Muscular Increase and Shape Requires Intensity

Eaves drop in any gym, and you’ll hear the “regulars” offering theories about how muscle is built.  IIt seems as if everyone has an opinion about the best way, to perform the best lift and includes the perfect number of sets and repetitions.

I really thought there would be an easy way to get around this topic, but in the end, science trumps simplicity, but hey, I’ll give it a shot.

Here’s the deal – all the factors that play a role in the amount of muscle that is developed come down to training intensity, diet and rest.  While that might sound simple in concept, fine tuning these 3 areas to be performed regularly and with focus is not easy.  Just try to eat “perfectly” for 20 days in a row.  Add 20 days of rest and another 20 days of intense work-outs and you understand what I mean.

On a micro level, the good stuff happens at a level that isn’t available to the human eye.  In other words, pull out your microscope if you want to see what’s really happening.  Otherwise, muscle growth occurs based on either an increase in the size of muscle fiber cells (hypertrophy) or an increase in the number of muscle fibers (hyperplasia) that occur through the division of cells.  In plain English this means you either increase the diameter of the “drinking straw”(hypertrophy) or the number of drinking straws at twice the diameter – hyperplasia.

The problem is that the guys in the white lab coats can’t always agree on which of the two kinds of muscle growth they agree with.  While the hypertrophy explanation means that this portion called the sarcomere achieves greater density (think of that drinking straw filled with metal) the hyperplastic science will increase both the diameter and quantity of the muscle cells.

Like any science, the cell multiplication approach (hyperplasia) has its detractors, who claim that the number of muscle cells we live with are assigned to us at the time of birth, and never changes.  The bottom line, is the way an individual trains, determines how muscle size increases, however both hypertrophy and hyperplasia effect all aspects of muscle growth.

For the female reader, it’s important to understand off the bat, that you don’t have enough natural testosterone in your body to gain the mass of that big guy lifting in the corner of the gym.

Now that we’ve gotten through the basic scientific principle, here’s what you need to know . Muscle growth is ultimately a “controlled destruction.”  You read that correctly, since the trauma of breaking muscle down creates a systematic response of compensating for future stress by the muscle creating more mass, volume, density or all three in anticipation of future stresses.

For maximal muscle development, achieving both aspects (heavy resistance, think “density” and heavier, lower repetitions) and muscle cell volume (think “pump”, or higher repetitions) of training create the best environment for muscle growth.

Is there a perfect combination? The short answer is “yes” provided that there is strict attention to proper mechanics, a failure range of 8-12 repetitions is the focus, minimal rest occurs between sets, and maximal volume of work is performed in a limited amount of time.

There is no way to avoid the science of muscle development, however the basics of rest, diet and training intensity are the three focal points that create success in the gym.



Bill Victor

Bill Victor, M.S. Exercise Science is the President of Victor Fitness and Performance Training. He and his team of trainers are dedicated to bringing the fitness experience, and the self-confidence that comes with it, to the citizens of Clark County. He can be reached through or his email,

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