Physiological differences between low versus high skeletal muscle hypertrophic responders to resistance exercise training: Current perspectives and future research directions

Michael D. Roberts, Cody T. Haun, Christopher B. Mobley, Petey W. Mumford, Matthew A. Romero, Paul A. Roberson, Christopher G. Vann, John J. McCarthy

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Numerous reports suggest there are low and high skeletal muscle hypertrophic responders following weeks to months of structured resistance exercise training (referred to as low and high responders herein). Specifically, divergent alterations in muscle fiber cross sectional area (fCSA), vastus lateralis thickness, and whole body lean tissue mass have been shown to occur in high versus low responders. Differential responses in ribosome biogenesis and subsequent protein synthetic rates during training seemingly explain some of this individual variation in humans, and mechanistic in vitro and rodent studies provide further evidence that ribosome biogenesis is critical for muscle hypertrophy. High responders may experience a greater increase in satellite cell proliferation during training versus low responders. This phenomenon could serve to maintain an adequate myonuclear domain size or assist in extracellular remodeling to support myofiber growth. High responders may also express a muscle microRNA profile during training that enhances insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) mRNA expression, although more studies are needed to better validate this mechanism. Higher intramuscular androgen receptor protein content has been reported in high versus low responders following training, and this mechanism may enhance the hypertrophic effects of testosterone during training. While high responders likely possess "good genetics," such evidence has been confined to single gene candidates which typically share marginal variance with hypertrophic outcomes following training (e.g., different myostatin and IGF-1 alleles). Limited evidence also suggests pre-training muscle fiber type composition and self-reported dietary habits (e.g., calorie and protein intake) do not differ between high versus low responders. Only a handful of studies have examined muscle biomarkers that are differentially expressed between low versus high responders. Thus, other molecular and physiological variables which could potentially affect the skeletal muscle hypertrophic response to resistance exercise training are also discussed including rDNA copy number, extracellular matrix and connective tissue properties, the inflammatory response to training, and mitochondrial as well as vascular characteristics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number834
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Issue numberJUL
StatePublished - Jul 4 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Roberts, Haun, Mobley, Mumford, Romero, Roberson, Vann and McCarthy.


  • Androgen receptor
  • Hypertrophy
  • IGF-1
  • MicroRNAs
  • Ribosome biogenesis
  • Satellite cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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