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In so many blogs, videos and tutorials I read and see the focus is on hypertrophy. I wonder why this is the case. What is hypertrophy good for?

To better understand the question: People spend a lot of time for training, so I guess they follow some goal that is important for them. I would expect that important things are being healthy and happy (in studies: high quality of life) and living long - all things that are investigated quite a lot. But when I read about fitness I rarely encounter those goals, often it is about hypertrophy. Why is this a goal so many invest so much time for? It can't be just for having big muscles and making a better impression on others, is it? Of course having muscles means being stronger but one could specifically train for strength. Same is true for endurance. In case of strength and endurance there are at least some practical benefits. Is there some genuine benefit from having big muscles that strength and endurance training don't have?

My training plan embraces exercises for strength and for endurance. I wonder wether I should include exercises for hypertrophy. So far I see no reason (except the mentioned visual effects but I don't care that much about that). So I am interested whether there are other benefits I am missing.

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    I can come up with at least one very good practical reason for hypertrophy. We lose muscle mass as we age, so having a good amount of muscles will enable you to minimize the effect of losing muscle mass as you age. Feb 23 at 21:53
  • @DikranMarsupial Of course it could be the case that the only reason why people train is in order to impress others with their muscles, but I doubted that this is all. And indeed the answers provided good reason besides the ego point.
    – LulY
    Feb 24 at 14:15
  • @DikranMarsupial As I wrote, "I doubted that this is all", too ;) And again, there are apparently some good reasons as the answers provide
    – LulY
    Feb 24 at 21:16

2 Answers 2

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Strength improvement has two components:

  • neuromuscular link: this is about the efficiency with which you activate your muscles
  • hypertrophy: this is about the size of muscle fibres available for activation

While the first one is your main contributor to strength gains when starting with strength training, you cannot really train one without the other. If you really do strength training, you will see hypertrophy happening eventually as well (given appropriate diet with enough calories, proteins, and micronutrients). If you do not, training progress will stop pretty soon as well.

Another point to consider when thinking about longevity also is, as someone mentioned in comments, sarcopenia. This means you will necessarily and without fail lose lean muscle mass as you age. The more you have as a starting point (or gain on the way), the better for you in high age. Many people become immobile relatively young because they never had significant muscle mass to begin with. You lose about 10% per decade and the process starts as early as late twenties/early thirties (some sources say 50 but that is too late tbh).

Additional benefits of hypertrophy training (relatively high loads):

  • bigger base calorie consumption
  • bigger glycogen storage buffer for blood sugar (less risk of insulin insensitivity = diabetes)
  • less risk for muscle related pain and chronic pain syndromes
  • increased bone mass due to structural load (which decreases in age as well) = less risk of osteoporosis
  • less risk of arthritis and related pain (if you do it correctly)

That is why the WHO says one should do that at least 2 times a week no matter your age.

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    I changed one word in your answer, hypertrophy is not about the amount of fibers, but their size.
    – Thomas Markov
    Feb 24 at 10:24
  • Might be helpful for injury prevention in e.g. running? Perhaps that is included in muscle related pain? Feb 24 at 10:52
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    @DeeV I am thankful that you bring up sarcoplasmic vs. myofribrullar hypertrophy, of which I meant only the latter (ie. satellite cells fusing with existing muscle fibres leading to thicker fibres with more myofibrils able to do more work). I am just not sure that the terms fit. Fibrils are not the same as fibres, since the latter normally mean muscle cells (even if they have many other cells fused into them with a lot of cores). The number of cells/muscle fibres is usually thought to be immutable through training, which means there is no hyperplasia in muscles. Does that sound about right? Feb 24 at 19:37
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    @DeeV No. These are basic cellular physiology terms, a quick search can confirm their definitions. Cellular hyperplasia is an increase in the number of cells, cellular hypertrophy is an increase the size of a cell or cells. Within muscle cells, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is an increase in mass of the sarcoplasm, which is basically any thing, such as water/organelles/glycogen etc., that is not contractile proteins, whereas myofibrillar hypertrophy is the increase in mass of the myofibrils, the portion of the muscle cell that is made up of contractile proteins.
    – Thomas Markov
    Feb 24 at 20:55
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    Interesting related study review - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7582410 Muscle hypertrophy and muscle strength: dependent or independent variables? A provocative review
    – JohnP
    Feb 27 at 19:48
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If by endurance you mean cardio then yes, that is a completely different process to hypertrophy. Strength, on the other hand, is very closely connected to hypertrophy. Although there are arguments that training can be programmed to prioritise strength over hypertrophy and vice versa, you can't just do one without the other. To get stronger you must increase muscle mass, and to increase muscle mass, you must get stronger. As you've stated, one common goal of any training is mental and physical health benefits, both of with can be provided by increasing muscle mass, at least for people who enjoy it. There's also the benefits provided to fat loss. More muscle helps fat loss due to more calorie-consuming muscle tissue increasing energy expenditure, making caloric deficit diets easier.

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  • You with more muscle are stronger than you with less muscle.
    – Thomas Markov
    Feb 24 at 2:08
  • @ThomasMarkov When I see a bodybuilder bouldering that is not what I think, as an example
    – LulY
    Feb 24 at 7:29
  • @LulY remember that strength is not just having more muscle fibers, but also the neural adaptations. Bodybuilders just don't focus on training for climbing, so they just don't have the neural adaptations for that. When your body is heavier, it's also harder to pull yourself up.
    – Luciano
    Feb 29 at 9:31

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