T Nation

BB'ing and Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy


I hesitate to post this because I have respect for bodybuilders and I don't want to be seen as someone attacking them. However, it was recently brought up (by Prof. X) that there was no evidence that bodybuilding leads to a disproportionate increase in sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Well, there is evidence and I thought I'd share it. Here are some excerpts from "Supertraining" by Mel Siff.


Although the existence of hyperplasia of muscle fibers may be uncertain or rare, hyperplasia of structures within the muscle fibre and cell does occur. Nikituk and Samoilov (1990) identify two types of subfibral hyperplasia.

-Sarcoplasmic hyperplasia, which involves an increase in the number of sarcoplasmic organelles.
-Myofibrillar-mitochondrial hyperplasia, which involves increase in the number of myofibrils and mitochondria.

Increase in muscle diameter is due to enlargement of individual muscle fibres by an increase in the number and size of individual myofibrils (Goldspink, 1980), accompanied by an increase in the amount of connective tissue (McDonagh & Davies, 1984), as discussed in Section 1.6. This increase in muscle protein is produced by increased protein synthesis and decreased protein degradation (Goldberg et al, 1975). Two types of muscle hypertrophy may occur:

-Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy. In this case, the volume of non-contractile protein and semifluid plasma between the muscle fiber increases. Although the cross-sectional area of the muscle increases, the density of muscle fibres per unit area decreases and there is no corresponding increases in muscle strength.
-Sarcomere Hypertrophy. Here there is an increase in the size and number of the sarcomeres which comprise the myofibrils. These may be added in series of parallel with the existing myofibrils, although only the parallel growth will contribute to an increases ability to produce muscle tension. The area density of myofibrils increases and there is a significantly greater ability to exert muscular strength.

So yes, there are two different types of hypertrophy. Now for the next short section...

The data shows that the longer and more strenuous the submaximal loading, the less there is sarcomere hypertophy and the more there is sarcoplasmic hypertophy.

And also....

Moderate intensity, high repetition resistance exercise, as commonly used in bodybuilding and circuit training, can also convert fast-twitch fibers to behave more like slow-twitch fibers, apparently in an adaptive attempt to resist the fatigue of the repeated efforts (Timson et al, 1985; Baldwin et al 1992; Noble & Pettigrew, 1989).

Again, I'm not trying to attack bodybuilding. I just throught I'd share that.

The Dense Look
Sarcoplasmic vs. Sarcomeric from a BB Standpoint
Sarcoplasmic vs. Sarcomeric from a BB Standpoint

So, if one were to take this as gospel, then any muscle growth with a corresponding increase in strength would NOT be due to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, right?

Since I doubt most bodybuilders, or weight trainers in general, who squat 400+ started out that way, then their muscle size increases can't be due to useless sarcoplasm. Allowing, of course, for nervous system adaptations.

Just keep getting bigger, and stronger, and you won't have to worry much about sarcoplasm, if you did in the first place.


This is why we don't take things to gospel. Yes, there would also be sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, however, the ration of sarcomeric to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy would be greater. Not infinite. You can not eliminate either form of hypertrophy, as both are necessary. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is NOT entirely useless.



That is a good point but not entirely true. Obviously hypertrophy can never be totally sarcoplasmic or totally sacromeric. I was just pointing out that there are certain methods of strength training that will increase sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (that is, size increases without a proportional increase in strength) more than others. That's all.


Mojo, if you'll notice, he was talking about "disproportionate" increases in sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Both happen at the same time (usually). Training predominantly in the higher rep range will produce greater metabolic (sarcoplasmic) adaptations with some contractile (sarcomeric) while training predominantly in lower rep/higher intensity ranges will produce greater contractile adaptations and lesser sarcoplasmic adaptations.

It's important to note that the cause of sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is an influx of water due to greater glycogen (and other substrates) storage and the body's desire to keep most cells at around 300mOsm. This adds weight that is not used to lift the bar. I'm not making a judgement about what's better, but when you're talking about elite athletics with weight class restrictions, this is one of the areas that the argument for relative strength training protocols makes a lot of sense. From a bodybuilding perspective, making use of this effect also makes sense depending on the exact look you're going for.

Siff assumed his readers would know enough to put things together, not take a single definition as gospel.



Both types of hypertrophy appear in bodybuilding and weightlifting. But in weightlifting increases are overwelmingly in favor of density and enlargement of myofibrils because of the low volume and high stress on the CNS. In bodybuilding the volume is drastically higher so more sarcoplasm is required to supply nutrients to the working muscle fibers as they are being taxed for much longer periods of time. In a nutshell limit strength training is more CNS while Bodybuilding is focused on the muscular system itself.

