How to increase muscle density

muscle density

The question of how to increase muscle density is not one you often hear in gyms and locker rooms. Usually, you hear questions that relate to strength or size. But it is a question that more athletes should be asking. This article will explain what muscle density is and how you can increase it.

What is muscle density?

The word density refers to how much substance or material is within a given volume or measured area. For example, how many muscle cells or fibers are within a cubic inch. The more skeletal muscle fibers within a given area, the more dense the muscle is. The more other things other than muscle fibers present, the more of the volume or area being measured is taken up by these other things. This taking up of space reduces the density of the muscle fibers being measured. A good example of density is two buckets filled to the top with styrofoam packing. One bucket is filled with regular styrofoam packing, and the second bucket is filled to the top with the same styrofoam packing, but it has been pressed down, and the styrofoam packing has been compressed, and all the air has been squeezed out. Both buckets are filled to the top, but the one with all the air removed and the packing compressed down holds more styrofoam packing even though they are the same size bucket. The styrofoam has been compressed and the air removed, resulting in this bucket being denser with styrofoam.

In the case of skeletal muscle, the things that can reduce muscle density are things such as:

  • Intramuscular fat deposits
  • Intracellular water
  • Extracellular water

All three of the above things can decrease muscle density. 

Intramuscular fat

Intramuscular fat deposits can reduce muscle density by taking up space between the muscle fibers, reducing the number of muscle fibers. A simple example highlighting this point is two people with the same size biceps, but one has less intramuscular fat than the other. The one with less intramuscular fat has a higher muscle density because their muscle is nothing but muscle fibers without the fat deposits. 

intramuscular fat
intramuscular fat

Intracellular water

Intracellular water is the water found within the muscle cells. If your muscle cells are swollen or enlarged with water, they increase volume. So again, if you have two people with the same size biceps and one with more intracellular water, the one with the lower intracellular volume will have denser muscles.

Extracellular water

extracellular water can negatively impact muscle density the same way that intracellular water does. The water takes up space outside the muscle cells, thus lowering muscle density.

Can you make muscle denser?

You can make muscle denser by decreasing the volume taken up in the muscle by intramuscular fat and water. You can reduce intramuscular fat and water by eating correctly, exercising regularly and lowering your body fat percentage. 

How to increase muscle density not size?

The best way to increase muscle density and not muscle size is by eliminating things other than muscle fibers that take up space within the muscle itself. So you need to try and eliminate as much intramuscular fat as possible. Often bodybuilders and athletes looking to build muscle mistake muscle size with muscle growth. They fail to realize that a good percentage of muscle size is often related to intramuscular fat deposits between the muscle fibers. This intramuscular fat usually occurs due to poor dietary choices and habits. Yes, you have big muscles, but it is not all muscle.

The next way to increase muscle density is to decrease water retention within and outside the muscle cells. This water elimination is often counterintuitive for bodybuilders and athletes looking to build muscle. Usually, these athletes take cell volumizing supplements to try and increase the amount of water within the muscle cell. An excellent example of this is creatine monohydrate, which increases the amount of water within muscle cells. This water retention makes the muscles look more prominent and does help growth over the long term, but it dramatically decreases the density of the muscle.

Just by focusing on these two areas, you can dramatically increase your muscle density without even having to grow new muscle. You often see professional bodybuilders taking diuretics, dieting, and drastically cutting their body fat percentages before a competition. It is to try and eliminate everything except for the muscle fibers, and by doing this, they are increasing their muscle density, which is one of the areas that they get judged on.

The last way you can increase muscle density is by working out and stimulating muscle hypertrophy or even better muscle hyperplasia. With muscle hypertrophy, the muscle fibers grow in size in response to the training or working out that they were subjected to. The muscle fibers take up more volume and get denser by growing larger. Regarding muscle hyperplasia, you produce new muscle cells or fibers, which differs from hypertrophy, in which the fibers just got bigger. By growing new muscle fibers with hyperplasia, you are again increasing the muscle volume and increasing the muscle density.

Summary of how to increase muscle density

Muscle density sounds and appears more complicated than it is. Just remember, the more actual muscle you have and the less non-muscle you have within the muscle, the more dense the muscle will be. Muscle size is not everything, and this is why often you will see smaller people in the gym lifting more weight than someone who is far more muscular or bigger in terms of muscle size. There is nothing wrong with having big muscles with some intramuscular fat and water. It is up to each person how they want to look or perform. But if you are training for a sport that requires strength but their size and weight have to be kept in check, then focusing on increasing your muscle density might be the way to go for you. An excellent example of this might be sports that have weight classes. Being as strong as possible is advantageous in these sports, but you do not want to increase weight as you might have to go up in a weight class. 


The information contained within this article should not be taken as medical advice. You should consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, or exercise routine.