Muscular hypertrophy is one of the most common goals that fitness enthusiasts look for in the fitness industry. Hypertrophy, or muscle growth, is the intentional manipulation of a specific set of variables with the goal of creating enough stress on a set of muscle fibers to trigger growth. In other words: If you want big muscles, you need to lift for hypertrophy. Recently, the fitness world has seen a shift in focus from isolation hypertrophy to functional hypertrophy. Let’s review the differences and break down why it’s more efficient and safer to lift for function, not aesthetics.
WHAT IS ISOLATED HYPERTROPHY?
Isolation hypertrophy hit the mainstream with the emergence of bodybuilding as a professional sport. This type of hypertrophy, as the name suggests, focuses on isolating each muscle group to maximize the amount of stress placed on it. The micro tears that come as a result heal and over time the muscle expands in size to accommodate the workload. Imagine performing 30 sets or more for ONLY your quadriceps or biceps. While isolation hypertrophy is ideal for a career in bodybuilding, it does not meet the needs of your average gym-goer. Those looking to gain size while increasing strength and muscle-to-muscle communication need to train for functional hypertrophy.
WHAT IS FUNCTIONAL HYPERTROPHY?
This type of hypertrophy avoids the isolation practice that has been promoted by the bodybuilding community. The idea behind functional hypertrophy is that you can gain plenty of size while improving the neuromuscular facilities of the body. By building the relationship between muscle groups, instead of keeping them separate, you boost your overall performance as well as body composition.
For example, which do you think is more effective on a functional level? Performing the Deadlift, which is a compound movement, or performing Lying Hamstring Curls, which is an isolation exercise? The Deadlift brings into play several key muscle groups including the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, lower back, and abdominals. Together, these muscles work to move the weight from point A to point B. Leg Curls, on the other hand, only focus on working the hamstrings.
DON’T CONFUSE REAL STRENGTH WITH MACHINE-BASED STRENGTH
With the bodybuilding boom that occurred decades ago, many fitness manufacturers began producing fitness machines that specifically isolated the intended muscle. The result may have been big muscles for bodybuilders but it also came with a false sense of strength. Isolating one muscle group with the intention of growth is not going to translate well when you call upon that muscle to work in a group setting.
Using the example above, what do you think would happen if the person performing Lying Hamstrings Curls suddenly began to perform Deadlifts? Do you think that person could use the same amount of weight? Maybe, but the reality is that the form and posture would probably be terrible. Working for function, calling upon several muscle groups to work together, is the best way to not only increase muscle size and strength, but also to be able to perform functional tasks in the real world. For instance, when your friends call upon you for moving day, you don’t want to be that guy who throws his back out.
BENEFITS OF FUNCTIONAL HYPERTROPHY
Burns Fat, Boosts Strength
Whether you want to gain size, increase strength, burn extra fat, or build a safety net for when you are older, functional hypertrophy is the way to do it. Focus on the big four (squats, deadlifts, bench press, and overhead press) for the most success.
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Tristan Hill, Masters of Sports Coaching, author of Lifting the Bar and mentor to Personal Trainers.