Last Updated on by San San

It is every fitness geek’s dream to have the body they work hard for every day. If you’re one of the people who are working hard for your body goals, then this is a question you would want to explore, “what is the difference between hypertrophy and atrophy?”

What Are The Differences Between Hypertrophy And Atrophy?

A technique that bodybuilders use to increase their muscle mass quickly is called ‘hypertrophy training’. They claim that this training method gives them increased muscle size, a leaner look, and strength. There is truth to their claims, and medical science confirms this fact. But, what both the medical community and bodybuilders alike discourage is atrophy. So, what is atrophy?

Hypertrophy is a term that most health enthusiasts are familiar with, but atrophy is mostly unfamiliar. So what is atrophy? Are these two terms related to each other? Why is atrophy unwanted? What is the science behind these two terms?

For us to identify what differentiates them,  let’s define their meanings and how both of them work.

What Is Hypertrophy?

Hypertrophy, in simple terms, is the increase of the muscle volume of the organ past natural development. Hypertrophy happens due to the organ’s tissue cells enlarging. Not to be mistaken for hyperplasia, which is the increased number of cells, yet their size stays as before. Hypertrophy is an occurrence of the enlarging of the existing cells rather than their numbers increasing.

Hypertrophy happens when the body’s muscle fibre thickens, in particular myosin and actin. The body supplies more proteins to both myosin and actin, hence prompting an expansion in muscle volume. Be that as it may, this cycle doesn’t happen normally. You need a trigger for the cycle to begin. To see how you can trigger the cycle, we should comprehend the science behind it.

The human body is amazing at adjusting to different situations. Your body can assign nutrients to different organs that need them. So if your body is under a lot of stress, it will change its equilibrium to adapt. In the case of your muscle, an example of stress being applied to it is lifting weights.

Constantly lifting weights puts stress on your muscles. This then forces your muscle to adapt to the situation. Your body will start to build larger and stronger muscles to withstand the stress being applied to it. This is what triggers the hypertrophy process.

Each time your muscles are exposed to heavy loads, the muscles are torn. However, these tears are happening on a small scale and are not a concern. Accordingly, your body begins a cell cycle that fixes or replaces the injured muscle tissue. This is the place where it joins muscle strands to shape new muscle protein strands or myofibrils. The final result of it thickens the muscle to make hypertrophy.

Your muscle develops when the pace of muscle protein created is higher than the rate it is being used. The building process of your muscles occurs when you are at rest, especially when you are asleep.

Hypertrophy doesn’t change the number of muscle cells within your muscles. Preferably, you could visualize the hypertrophy process as fortifying the walls rather than adding more bricks. The cells that fortify your muscles are called satellite cells. Satellite cells are like stem cells to your muscles.

Satellite cells, when used, add more nuclei to the muscle cells. As to our visualization earlier, the satellite cells act like cement or mortar that fills the cracks in the wall. This is what causes the development and volume of myofibrils.

The activation and efficiency of these cells, however, remain dependent on genetics. Some people can activate and use satellite cells much more efficiently than others. This is why you may notice that some people develop bulkier muscles faster than others.

Activating the satellite cells requires doing two things, muscle stress, and repair. The development of your muscles lies in putting stress on your muscle to force them to adapt. The stress then causes micro-tears to your muscle. The tears then allow the body to fix and fortify it.

Is Hypertrophy Good For You?

If you want a bigger muscle mass, then yes! Hypertrophy is good for you. There is no downside to pursuing hypertrophy training to develop muscle mass.

Now that we know what hypertrophy is, so what is atrophy? Why is it unwanted?

What Is Atrophy?

Atrophy is the polar opposite of hypertrophy. Atrophy is the decrease in the volume of a body part, muscle, organ, cell, or other tissue. Healthline describes atrophy perfectly, and it is the wasting away of the different body parts.

Atrophy is an occurrence concerning when an organ, cell, muscle, or other tissue is reduced. Unlike hypertrophy, where cells are enlarged and not diminished, atrophy is when cells are not only thin but their quantity is reduced as well.

Your body, as previously stated, is excellent at adapting and allocating nutrients where it needs to. Atrophy occurs once your body decides that a certain body part does not require additional resources. Thus this leads to some of the body parts shrinking, and there are several examples of this.

During different phases of your life, atrophy happens within your body, but this is not a cause for concern. When women undergo a menstrual cycle, for example, the corpus luteum of the ovary atrophies if the person is not pregnant. The muscles of the uterus during pregnancy also undergo atrophy once the baby is delivered.

When you stop working out after a while, your muscle can also undergo atrophy. Since there is no stress being constantly applied, the muscles would shrink since there is no longer a need for them.  This is why atrophy is unwanted by bodybuilders since muscle shrinks when not in use.

Is Atrophy Good For You?

Yes, atrophy is good when it occurs naturally. However, atrophy also occurs when a person is unable to provide the nutrition with the body needs. What do I mean by this?

If a person undergoes starvation, atrophy will start to happen. Your body will use up your essential protein components and vitamins within your muscles. The body allocates these resources to many important body parts including the heart, liver, kidney, and brain. This is done for the body to survive.

Atrophy also happens in ageing. This is why it is referred to as a literal wasting away.

The Difference Between Hypertrophy And Atrophy

The differences are quite simple. Hypertrophy is building the body, and atrophy is breaking down the body. Both of these processes are important for the overall well-being of the body, provided that both occur naturally.

Hypertrophy would be reinforcing the existing wall, while atrophy breaks down the bricks. Both must be balanced perfectly for a healthier body and lifestyle.


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