Muscle building& hypertrophy: what you need to know!

muscle building, i.e. the increase of muscle mass resp. the muscle cross section increase, is called in the science also muscular hypertrophy.

In the 80’s, muscular hypertrophy was primarily popular among bodybuilders. Today, building muscle mass is one of the most common training goals in the gym. The reasons to build muscle can vary from person to person. A large proportion of those who build muscle do so for aesthetic reasons. Others want to achieve an increase in physical performance through greater muscle mass. Health aspects can also be the intention for muscle building training.

In the following article, we will first discuss the physiological principles of muscle growth and the factors that influence it. Subsequently, the most important training parameters for an optimal muscle building training are explained and exemplary training plans are presented. Finally, an insight into the elementary principles of nutrition for a successful muscle build-up is given.

Physiology of muscle growth

To understand how muscle building works, it is first essential to know about muscle anatomy. The following graphic shows the anatomical structure of a human skeletal muscle.

A muscle consists of several muscle fiber bundles. These are formed from several muscle fibers. A muscle fiber in turn consists of several sarcomeres. This is the smallest functional unit of skeletal muscle. Sarcomeres contain the contractile elements Actin and Myosin (cf. Building a muscle). Contractile means that these elements allow the muscle to contract.

A muscular cross-sectional increase can be achieved by two mechanisms: by the sarcomeres as well as sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy.

sarcomeric hypertrophy

Strength training produces an intense tensile load on the muscle. The mechanical overload of the muscle leads to a disturbance in the structure of the muscle fibers and the associated extracellular matrix. There is an adaptive response by the body, which tries to protect itself from future stresses of the same type. In the regeneration phase the number of sarcomeres is increased.

The new sarcomeres are formed in parallel with the existing sarcomeres. This is why we also speak of parallel hypertrophy. The result is an increase in the diameter of individual muscle fibers and thus an increase in the total muscle cross-section.

This hypertrophy mechanism is also described in the literature under the terms Protein catabolism or Theory of mechanical repair described.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy

In addition to an increase in contractile elements, an increase in muscle cross-section can also occur through an increase in various non-contractile elements and fluid. Here sarcoplasmic hypertrophy spoken.

The accumulation of glycogen in the sarcoplasm has a significant influence on the training-induced sarcoplasmic muscle growth. This is because 1g of glycogen binds 3g of water. The increased water binding in the muscle in turn increases the muscle volume and thus the cross-section. Sarcoplasmic muscle growth is primarily achieved by metabolic exhaustion of the muscle.

The underlying mechanism that leads to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is also known in training science under the term Energy deficiency theory known.

Summary: In sarcomeric hypertrophy, muscle growth occurs through the proliferation of sarcomeres, and in sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, muscle cross-section increases through the expansion of the extracellular matrix.


Hyperplasia is understood to be the increase in the number of muscle fibers. Theoretically, hyperplasia could also contribute to muscle cross-sectional area increase. However, an exercise-induced increase in muscle fibers has not yet been demonstrated in humans. Only in some animal experiments was it possible to prove that hyperplasia is possible in living animals.

Morphological versus neuronal adaptation

In strength training, beginners can expect significant increases in performance quite quickly. However, these are not (yet) due to muscle growth, especially at the beginning. Strength increases in the first six weeks of strength training are primarily due to neuronal improvements. Only after this time, scientific studies using MRI were able to demonstrate visible morphological muscle growth.

Factors influencing muscle growth

Whether the targeted muscle growth actually succeeds, unfortunately, depends not only on the regular growth stimulus through a structured training and a complementary nutrition plan adapted to it. Ultimately, factors that cannot be influenced, such as genetics, also play a significant role.

Genetically determined muscle fiber spectrum

To understand the basis of muscular hypertrophy, it is important to know that there are different muscle fiber types. For these are differently well suited for muscle growth.

Muscle fibers are generally divided into two fiber types: Type I and Type II.

Type I fibers, often also called Slow-Twitch Fibers contain a high proportion of myoglobin and are highly capillarized – that is, they are permeated with fine blood veins. They therefore appear red under the electron microscope. This is also where the term "red" muscle comes from. These muscle fibers are fatigue resistant and therefore predestined for activities that require local muscular endurance. However, these muscle fibers are not very fast and cannot exert large forces.

