Developing Muscle Hypertrophy

One of the most important facets of training for aging athletes should be to hold on to muscle mass. Research has conclusively shown that in both aging non-athletes and aging athletes, muscle mass decreases with increasing age. Thus, hypertrophy weight training should become crucial for the aging competitive athlete. Moreover, the older the athlete, the more importance should be placed on this type of training.

Following heavy weight training, the body increases the rate of protein synthesis for 36-48 hours, thus building increased muscle mass. People with faster twitch fibres such as sprinters appear to hypertrophy more than the slow twitch fibre endurance athletes. Muscle damage, seen more with eccentric (muscle lengthening) exercises (e.g. the downward action in squats) than concentric muscle shortening exercises (e.g. the upward action in squats) appears to stimulate muscle hypertrophy, suggesting that the tempo of the eccentric action in any exercise should be longer than the shortening of the muscle phase (e.g 3-1-2). It also appears that hypertrophy takes place after nervous system changes that are seen with strength training. Thus, it can take up to 6-8 weeks of strength training before any increase in muscle size is seen. The table below summarises the key factors to be considered when planning a muscular hypertrophy weight training program.

Factor Novice Advanced
Muscle Action Concentric – muscle shortening

Eccentric – muscle lengthening

Concentric – muscle shortening

Eccentric – muscle lengthening

Loads 70-85% 1 RM 70-100% 1 RM
Repetitions 8-12 1-12 with majority 6-12
Progression Reassess 1RM every

2-4 weeks

Increase load 2-10%

Reassess 1RM every 2-3 weeks or

drop reps and increase intensity 2-10%

Sets 1-3 3-6
Exercise Selection Single and multi-joint exercises Multi-joint exercises
Free-Weights or Machines Free weights and machines Free weights
Speed of Movement Slow to moderate with good technique Slow to moderate depending on sport or event and with good technique
Rest between Sets 1-2 minutes 2-3 minutes for 1-6 RM

1-2 minutes for 7-12 RM

Frequency 2-3 times/week with 48 hrs between sessions 4-6 times/week depending on sport/event/training phase
Range of Motion Complete or to individual tolerance Complete or to individual tolerance