We all like to look good and many, particularly us guys have at least once in our lives trained with the goal of getting big muscles. In order to get the most from our training (and mega biceps!) it’s important to know the mechanisms that occur and how exactly our muscles get “bigger”
“Hypertrophy” is the term we use to describe muscle growth of which there are two types – Sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar. In very basic terms, a muscle is made up of loads of “myofibrils”, all surrounded by a fluid or “plasma” which contains all the essential bits and bobs enabling the muscle to work. This plasma and myofibrils are all encased in a type of cling film and a group of these equals your muscle.
When we lift heavy loads, 5 reps or less, over time can actually increase the number of myofibrils in each muscle fibre. We get bigger and stronger. If we follow a programme of lifting a slightly lower load for around 10-12 reps for anything from 3-10 sets (high volume), the lighter load does not have the same effect on myofibrillar density but instead produces an increase in muscle plasma (the fluid surrounding the myofibrils). We experience a good immediate “pump” so look bigger though relatively speaking do not see the strength benefits.
I would always stick to the side of myofibrillar hypertrophy from a human performance point of view but as always mix up your training and always look to alter load, reps and sets to challenge the body and see best results. From a “real life” perspective, if you’re hitting the gym to look good in a tight t-shirt on a Friday night, go for volume!