Type II fibers, also known as Fast-twitch fibers, Are less capillarized and contain less myoglobin. Accordingly, they appear white in the light microscopic image. This type of fiber is therefore also called "white" muscle. Type II fibers reach significantly higher peak tensions and are faster than type I fibers. This makes them ideal for strength and fast strength related requirements. However, they fatigue quickly and are therefore only partially able to perform activities that require high muscular endurance.

There is also a mixed form of these two muscle fiber types. This is also called intermediate type. In the literature, one sometimes finds differentiations in type IIa (intermediate) and type IIb (very fast twitching).

The proportion of type I and type II fibers is primarily genetically determined. On average, human muscle contains approximately the same amount of type I and type II fibers. Some individuals, especially long-distance runners, often have a greater percentage of type I fibers. Sprinters, on the other hand, have primarily type II fibers. In addition, certain muscles are predisposed to higher percentages of a particular fiber type. For example, the calf muscle contains m. soleus on average more than 80% type I fibers. The upper arm muscle m. triceps brachii, on the other hand, contains on average about 60% type II fibers.

The growth capacity of type II fibers is significantly greater than that of type I fibers. Individuals who genetically have a higher proportion of type II fibers thus have a higher potential for muscle growth.


Hormones also influence muscle growth. The balance of muscle proteins is partly influenced by the neuro-endocrine system. Various hormones have been shown to alter the dynamic balance between anabolic (building up) and catabolic (breaking down) stimuli in muscle, thereby controlling an increase or decrease in muscle protein.


Testosterone is a steroid hormone derived from cholesterol. Testosterone has a strong anabolic (muscle mass building) effect. The anabolic effect of testosterone has been attributed in part to its ability to increase protein synthesis and inhibit protein breakdown. Men have an approximately tenfold higher amount of testosterone than women. This is partly thought to be the main cause of gender differences in muscle strength and mass.

insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1)

IGF-1 is a homologous peptide that shares structural similarities with insulin. IGF-1 carries out intracellular signal transduction through several signaling pathways. These signaling cascades have both anabolic and anticatabolic effects on muscle, promoting increased tissue growth – suppressing muscle breakdown.


Insulin is a peptide hormone secreted by the beta cells of Langerhans’ cells in the pancreas. Insulin regulates glucose metabolism by allowing glucose to be stored as glycogen in muscle and liver tissue. However, insulin also has anabolic effects. Despite this feature, the greater influence of insulin in exercise-induced muscle growth is thought to be primarily on inhibition of protein breakdown.


Muscular hypertrophy is already possible in childhood and adolescence. Especially in adolescence, the ability to build muscle mass increases rapidly, particularly in boys. This is due to the increasing level of testosterone.

Muscle mass peaks in humans between 20 and 40 years of age. According to this, the body loses about 0.5% of its muscle mass per year. From the 50. In fact, by the age of 40, the muscle mass increases by 1-2% per year. Type II fibers in particular are affected. However, regular strength training can attenuate muscle loss in the elderly and even lead to muscle growth.


On average, women have less muscle mass than men – both in absolute terms and relative to body weight. Hormonal differences are the main reason for this. Here the already mentioned testosterone plays the biggest role.

The optimal training for muscle building

Mechanical tension is one of the most important aspects of exercise-induced hypertrophy. Mechanosensors are sensitive to the intensity as well as the duration of the mechanical load. Metabolic stress can directly send intracellular signals that in turn induce hypertrophic adaptations. To generate a stimulus that is effective for training, the intensity of the load must be high enough. Thus, for a targeted muscle building only strength training comes into question. The training control in the strength training takes place over the load normative intensity, extent, density and frequency.

Intensity in muscle building training

Training intensity is one of the most significant factors in strength training. To cause muscle growth, it requires targeted strength training in specific intensity ranges. In training practice, intensity is usually expressed in relation to the one-repetition maximum (1-RM). 100% of the repetition maximum corresponds to the weight that can be lifted exactly once. To induce muscle growth, training weights in the range of 60% to 80% of maximum strength are classically used. In these intensity ranges, 8 to 15 repetitions are usually achieved until the muscle is exhausted.

At very high intensities (>90% 1-RM) increased neuro-physiological adaptations are induced; however, the effect on muscle growth is no longer as high.

