• Anatomy Of Fitness

How, When & Why Do MUSCLES Grow?

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

What is the easiest and the fastest way of building or toning MUSCLES? Does it also help in burning FAT and resulting in weight loss? How, when and why do MUSCLES grow (hypertrophy) or shrink (atrophy)?

Let’s understand the science behind MUSCLE BUILDING.

The most optimum way to burn fat is by increasing muscle mass. The higher the muscle mass, the higher is the basal metabolic rate or BMR and the higher is the fat (adipose tissue) burn.

Strength training is the most optimum way to achieve dramatic results in the shortest possible time with the least efforts compared to any other way.

We need to look at what works the best or what guarantees us the highest return on investment with the least cost, time, risk and effort.

Muscle Growth

Let’s understand how, when and why do muscles grow.

Primarily, there are two ways muscles grow:

  1. Hyperplasia

  2. Hypertrophy


Hyperplasia relates to the increase in the number of cells resulting in MUSCLE GROWTH. During the growth phase of humans, due to the action of anabolic hormones like insulin-like growth factor 1 (somatomedin C), hyperplasia is observed. Somatomedin C is a hormone whose molecular structure is similar to insulin.

It is mostly unknown whether hyperplasia can occur due to exercise.


Hypertrophy relates to the increase in the size of existing muscle cells resulting in MUSCLE GROWTH. As fitness enthusiasts, we should be only concerned with hypertrophy as science has proved it.


Hypertrophy Tripod for Muscle Growth

Primarily, hypertrophy rests on three pillars:

  1. Progressive Overload

  2. Nutrition

  3. Rest and Recovery

Let’s compare these three pillars of hypertrophy to the three pillars of a camera tripod.


Just like a camera tripod which has three pillars, hypertrophy tripod also has three pillars. Of the three legs of a camera tripod, if one leg is shorter or longer, the camera will become unstable, loose equilibrium and fall. In a similar analogy, if any leg of the hypertrophy tripod is shorter, longer or missing altogether, it may result in reduced hypertrophy or no hypertrophy at all.

Let’s try understanding what each leg of the hypertrophy tripod means and why is each leg equally important.

Progressive Overload:

We bench press, dead-lift, squat, etc.; deploying resistance to the muscles. Muscles are challenged with each repetition to work beyond their capability. When muscles face this type of challenge, microtrauma occurs at the cellular level. Workout by itself is highly catabolic. It breaks down the muscle, which is unacceptable to the body.

The body immediately starts repairing the damage (microtrauma) at the cellular level. Unless the body has a strong reason to strengthen itself, it will not do so. The body senses a need to strengthen itself and adapt to the excess stress caused by exercising.

As the body adapts, it not only brings the muscle cells to its original size but also super-compensates by increasing their size, making them more substantial and more significant. Once the body adapts, the same weight/ repetitions/ speed is less of a challenge; our body has become stronger and is capable of handling more stress.

Now, there should be a more significant challenge for the body to grow. It would mean increasing the intensity of your training, lifting heavier weights or increasing speed or increasing number of repetitions etc.

To initiate hypertrophy once again, overloading has to increase progressively. Unless you give a need to the body to strengthen itself, it won’t strengthen itself.

Progressive overload is a stimulant for hypertrophy.
Progressive Overload leading to HYPERTROPHY (muscle growth).


Nutrition for muscle building comes into picture once the stimulus is given to the body to initiate hypertrophy. The most important raw material to build more muscle is first-class protein.

Progressive overload would only remain a stimulus for hypertrophy unless your diet is fortified or supplemented with enough first-class protein. Protein is the only component capable of muscle repair. Protein will repair the microtrauma caused by progressive overload and would help the body in the process of super-compensation, making it stronger and fitter.

The amount of first-class protein consumption depends on the extent of microtrauma damage. If you end up falling short of first-class protein, hypertrophy may not occur.

First-class protein relates to animal sources of protein like milk, curd, meat, eggs etc. and should be ideally chosen over the inferior second class protein relating to plant sources like pulses, cereals etc. First-class proteins are better absorbed as they are complete protein sources, while second-class proteins are not efficiently absorbed as they are incomplete proteins.

With first-class protein, all other macronutrients and micronutrients should be consumed in enough quantities to ensure optimal hypertrophy. Always choose nutrients with high biological value. Micronutrients like calcium, vitamin C, vitamin E, B-complex vitamins, trace elements etc. play a key role in repairing microtrauma.

Please do not exceed the recommended dosage of fat-soluble micronutrients as they are incapable of dissolving in water and would be toxic to the body if consumed in excess. For example, vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, and its recommended dose falls between 400 to 600 mg per day. Anything higher than that can be potentially dangerous.

Rest and Recovery:

Rest and recovery forms the third leg of the hypertrophy tripod.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t build muscle when you exercise, but you build muscle when you are resting (sleeping), recovering and recuperating.

During the recovery phase, you give time to your body to rebuild muscle and repair the damage using micronutrients and macronutrients. Please do not over train as this will cause excess catabolism and would not allow anabolism to take over catabolism, and you may suffer from muscle loss.

Refer the diagram below to understand the relation between Catabolism and Anabolism. Together, they play a very important role for Muscle Growth i.e. Hypertrophy.

Metabolism - Catabolism Vs. Anabolism.

Key takeaways:

  1. Muscles can grow in two ways - Hyperplasia and Hypertrophy.

  2. All three legs of the hypertrophy tripod are equally essential, and shortening/ lengthening/ missing any of the legs would imbalance/ crash the hypertrophy tripod or at least, result in poor hypertrophy.

  3. Muscle gain (Hypertrophy) results in reduction of FAT.

  4. We need to train with sufficient intensity to cause microtrauma at the cellular level.

  5. Maintaining proper (quality and quantity) micronutrition and macronutrition intake supports muscle growth.

  6. Have enough rest and recovery periods between workouts.

Now we understand the science behind muscle building.

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