I’ve heard quite a few times that bodybuilders are simply “puffy”, lack strength, and have “muscles filled with water”.
These claims have come about because of the discussions about muscle hypertrophy. Well, I would say they’ve come about due to misunderstandings of muscle hypertrophy.
There are two kinds of muscle hypertrophy: sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and myofibrillar hypertrophy. The former, sarcoplasmic, increases the volume of the sarcoplasm. The sarcoplasm is basically the water-y contents of the muscle cell. The second, myofibrillar, increases the number of myofilaments in the muscle cell. Myofilaments are what particpate in muscle contraction when stimulated by the nervous system.
People will sometimes say “oh, so with myofibrillar hypertrophy, your building more muscle fibers, so it’s REAL muscle, and sarcoplamsic hypertrophy is like filling up your muscles with water, so it’s FAKE!”
Typically, I’ve seen this “broscience” in casual conversations. I’ll give you one example, found on the bodybuilding.com forums (warning: graphic language). Check out post #55.
Basically, an obese woman puts up a Facebook status stating she did 65 reps of some puny weight for the bench press. A guy comments and says he can do 125 kilograms (which is 275 lbs?) for 15 reps. They argue back and forth, and the girl is saying how high reps are “better” than higher weight. Some random dude chimes in saying that 125 kilograms for 15 reps will only inflate the muscle with water, as seen in post #55. He says that this “in theory is ‘faking'”.
In this case, the person is not advocating myofibrillar hypertrophy, but straight-up endurance over sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. My mind is blown. People are really into this broscience BS.
Let’s take a look at what it takes to grow the sarcoplasm.
Higher volume is what it takes. And in this extreme example, it uses heavy back squats with 10 sets of 10 reps. So, with that said, bodybuilding is a combination of high-enough intensity (or weight), and high-enough volume. Those two variables can be tweaked a bit, but both are required for sarcoplasmic growth.
Do these parameters remind you of anything? they do to me. When I think of extended workouts with fairly heavy weights, I think of all of the laborers and farmers and trade-workers who move heavy shit for 8-to-12 hours per day. Doesn’t this sound like somewhat analogous to bodybuilding? Both are high-intensity, and both are high-volume. In theory, a bodybuilder would be at a great advantage if he worked in manual labor, because his body is accustomed to similar work.
Now, let’s see WHY training the sarcoplasm isn’t just about increasing the muscle cell with water, but is much more important.
The sarcoplasm contains glycogen, calcium ions, along with water. Glycogen can be broken down into glucose, and then can be used to produce ATP (which is essentially energy). Calcium ions are a necessary part of muscle contraction. All of this is explained here.
So, if you increase the volume of the sarcoplasm, you would also increase the number of calcium ions and glycogen molecules found inside the sarcoplasm. By inducing sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, you’re allowing the muscles to handle increased durations of semi-intense exertion.
This is what some would call strength-endurance. Basically, it’s your ability to move heavy stuff for an extended period of time. And isn’t this what manual labor is all about? Doing hard work, like farming or construction, takes hours each day but forces you to do fairly intense things throughout. So, a bodybuilding program would increase one’s ability to do manual labor, due to the increased size of the sarcoplasm.
Don’t let anyone tell you that bodybuilders have “fake” muscles. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy plays an important and somewhat understated role in physical fitness.