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Muscle ultrastructural characteristics of elite powerlifters and bodybuilders


Muscle ultrastructure of a group of subjects possessing extreme hypertrophy was compared with that of a control group which had undergone 6 months of heavy resistance training. Two needle biopsies were taken from triceps brachii of two international calibre powerlifters and five elite bodybuilders. In addition, samples were taken from five healthy volunteers before and after 6 months of training of the elbow extensors. One biopsy was prepared for electron microscopy and analyzed stereologically, and the other was stained for myosin ATPase activity and photographed under the light microscope. Despite large differences in elbow extension strength and arm girth there was no significant difference in fibre areas or percentages of fibre types between the elite group and the trained controls. This suggests that the elite group possessed a greater total number of muscle fibres than the controls did. Mitochondrial volume density of the elite group was similar to that of the control group following training but significantly less (p<0.05) than the pretraining control measurements. Myofibrillar volume density was significantly lower and cytoplasmic volume density significantly higher in the elite group than in the trained controls. There was a considerably higher incidence of structural abnormalities including central nuclei and atrophied fibres in the elite group than in the control group, which might possibly have been associated with the use of anabolic steroids by the elite group.

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Correspondence to J. D. MacDougall.

Additional information

This study was funded by the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Canada

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MacDougall, J.D., Sale, D.G., Elder, G.C.B. et al. Muscle ultrastructural characteristics of elite powerlifters and bodybuilders. Europ. J. Appl. Physiol. 48, 117–126 (1982).

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Key words

  • Hypertrophy
  • Bodybuilders
  • Fast and slow twitch fibres
  • Ultrastructure
  • Skeletal muscle