“Pumping Iron” recently played on TV, you hear the word “pump” rolling off the tongue of Franco Columbo and Arnold, they were a spitting image of an adonis. The look that most men dream of having, the look that represents a “chiseled” image, that embodies hard work and incredible determination. How did they get so defined? So swollen? So incredibly jacked? What happened to them physically while they underwent their hours upon hours of strenuous training? To fully comprehend, we need to dig into the physiology behind their adaptations!
Any athlete that has been under the bar, trained with dumbbells or even participated in a bout of wrestling has felt the side effects of sarcoplasmic growth. Take a set of bench press for example, the lifter triggers contraction after contraction, there is some stimulation from the nervous system and coordination can occur but then the lifter is smashing rep after rep, by rep 13, 14 and 15, there is a tremendous amount of metabolic stress.
This metabolic stress stimulates a metabolic response. There is an increase in lactate and hydrogen ions, this attracts water to move into the muscular cell. The water travels through “channels' ' that are consistent with fast twitch muscle fibers. This facilitates the traveling of water into the cell, stimulating cell swelling.
Further, as the lifter is smashing through that high rep set, there is an increase of glycogen stored inside the muscle. This leads to an even greater cell swelling as we know that 1 gram of glycogen attracts 3 grams of water...extracellular water. The anaerobic glycolysis energy system increases ATP and this is responsible for increasing lactate. The cycle is clearly established and those sets of 10-15 reps stimulate massive cell swelling...aka, THE PUMP!
The cell grows from an increase in water, leading to increases in muscular size over time. The classic ranges of hypertrophy stimulate impressive muscular growth and a new found ego for many 15-20 something men. Their arms grow, their pecs grow, their traps get bigger and their imaginary lat syndrome grows rampant!
Are strength gains possible?
The common misconception is that there are rarely strength gains from sarcoplasmic based hypertrophy. There is still some neurological coordination that occurs during sarcoplasmic training and this will directly lead to strength gains. There will also be some, albeit a lesser degree of myofibrillar adaptation.
In recent years, research has started to demonstrate that when the sarcoplasm expands, the membrane of the muscle stretches and this is when satellite cells are activated to protect the muscle membrane. This causes the myonuclei to be donated and in turn leads to new myfibrils and new sarcomeres. This adaptation is phenomenal, leading to strength improvements AND an increase in size of muscle mass as well.
What athletes need to enhance muscle mass and gain strength?
Numerous positions within field sports can benefit from gains in muscle mass AND strength. Think about a defensive tackle in football, offensive linemen and even shot putters or super heavyweight weightlifters. All of these athletes can reap the rewards of sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
Did we mention bodybuilders? Bodybuilders that tend to be more fast twitch will also be capable of putting on greater size because of something known as aquaporin-4! (GOOGLE IT!) This is the channel that brings water into the cell to handle the metabolic stress of high reps.
There are also various muscle groups in athletes that respond to higher rep stimuli. Using higher reps to target the strength of the erectors or the lats is an excellent way to increase strength. These muscle groupings are typically slower twitch and can take a bit more volume to spark growth in size and strength.
If you are a lifter or athlete that has struggled with putting on size AND putting on strength, check out our Arm Targeting program above to achieve some impressive strength and mass gains. This program has been developed specifically to target your problems!
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.