Recent trends show an increasing tendency of overlap in training methods. Bodybuilders are using heavier weights and weightlifters use lightweight training to aid recovery.


First, if you quote me, get the quote right. It was being argued that bodybuilders have huge muscles because of "sarcoplasmic hypertrophy" and not the growth of muscle fibers in size. That means someone took the basic knowledge of "yes, there is sarcoplasm in muscle tissue" and "yes, sarcoplasm may contain more nutrients or glycogen and help increase muscle size" and melded them together to prove that bodybuilders are simply large tubs of extra sarcoplasmic growth instead of increased size in muscle fibers. This was what was being argued.


Don't forget that muscle glycogen is often manipulated by bodybuilders, especially before a contest. To use this info to come to a conclusion that bodybuilder aren't functional because they somehow have huge muscles filled with "sarcoplasm" is what was being debated.


Prof. X,

Sorry for the misquote, my bad on that. I don't think you can argue that more traditional bodybuilding or moderate-intensity, moderate-weight training can often lead to a gain in size that is disproportionate to the gains in strength whereas high-intensity, low-rep work will often lead to gains in strength that are disproportionate to gain in size.


The problem is the issue of size. I don't train with high reps. Very often my last set is just 4 reps. I grow off of this. Therefore, if someone were to lump me into some unproven category based on size alone, they would be wrong. I have seen Ronnie Coleman train. If anyone believes all of that is "sarcoplasmic hypertrophy" they are mistaken.


Oh, okay. That must have been a pretty frustrating argument then if they were that clueless.



My guess is the easiest wasy to alleviate someones fears about all of this would be to include some time working in almost all rep ranges, therefore allowing more overall hypertrophy, as seen in most of Chad Waterburys programs. I know that's not the point of the initial post, to say doing work in the 8-12 rep range is bad, but it has it's place, just like 10x3, and even things like CW's 100 reps to bigger muscles program.


I get what you are saying. I don't think anybody is trying to say that bigger means weaker. However, bigger doesn't ALWAYS mean stronger. I'm not really sure what the original point of me posting this was, probably to point out that there are other means of getting stronger besides adding mass.


I know we're talking about relative strength. I guess that's the current definition of "functional". I also know that both occur together, usually.

As far as elite athletes who compete in weight classes go, relative strength is more important in short duration events like weightlifting. I would think it less important in longer events like wrestling. While you obviously want to be as strong as you can in a given weight class, you also need the metabolic adaptations to get you through the distance. So, the sarcoplasm is necessary. Everyone seems to be treating sarcoplasmic hypertrophy as something to be avoided at all costs.

I think this whole debate is silly. You can throw as much science as you like into it, but it doesn't change the fact that big usually equals strong, even if not quite as big sometimes equals stronger. Besides, heavyweight olympic lifters are pretty damn big. The lighter weight classes, while relatively stronger for their weight, also have distinct mechanical advantages(they're short). When a six footer wins a medal in the lightweight class, then we can put as much stock in relative strength as everyone seems to think it warrants. Athletes train for the demands of their particular sport, so comparisons don't generally answer many questions, unless it's apples to apples.



Definitly agreed on all points. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy has definitly become a word to avoid in athletics lately, but I think many people throw the baby out with the bathwater and are overly obsessed with pure relative strength, enduring the obvious important qualities such as endurance, etc.


Why are people avoiding "sarcoplasmic hypertrophy"? How would they even know they are avoiding it? Who just gains "sarcoplasmic hypertrophy"? It sounds like people not fully understanding a concept yet labeling it "bad" simply because that'e the easiest thing to do.


If you could only induce sarcoplasmic hypetrophy, you'd still be maxing out at under 200 on squats.


The pain. The pain! Make it stop...


Prof. X.,

I know this concept might be foreign to you, but people do train for other things besides simply being as big as possible. I can think of plenty of reasons why people would want to avoid sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, namely in any sport where speed is a key or any time people are trying to stay in a specific weight class or sports where endurance is not a factor. Again, I realize that it is impossible to completely induce only one type of hypertrophy (as I pointed out earlier), but it is certainly possible to minimize sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. In fact, I'm pretty sure that was the point of me posting that excerpt from Supertraining.


Obviously you cannot induce only sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, but it is possible to induce almost entirely myofibrilar hypertrophy. That is, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is largely a function of working in higher brackets. So therefore, when somebody gains sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, they have also certainly gained myofibrilar hypertrophy as well, but not neccesarily the other way around.