2019.00131
- Haraldstad K, Rohde G, Stea TH, et al. Changes in health-related quality of life in elderly men after 12 weeks of strength training. Eur Rev Aging Phys Act. 2017;14:8. Published 2017 May 30. doi:10.1186/s11556-017-0177-3
- Wilkinson DJ, Piasecki M, Atherton PJ. The age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass and function: Measurement and physiology of muscle fibre atrophy and muscle fibre loss in humans. Ageing Res Rev. 2018;47:123‐132. doi:10.1016/j.arr.2018.07.005
- Hong AR, Kim SW. Effects of Resistance Exercise on Bone Health. Endocrinol Metab (Seoul). 2018;33(4):435‐444. doi:10.3803/EnM.2018.33.4.435