Higher repetition numbers (>15) with lower intensities lead to higher metabolic stress and thus probably induce higher sarcoplasmic hypertrophy but lower contractile hypertrophy. The intensity range between 60-80% 1-RM therefore seems to represent the optimal combination of mechanical tension and metabolic load.

Training volume in muscle building workouts

The training volume refers to the number of repetitions in a certain period of time or to the number of repetitions. in a series. Basically, higher training volume correlates with higher muscle growth – at least to a certain degree. Ultimately, this again depends on the performance level and training experience.

For beginners, one exercise per muscle (muscle group) per training session is sometimes sufficient to achieve a training-effective stimulus. This type of training is also referred to as one-set training (cf. Mission training or multi-set training). For advanced users, it is recommended to perform three training sets per muscle group. With six or more sets per muscle, usually no further benefit in terms of additional hypertrophy effects can be observed. For very ambitious athletes who complete 4 or more training days per week, split training can also be useful, in which several different exercises are performed for each muscle.

Significant to muscle-building training is that exercises are performed to the point of exhaustion – true to the motto: "no pain no gain". Therefore, we do not recommend setting strict targets regarding the number of repetitions, but actually performing as many repetitions as possible. Ultimately, the number of repetitions depends on the weight to be moved. The number of repetitions is only recorded after the execution for a later training analysis.

Stimulus density during muscle growth training

The load or. Stimulus density is the temporal succession of individual exercises or sets. The pause between training sets should be approximately three minutes (rewarding rest) to allow the muscle to refill with energy-rich phosphates until the next exercise is performed. If two exercises with different muscle groups follow each other, the break can also be shorter.

The use of supersets can be a means to deliberately metabolically exhaust the muscle. For targeted muscle growth, however, the rewarding break should be observed.

Training frequency in muscle building training

Training frequency refers to the number of training sessions performed in a given period of time, usually one week. To take advantage of the supercompensation effect, strength training to achieve muscle cross-section increase should be done at least 2 times a week with at least 3-4 training-free days between training sessions. The higher the performance level, the faster the muscle regenerates – therefore the next training stimulus can be faster (after 2 days).

Quality of movement execution

The quality of the movement execution is not part of the load normative, but it is essential for the training execution. It tells whether an exercise is technically correct or. performed according to the trainer’s instructions. Especially with training beginners it is important to pay attention to a technically clean execution of the exercises. This is not only important for injury prevention, but also for the effectiveness of the training. This is because poor technique or evasive movements during the exercises do not optimally address the target muscle, which reduces the training effect.

Exercise selection for muscle building training

For long-term adaptation to occur, a variety of exercises should be used during the course of a periodized training program.

The exercise selection significantly determines how isolated a muscle is addressed. From a functional point of view, it is certainly advisable to choose complex exercises for whole muscle chains. From the point of view of muscle growth, however, the load of an exercise on a particular muscle can be estimated better, the more isolated it is addressed.

In order to take into account both functional aspects and the training of stabilizing muscles, a varied mix of exercises should be planned. Exercise selection should consist of free weights and machine-guided exercises, single-joint as well as multi-joint exercises. In general, it is recommended – especially as a beginner – to concentrate on the basic exercises such as squats or bench presses, and to round off the training session with a few, targeted isolation exercises (e.g. squats or bench presses). for the posterior shoulder), to be completed.

Working methods of the musculature during muscle building training

Three basic types of muscle actions are distinguished:

  • positive dynamic (concentric work) overcoming
  • negative dynamic (eccentric work) yielding
  • static, holding (static work)

Working methods of the musculature

The amount of force that can be exerted voluntarily is eccentrically increased by approx. 20% to 50% higher than concentric. This allows a higher load to be placed on the muscle during eccentric exercises during training. In addition, the mechanical load on the muscle is highest in the eccentric phase. The higher mechanical tension per active fiber is probably due to a reversal of Hennemann’s principle of magnitude. During eccentric movements, type II fibers are selectively recruited at the expense of type I fibers. The higher load in the eccentric phase on the type II fibers increases the extent of muscular damage on these fibers. In this mechanism probably lies the hypertrophic advantage of eccentric movements.

In training practice, however, it is hardly possible to perform purely eccentric exercises. This is almost only possible with machine-controlled devices such as isokinetes, which are rarely available. One way to support the eccentric phase in strength training is the method of forced reps, in which a training partner supports the movement in the concentric phase, but the eccentric movement is performed by the trainee alone without support. This usually allows 2-3 more repetitions to be performed.

