Get Huge with Hyperplasia

by: Josh Bryant

Tom Platz performing sissy squats.

Hypertrophy is the accepted mechanism of increased mass. Basically, you are born with a certain number of muscle fibers; these can increase in size but not in number.

But what if the number of muscle fibers could increase?

During the late ’60s and early ’70s, European scientists discovered that the muscle cells of some animals adapted to severe overload by splitting in two. This response, called hyperplasia, was subsequently followed by an increase in muscle size. Muscle fibers divided and then multiplied, so the potential implications to the bodybuilder are huge.

Whoa… hold your horses.

Hyperplasia in humans remains controversial.

Studies on animals showed mixed results.

Cats were trained to move a heavy weight with their paw to receive food; hyperplasia took place as a result. Other studies on animals counter these findings: Studies on chickens, rats, and mice found that muscle fibers increased in size but not in number; hyperplasia did not take place.

However, another study performed on birds showed an increase in the number of muscle fibers in their wings as a response of being chronically stretched by attaching a weight on the wings. The cats were subjected to heavy resistance with lower repetitions; the other animals were involved in more endurance-based activities. This might explain some of the discrepancies in results.

According to world-renowned researcher Vladimir Zatsiorsky in his book Science and Practice of Strength Training, both hyperplasia and hypertrophy contribute to muscle size increase. However, the contribution of fiber hyperplasia is rather small (less than 5%).

This may not sound like much, but in the pro ranks this could potentially mean an additional inch on your arms! Research on hyperplasia in people lacks in abundance, but some exists.

A 1978 study reported that muscle fiber size remained constant in swimmers, but the muscle increased in size.

Researchers Nygaard and Nielsen argued increased muscle size was a result of hyperplasia. A 1986 examination of European Bodybuilders showed an abnormally high muscle fiber density on the two subjects who had trained intensely with weights for 14 years or longer, while those who had trained for 4–6 years had more normal fiber density. The abnormal fiber density, researchers theorized, may have been a hyperplasic response to long-term extreme weight training.

Practical Application

Assuming hyperplasia can take place, it would happen through a few different mechanisms, from what researchers show. This would mean performing movement with an extreme stretch. Examples are:stiff leg deadlifts for hamstrings, sissy squats for quads, dumbbell fly’s for chest, incline dumbbell curls (palms supinated the whole time) for biceps, French press for triceps, cable rows for back, and inclined lateral raises or front raises for shoulders. Of course, the list could go on. You will also need to lift heavy. This means hitting the core lifts hard and, of course, long-term training. Swimming involves a repetitive high-speed stroke against a relatively low resistance. Holistic, intense, long-term training appears to be the best way to possibly induce hyperplasia.

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