Do the anatomical and physiological properties of a muscle determine its adaptive response to different loading protocols?

Physiol Rep. 2020 May;8(9):e14427. doi: 10.14814/phy2.14427.


It has been proposed that superior muscle hypertrophy may be obtained by training muscles predominant in type I fibers with lighter loads and those predominant in type II fibers with heavier loads.

Purpose: To evaluate longitudinal changes in muscle strength and hypertrophy of the soleus (a predominantly slow-twitch muscle) and gastrocnemius (muscle with a similar composition of slow and fast-twitch fibers) when subjected to light (20-30 repetition maximum) and heavy (6-10 repetition maximum) load plantarflexion exercise.

Methods: The study employed a within-subject design whereby 26 untrained young men had their lower limbs randomized to perform plantarflexion with a low-load (LIGHT) and a high-load (HEAVY) for 8 weeks. Muscle thickness was estimated via B-mode ultrasound and maximal strength was determined by isometric dynamometry.

Results: Results showed that changes in muscle thickness were similar for the soleus and the gastrocnemius regardless of the magnitude of load used in training. Furthermore, each of the calf muscles demonstrated robust hypertrophy, with the lateral gastrocnemius showing greater gains compared to the medial gastrocnemius and soleus. Both HEAVY and LIGHT training programs elicited similar hypertrophic increases in the triceps surae. Finally, isometric strength increases were similar between loading conditions.

Conclusions: The triceps surae muscles respond robustly to regimented exercise and measures of muscle hypertrophy and isometric strength appear independent of muscle fiber type composition. Moreover, the study provides further evidence that low-load training is a viable strategy to increase hypertrophy in different human muscles, with hypertrophic increases similar to that observed using heavy loads.

Keywords: gastrocnemius; high-load; low-load; soleus; strength training.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypertrophy / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Muscle Fibers, Slow-Twitch / physiology*
  • Muscle Strength / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Young Adult