Hyperplasia: Beyond Genetics


Did you know that many people, scientists included, believe that your muscle building potential is predetermined by your genetics?

While your genetics do determine your starting point (thanks dad…), they do not determine your potential for building muscle.

That’s right…. Even if you’re genetically skinny like I am, there’s hope!  

It’s all about how you train…

When it comes to building muscle, there are really only two concepts to behind it:

Hypertrophy

If you've done any research on building muscle, I'm sure you've heard of hypertrophy. Basically, hypertrophy refers to an increase in the size of muscle cells. This can be done through progressive overload (increasing the weight lifted), muscle damage & repair (think “microtears” from training), and metabolic stress (performing reps to failure).

This concept is not the focus of this article, but if you have questions feel free to reach out!

Hyperplasia

Hyperplasia, on the other hand, is actually increasing the number of muscle fibers that you have. This is done by physically splitting your current muscle fibers, or “activating” satellite cells to form new fibers. Both of these are achieved by introducing tension to a stretched muscle fiber.

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Avian Stretch Model [1]

While, for ethical reasons, this concept can’t be tested in humans, it has been seen in animals as early as 1973. One of the earliest experiments to test hyperplasia was the avian stretch model.

In this test, a weight was attached to a bird’s wing (about 10% of its bodyweight) in order to place a weight-induced stretch on the bird’s back muscles.

At the completion of the study, it was found that not only did the muscle fibers increase in size (hypertrophy), but the number of fibers had increased by 16%!

Since this original test, even more significant increases in muscle fiber numbers have been seen with this type of weight-induced stretching.

Triggering Hyperplasia

Sure, this concept has been supported in animal studies, but it’s not like any of us are going to walk around for weeks at a time with weights strapped to us…

So how can you take advantage of it?

Remember, in order to trigger hyperplasia, a muscle fiber needs to be stretched while under tension. Now, this is not static stretching or yoga... It’s a much more painful, deliberate stretch of the muscle tissue.

It can be a bit hard to explain, so think of it this way…

After performing a working set, hold the weight in the position where your muscle is stretched, before continuing with a lower weight.

For example, a row machine where you hold the weight with your arms fully extended after a set for 20 seconds, before dropping the weight and performing 8-10 more reps.

Or…

A preacher curl where you pause the weight at the lower range of the motion (not locked out) and hold it there for 20 seconds before dropping the weight and performing more reps.

This can be done for just about any muscle group, just remember that you need to stretch the muscle fiber while under tension.

Conclusion:

When used together, these two concepts can help you build new muscle fibers and increase the size of these fibers, resulting in significantly more muscle growth.

It’s not easy, and requires mental strength to utilize this type of training. The stretch can be painful, and the lactic acid buildup is unbelievable intense… but If you’re looking to build serious mass, give it a try!

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[1] Sola OM, Christensen DL, Martin AW: Hypertrophy and hyperplasia of adult chicken anterior latissimus dorsi muscles following stretch with and without denervation. Exp Neurol 1973, 41:76-100.



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