Speed of movement during muscle building training

The speed of movement during strength training is usually given as three values (given in seconds).

Example: 2/0/2

  • The first value describes the duration of the eccentric movement phase.
  • The second value describes the duration of the static holding phase.
  • The third value describes the duration of the concentric movement phase.

Note: Depending on the literature, the order may also be exactly the opposite.

Depending on the extent of movement and exercise, the movement speed of 2/0/2 in strength training is a classic pace for orientation. Due to the rather high intensities a fast movement is not possible anyway. Especially with advancing fatigue, the movement speed will slow down in the concentric phase.

In hypertrophy training, the eccentric phase can also be emphasized, since according to the theory of mechanical repair, the splitting of myofibrils occurs primarily in the eccentric phase. So sometimes movement speeds of 3/0/2 or even 4/0/2 are used. On the one hand, this increases the load duration in the eccentric phase, but on the other hand, the load intensity decreases due to the slower movement tempo. Whether a slower execution of movements in the eccentric phase actually results in a hypertrophic advantage has not yet been clearly clarified scientifically and is questionable.

Range of motion during muscle building workouts

The range of motion (engl. Range of Motion – ROM) describes the oscillation range with which movements are executed. When comparing partial and full ROMs, the advantage, in terms of muscle growth benefits, is on the side of the full ROM. However, the use of so-called partial reps can also be used to vary the training process.

Exercise sequence in muscle building training

Current recommendations for strength training call for large-muscle and multi-joint exercises – basic exercises such as squats – to be performed in an early phase of training. Only then should small-muscle and single-joint exercises – isolation exercises such as reverse butterflies for the back shoulders – be performed. These recommendations are based on the assumption that multi-joint exercise performance is impaired when the smaller synergists are already fatigued by previous exercise. Even though this is not scientifically clear, following this order makes perfect sense from an injury prevention point of view.

If you want to prioritize muscle growth in a particular muscle, it would make sense to train it at the beginning of the training session. Because for the maximum number of repetitions not only the local fatigue is relevant, but also the central nervous fatigue. This will increase with increasing training duration and decrease the maximum number of repetitions. In order to stimulate the target muscle as intensively as possible, the highest possible number of repetitions should be exercised, which is only possible at the beginning of the workout.

Summary of the section

The classic training to achieve maximum muscle building effects should be designed like this:

  • Intensity: 60-80% RM
  • Volume: 3 sets per exercise (and muscle resp. muscle group)
  • Breaks: mind. 3min between series
  • Frequency: 2-3 times per week
  • Exercise selection: different exercises
  • Mode of operation: if possible focus on eccentric phase
  • Movement speed: 2/0/2 (optional: 3/0/2 with focus on eccentricity)
  • Range of motion: use full ROM
  • Exercise order: from complex to simple, prioritized muscle at the beginning

Training plan for muscle building

In order to build muscle optimally, strength training must be planned systematically. This is where a training plan helps. The training plan specifies how the strength training should be structured so that it leads to the desired success.

In a training plan for targeted strength training to build muscle, exercises are recorded with the specification of the repetitions and weights that are to be performed according to plan in the training session. In addition, the training plan should specify the frequency of strength training, so that sufficient training breaks are taken to allow the trained muscle to regenerate.

Free training plan templates for muscle building

At the beginning of strength training, successes can be achieved quickly in terms of strength gains or muscle development. The more trained the athlete is, the more variations must be incorporated into the training concept. After some time, the body adapts to certain loads during training, so that performance no longer increases. By varying the load (periodization), you can achieve a long-term increase in performance.

Ideally, the training methods should be changed every three to ten weeks. The more advanced the athlete or. the more advanced the athlete, the shorter the phases should be. It is not necessary to change all exercises in every cycle; especially for beginners a change of the load intensity and thus the repetition range is sufficient.

Below we are happy to provide training plan templates for free:

Training History Analysis – Free Template

A training plan is not only for planning the workout. With the help of the training plan and a systematic training protocol, you can also track which methods you have used to achieve success, or when stagnation has occurred. For this purpose, a training history analysis is performed, in which the results of regular performance tests are recorded. In strength training, the one-repetition maximum (1-RM), which indicates how much weight can just be lifted, is suitable.

