How Much Muscle Hypertrophy Do Athletes Really Need?

̴ 730 words, 3-5 minute read.

 After a long and gruelling season that’s filled with injury, illness, and a high volumes of specific training and competing, athletes forgo the bulk of their resistance training volume which results in losses of muscle mass. Therefore, during the off-season and early pre-season it’s common to see athletes put through a hypertrophy phase to add muscle mass to their frame. Thus, the aim of this article is to explore why muscle mass is important, and how to distinguish how much is required.

Why is Muscle Mass Important?

Athletes need muscle mass for a number of reasons to help them perform at their optimal capacity:

  1. Maximise Strength and Power Development
    There are two factors associated with increasing the ability to exert force, (1) how much muscle mass you have and; (2) how well your nervous system can recruit that muscle mass. Therefore, it is important for athletes to add muscle to help maximise increases of force production. Further to this, a greater base level of strength will underpin the ability to build high levels of explosive power!
  2. Absorption of Force
    For athletes, the ability to absorb force is vital. Whether they are being bumped or tackled by an opponent, landing and decelerating, or kicking and throwing a ball, force absorption is required throughout the body. Athletes who have lower levels of muscle mass leave themselves at a high risk of injury due to their lesser ability to absorb force. For example it could be joint related due to high ground reaction forces, or associated with bone or soft tissue due to being hit by a much larger opponent!
  3. Lean Body Mass
    Having greater levels of muscle mass promotes fat loss through increased basal metabolic rate. A leaner physique will allow the athlete to jump higher, sprint faster, and have greater endurance on field. Fat mass is just dead weight, so having too much will only hinder performance.

How Much Muscle Mass is Required?

Athletes WILL benefit from adding muscle mass to their body, but how much an athlete needs is based on the individual which will require critical analysis from the strength coach. Factors that will decide how much muscle an athlete should put on will be determined by their sport, position played, strengths and weaknesses, role within the team, current levels of physical development, injury history, muscular imbalances, and future physical developmental goals.

For example, a 20 year old AFL player (Height: 184cm, weight: 73kg, BF%: 9%) who is quite under-sized plays on a wing position, which requires him to do large volumes of running throughout a match. His main strength is running endurance, but lacks the ability to take a hit from the opposition, how much muscle mass does he need?
His strength of running endurance, with that also being his team role, needs to be taken in to account. It is important to add some muscle to his whole body in order for him to be able to absorb force from opponents, but not so much that it takes away from his strength of elite endurance.

Another example is a 19 year old, promising fast bowler in cricket. He is 195cm tall, weighs 78kg, and has shown talent but breaks down frequently from lacking the ability to absorb ground reaction forces from landing on the pitch as he bowls. He needs to add some muscle size to help his strength development and aid in the ability to absorb the ground reaction forces (it is also important to monitor his bowling loads, and assess his bowling action, but I won’t get in to that here), but not so much that his ability to bowl fast is hampered along with having to absorb too much force from the increased mass he’s carrying around. Thus, it is important to train the lower limb muscles that are most used in the sport and not adding large amounts of upper body mass that is unrequired.

Conclusion

Almost all athletes require certain levels of muscle hypertrophy, but their individual needs will vary greatly. It is important to analyse athletes critically and gauge where they’re at, and where they need to be. Adding muscle mass for the sake of it is not necessary as it can lead to decreases in performance through decreased skill training, high levels of fatigue, and not training other physical aspects the athlete may be weak at.

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