Hypertrophy for Athletes

I’ve been asked recently, by aspiring  athletes, about what to do about adding some (functional) lean body mass for next season. Most mentioned throwing in some higher rep work to aid the process. Now, yes – a higher rep scheme WILL help you gain some mass; it won’t be overly functional from a performance perspective. You see, there are two different types of hypertrophy (muscle growth). That’s right! Two different types! Verkhoshansky explains the two types of hypertrophy:

‘Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy: The volume of the non-contractile protein and semifluid plasma between the muscle fibers increases. Although the cross-sectional area of the muscle increases, the density of muscle fibers per unit area decreases and there is no corresponding increase in muscle strength.

Sarcomere hypertrophy: An increase in the size and number of sarcomeres which comprise the myofibrils. These may be added in series or parallel with the existing myofibrils, although only the parallel growth with contribute to an increased ability to produce muscle tension. The area density of myofibrils increases and there is a significantly greater ability to exert muscular strength.’

 That explains the huge dude in your gym who you can already out-squat, out-press and out-pull; or as the saying goes – he ‘looks like Tarzan yet plays like Jane’!

So – as an athlete, you should now have an idea of what type of hypertrophy you need.

How do I get this ‘Sarcomere Hypertrophy’?

A great article by David Adamson, posted on EliteFTS talks about the time under tension (TUT), rest periods and percentages of 1RMs to use. If we link that with Prelipin’s table regarding the total number of reps to perform when lifting between 75-85% as suggested in Adamson’s article, we can establish some solid parameters to elicit the sought after sacromere hypertrophy.



Optimal Total Reps








To establish the desired TUT you will need to consider your exercise selection as not all exercises take the same time to complete – think a squat versus a stiff legged deadlift, the distance the bar travels is very different. Therefore, you will need to consider the reps used in each set OR move at a set tempo to complete the set within that golden 10-20s window. Whatever tempo you choose I’d advise hitting the concentric portion as hard and fast as you can.

How does the fit in to a your program?

This question depends on how serious you are about gaining some functional mass and getting stronger. For the CrossFit athletes I know – metcon’s will have to take a back seat (cue the sudden gasps from the crowd!). Look, Rob Orlando said ‘strength takes a lifetime to acquire’ – true story. Sacrificing the chippers for just a few months (maybe more like 5 months) will pay huge dividends…you’ll just have to trust me. Dan Jon got some great advice, from the great American weightlifter Bob Bednarski, regarding weight gain: squat three times a week and power clean twice. Throw some snatch in there and we are set! Front squat and back squat heavy once per week, then add something like 8×3 (front or back) with the loads based on the table above.

I’m a huge fan of using BB hip bridges, split squats and split stance stiff leg deadlifts too, just to keep some variety and to decrease the volume loads to help the CNS out a bit! Vary your pressing and pulling too – strict press, bench, push press, change the bars (sounds conjugate-like, right?), use DBs, pull up variations, Kroc rows, Pendlay Rows, I could go on! Just THINK about the TUT, and therefore reps or tempo, needed to elicit the sarcomere hypertrophy that we’re looking for!

Here’s to getting (functionally) BIG, FASTER and STRONGER



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s