The Implications of Hypertrophy in Sport


At no time in competitive sport have the demands for enhanced performance and rapid recovery been greater. The physical intensity and competitive pressures of modern sport regularly push athletes to and even, beyond their physical limits.  Allied to this, expanding sporting calendars are placing previously unseen demands on physical recovery in many sports and not just at the highest level.  To cope with such intense pressures, increasingly sophisticated training methods, state-of-the-art sports equipment and intensive medical support have become, of necessity, essential components in the drive to improve performance levels.

Hypertrophy is the process which enables athletes to increase their physical strength and extend the limits of their performance.  The same biological processes that drive hypertrophy also apply to recovery.

One method for improving physical capability in sport is to seek gains in muscle strength and explosiveness.  There are two widely-accepted legal strategies available for achieving this.  The first of these is by training muscle groups to fire to their best efficiency, termed neuromuscular adaptations, where the brain learns how better to coordinate the voluntary activation of muscle fibre, engaging the maximum number of motor units with each muscle contraction [1].  People less used to performing high intensity muscle movements are less likely to be able to access their maximum available muscle strength.

By repeatedly performing simple resistance exercises, the brain learns to activate the muscles more efficiently, with resulting significant early gains in strength and explosiveness.  However, these initial gains soon plateau and a second approach is required as further strength and performance gains will only be achieved by actively increasing the strength or endurance of the skeletal muscles.

Our skeletal muscles are responsible for all our controlled movements as well as providing core stability, the two qualities essential for all physical performance.  Skeletal muscle makes up nearly 40% of adult body weight and consists of close to 75% of the body’s total protein [2].  For any sports that require power and explosive movement, the only route to improving strength after neuromuscular conditioning is to increase the force with which skeletal muscles can contract. This is achieved through increasing the cross-sectional area and mass of the muscle, a measurement that is directly linked to higher strength.

Hypertrophy, the process of increasing muscle size, is therefore essential for strength gains and forms a key part of the training goals in many sports [3].