A free training history analysis template to log your workouts is available for download here:

Nutrition for muscle growth

Nutrition has a significant impact on muscle building success. With an inadequate diet, in fact, no muscle building can take place, no matter how hard and consistently you train.

Energy balance

The energy balance, the result between energy intake and energy demand, has a decisive influence on the ability to build muscles.

A negative energy balance means that the energy intake is less than the energy demand. This condition leads to catabolism, a phase in which the organism breaks down the body’s own energy-rich substances. With a negative energy balance, no muscle growth is possible.

An energy balance is also suboptimal for muscle growth. Even if energy intake and energy requirements are balanced over a certain period of time, there will be periods of time when there is an energy deficit.

The body must be in an anabolic phase to stimulate muscle growth. This can only be achieved if there is a positive energy balance on a permanent basis. The energy intake must therefore be constantly higher than the energy demand. The combination of strength training with a calorie surplus increases the anabolic effect.

Macronutrient distribution

Simply looking at the energy balance is not sufficient. This is because the body not only needs energy for muscle protein synthesis, but also the "right building blocks".

Muscle tissue consists primarily of proteins – that is, proteins. It is therefore obvious that the amount of protein consumed has a significant influence on the build-up of muscle mass (cf. "The role of proteins in nutrition"). The DGE recommends a daily protein intake of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for adults engaged in light physical labor. Athletes have a higher protein requirement. This is around 1.4 to 1.7 g/kg/day. The optimal amount of daily protein intake ultimately depends on both energy balance and body composition.

Carbohydrates consist of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The energy that the muscle needs during training comes from ATP, which is primarily obtained from carbohydrates. Although carbohydrates can be synthesized from proteins via gluconeogenesis, a deficiency is certainly detrimental to the delivery of high performance in strength training. It seems that a low intake of carbohydrates is already sufficient for power output. It should be noted, however, that the brain primarily relies on glucose as an energy supplier and consumes approx. 120 g needed. However, this amount can also be provided via gluconeogenesis.

There are no well-founded statements about the optimal amount of carbohydrates that should be ingested in order to induce the best possible hypertrophy effects. A daily intake of 3-7 g/kg body weight can be taken as a rough guide. The range of this recommendation is, of course, very high; however, the interindividual requirement probably also varies considerably.

Fat is the most energy-rich nutrient. And our depot fat is the largest energy store in the body. Fats serve as a cushion for mobile organs and are an indispensable building material for our cell membranes.

Despite the high importance of fats for the organism, the influence of fat intake on muscle growth is low. However, fat consumption has an influence on testosterone synthesis, so there is an indirect effect. Omega-3 fatty acids also cause increases in cell membrane fluidity, which could also have a positive effect on protein metabolism.

According to the recommendations of the DGE, about 30% of the total energy intake should come from fats. Saturated fatty acids and trans fatty acids should be consumed in small amounts, as they negatively influence blood fat levels.

Most intake recommendations for athletes are usually based on a concrete specification of the amount of protein and/or carbohydrate. The amount of fat to be consumed is ultimately determined by the following information. For athletes Rule of thumb 1 g fat per kilogram per day. There is room for improvement, but care should be taken to ensure that lower intakes do not result in low intakes of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins.

In order to ensure the optimal intake of nutrients for your muscle building, you should therefore deal with food science. How many carbohydrates, proteins and fats are contained in which foods and which are particularly suitable for strength athletes, you will learn in our nutritionist training.

Nutrient Timing

In addition to the amount of macronutrients, the timing of intake is also relevant. One also speaks of Nutrient Timing. Especially directly after training – until about two to three hours afterwards – the body is in an anabolic window, in which the supply of carbohydrates and proteins is important to stimulate muscle growth.

Due to the availability of amino acids and the simultaneous stimulation of insulin secretion by carbohydrates, muscle protein synthesis should be maximally stimulated. Recommended are 45-75g carbohydrates and ca. 15-25g protein. A positive side effect of simultaneous carbohydrate intake is that depleted glycogen stores are replenished.

In addition, the supply of protein should be as continuous as possible to stimulate muscle anabolism and inhibit muscle catabolism. The anabolic effect of a protein-rich meal lasts for about five to six hours. From this it can be deduced that the meals should be supplied at these intervals so that the proteins are consistently available to the organism and the body is constantly in the anabolic phase.

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