Debunking Common Myths Surrounding Hypertrophy Training
Top 4 Hypertrophy Myths Debunked
Today we will be reviewing and debunking the top 4 most pervasive myths surrounding hypertrophy training and hopefully create a bit of clarity around the topic.
For the uninitiated, hypertrophy training is the type of weight training performed for the specific goal of growing muscle. This is different than strength training which trains the body specifically for strength. While there is a lot of overlap, the ways in which we train for each is very different.
For hypertrophy, we train with weights to/close to failure in the 5-30 rep range. For strength, we train the body in the 1-5 rep range (or more effectively in the 3-5 rep range). We will flesh out these distinctions more throughout the newsletter.
If you scour the internet long enough, you’ll see a lot of “functional training” and training for “performance”. Let’s dive in and quickly go over the claims surrounding those who “train for aesthetics” in the order of frequency in which I encounter them.
If you train for hypertrophy:
You will be less mobile
You won’t make strength gains (or very little)
You will have poor endurance (cardiovascular health)
You will be less agile
Starting at the top…
Training for Hypertrophy will make you Less Mobile
People are more or less mobile for many reasons. For some, it’s genetic and just the way their bodies are built which make them more or less able to get a full range of motion. For others, past injury is a major injury for reduced mobility and usually requires lots of rehab to get back to normal. For most, though, living a mostly sedentary lifestyle has basically ensured that they hardly get to move their bodies beyond tying their shoes and hunching over a keyboard.
But what about bodybuilders? They seem so hulking and massive that all those muscles for sure get in their way of living with full mobility.
It turns out that there is no significant difference between stretching and lifting weights for improving range of motion. Which makes sense if you think about it. What are we doing when we are moving our bodies through a full range of motion if not stretching the muscles under a heavy load.
Does this mean you don’t need mobility work? It might. For people without mobility issues, resistance training may be enough. For people who do have mobility issues and have had issues in the past with injuries should always follow the protocols of their physical therapist which will likely involve lots of stretching and general mobility work.
Playing devil's advocate for a moment, could muscle stiffness and joint range of motion decrease due to rapid muscle mass gain? This isn't by any means outside the realm of possibility; however, it is unlikely that the general population will have rapid muscle gains of this caliber that would warrant this level of concern. Moreover, these are temporary issues that can be ironed out through additional flexibility training.
So again, does training for hypertrophy inherently necessitate a decrease in mobility? As long as they’re training through the full range of motion — ie. using good technique, and smart training choices, there isn’t too much to worry about here.
Training for Hypertrophy means no (or little) Strength Gains
If you haven’t seen the videos of the 15 year old sumo deadlifting over 700 lbs take a look.
In a remarkable feat of strength, as such a young age, and with relatively little muscle mass, we are left questioning — what’s the use of all that muscle mass if you can be this strong without it? Does muscle mass mean anything beyond aesthetics?
First of all, Nik You is a genetic anomaly. Dude is one in a million for the sport of powerlifting. Using him as a benchmark for strength at his size and age is unfair to the vast majority of people who train for strength and hypertrophy. However, it does raise some fair questions about the role of muscle mass and strength.
The fact of the matter is, a lot of strength gains are basically neural adaptations. This means that we train our nervous system to better use our muscles to produce maximum force — that’s it. However, having more muscle mass means greater strength potential. If it weren’t for weight classes in powerlifting, you would likely see many more athletes periodizing their training for hypertrophy as well as strength to maximize their ability to drive force.
More muscle = more strength potential. This used to be obvious.
Training for Hypertrophy means a Lack of Endurance
You may be thinking that by gaining significant muscle mass through hypertrophy training, you will add weight and increase the energy cost of running, which would disadvantage endurance sports where efficiency is key.
This all falls back on the SAID principle. If you are concerned with the muscle growth associated with hypertrophy training interfering with your endurance training, then your fears are unfounded.
The predominant adaptations for activities like marathon running are likely to limit muscle growth, then the reverse. By training for endurance, you inherently reduce the potential for the muscle growth that would adversely affect marathon performance.
This well-documented phenomenon is known as the "concurrent training interference effect." When endurance training and resistance training are performed concurrently, the adaptations for endurance can interfere with those for strength and hypertrophy. This effect is particularly pronounced for high-volume, high-intensity endurance training like marathon preparation.
Training for Hypertrophy means being Less Agile
This claim is similar to the concerns with hypertrophy negatively effecting endurance and mobility. Agility or “quickness” will for sure be reduced as you grow in size. But again I ask you, if you’re already training for MMA, sprinting, or whatever else requires agility, putting on size won’t be a concern if you are training for the sports in any serious way.
Playing devils advocate for a moment, it is true that the bigger you are, the less agile you’ll be. If you’ve ever watched a wrestling match through all of the weight classes (light weight to heavy weight), this becomes obvious. The 103 pounders are lightning fast and do all sorts of crazy maneuvers the bigger guys could never pull off. But this where weight-classes come into play. Try putting a 103 pounder against a heavy weight and see how long that lasts, or worse, how long before the 103 pounder gets put into a hospital. There are indeed tradeoffs to be made here but they range and are accounted for by the different weight divisions — Crisis averted!
Would I recommend you train for hypertrophy if your focus is on training for MMA? Probably not if I had to choose one or the other. I'd recommend you train for strength in that case. However, if we were to periodize across the many months and years in the MMA, with off-seasons and whatnot, I’d probably have training blocks where we train specific for muscle growth to raise overall strength potential, and then strength phases where we train nervous systems to better utilize the new muscle mass.
However, not everyone is training for a sport like MMA. Too many people are taking the advice from people who train for sport specific reasons and applying it to their general training regimen. Most are left wondering when the muscle start to grow... bad news, they won't grow because you're not training specific enough. But yeah trust me bro, you’re much better off twirling batons because you never know when that will be necessary… instead of, you know, growing muscle and potentially getting a lot stronger.
My general advice is for healthy young men to train for muscle growth as early as possible. This mean setting aside a few years to exclusively put lean muscle onto their frame. From there, if you'd like to add in more training methods like running marathons or MMA, you can maintain that muscle mass and pursue those endeavors. Trying to grow muscle later in life is hard, and even more difficult when you’re pursuing multiple, antagonistic, training adaptions.