I received an email insisting that the sarcoplasm doesn’t make a muscle bigger. Remember, the sarcoplasm is the “energy fluid” in the muscle that contains ATP and other substrates.
That used to be a prevailing belief; however, here’s a quote from hypertrophy researcher Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D. on the subject:
If you’d have asked me a few months ago, I’d have said that any contribution of sarcoplasmic hypertrophy to muscle size was minimal in the absence of myofibrillar hypertrophy; a new study has me rethinking that opinion. Intriguingly, myofibrillar protein levels decreased while sarcoplasmic fractions increased over the course of 6 weeks of resistance training. The authors speculate that the higher repetition protocol, and thus associated reliance on anaerobic glycolysis, may have promoted an increase in (perhaps) the sarcoplasmic reticulum, as well as other sarcoplasmic proteins (anaerobic enzymes, etc). This in turn would draw more fluid into the fiber to maintain cellular equilibrium.
So it appears that high-rep sets and/or short rests between sets do increase muscle size by expanding the sarcoplasm…
It’s one reason I take creatine. It can replenish and increase adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, within that fluid, which I believe is a factor in the supplement’s ability to increase muscle size through sarcoplasmic expansion…
Of course, creatine also enhances myofibrillar growth through more efficient muscle contraction. That’s a key function of ATP, and why this stuff works for most trainees. (I listed it as one of my key supplements in Old Man, Young Muscle.)
Back to training. My friend Elliott reminded me of something the Iron Guru Vince Gironda said: You only need one or two hard sets to develop the myofibrils; the rest of your sets should be higher reps with short rests to develop capillaries and the sarcoplasm.
By “hard” sets, I believe Vince meant heavy, but…
The latest studies show that you don’t need heavy weights to grow. The high-rep sets can produce just as much hypertrophy due to the recruitment of fast-twitch fibers near the end of a set taken to, or very close to, failure.
If you’re a full-on mesomorph with loads of fast-twitch fibers, and want to “strength train” with low reps and heavy weights, you will get some muscle size as you get stronger…
Even so, whether you’re a skinny ectomorph or a well-built mesomorph, maxing out your muscle size requires that you give all facets of muscle hypertrophy attention—from fast-twitch growth to sarcoplasmic expansion to capillarization to slow-twitch growth.
To cover all those bases with heavy, low-rep training, it takes lots and lots of sets—volume accumulation—which is not very efficient.
Even eight-time Mr. Olympia and alien strength god Ronnie Coleman knew that. He mixed high-rep sets into his training despite high volume, and it helped him develop every mass layer possible. Can you see a few capillaries here?…
Latest Release: Get the ideal exercise for each muscle, the best add-on moves for ultimate mass, complete 35-minute workouts, exercise start/finish photos and details on building muscle fast and efficiently in Old Man, Young Muscle.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
Former Editor in Chief, Iron Man Magazine
Mass-Building Lessons From the Master Trainer
Vince Gironda was the Iron Guru, a bodybuilding legend ahead of his time. His most famous pupil in the bodybuilding world was the very first Mr. Olympia Larry Scott, and he also trained many Hollywood stars back in the day, like Clint Eastwood, and even Arnold consulted with him and was a fan (even though Vince told Arnold that he was a “fat f**k” when he first arrived in the U.S.).
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