The huge deltoids, the bulging pecs, and the peaked biceps – we all know what muscle looks like. The question is, how do we get it? After all, there are countless guys in a myriad of gyms all over the world who are working hard and not building the muscle they want. In this article, we’ll break down exactly what muscle building is, how to train to achieve it and what other factors influence muscle growth.
What is Muscle Building?
Muscle building involves increasing the size of the muscle cells within your body. This process is known as hypertrophy. Here’s how it works:
When you exercise against a resistance, whether it’s gravity when doing push ups or the weight when doing the bench press, signals travel from the brain to the motor neurons inside the affected muscle cell. When they receive these signals the neurons fire, causing the muscle to contract and relax. This pulls on your muscles to generate the needed movement. The greater the demand, the more neurons are recruited.
As this is occurring, another adaptation occurs within the muscle at the cellular level. The tension that the cells are put under causes tears within their microfiber. This damage leads to the release of a class of molecules designed to repair the cell. These molecules, called cytokines, stimulate immune system reconstruction of the muscle cell.
The repetition of this tearing down and building up process will eventually cause the muscle to get larger. To keep stimulating new muscle, however, you have to keep imposing greater levels of stress and tension on the muscle fiber.
Researchers used to believe that muscle building was the result of a process known as hyperplasia, where we actually increase the number of muscle cells in the body. They now know that this is not the case. Hypertrophy, caused by a constantly increasing level on tension or stress on the muscle, is the only way to build muscle mass.
How to Add Tension
The mistake that many people make is that they believe that the only way to add tension is to increase the weight. This often leads to sloppy form and a preoccupation with lifting more and more weight. We need to keep in mind that the muscle doesn’t know how much weight is on the bar. All it knows is how much stress it is receiving. So, while adding weight is the primary way to add tension, you should never do so at the expense of bad form.
You can also add tension by decreasing the rest time between each set. That way you are providing less recovery time for the working muscle, forcing it to do more work in less time. By keeping your rest time to between 30-60 seconds between sets, you will be upping the tension level of your workout.
Another method of increasing tension is to slow your reps down. This is especially important through the lowering, or eccentric, part of the rep. Research confirms that the longer we can stretch out the eccentric phase, the more muscle stress we achieve. Try a 2 second up, 4 second down cadence to really push your muscles.
Full Body Training
For the first months of your muscle building career, you should train the body as a whole unit. This will allow you to focus on compound exercises that provide the best bang for your buck in terms of hypertrophy. That’s because they allow you to lift heavy by involving multiple muscle groups. You should train just three time per week, with at least one day rest in between. On sets with a descending rep scheme (12/10/8 reps per set), and adding weight on each set.
Here’s a sample Full Body workout:
Squats 4 x 12/10/8/8
Lunges 3 x 12
Pull Ups 4 x failure
Bench Press 4 x 12/10/8/8
Deadlift 4 x 12/10/8/8
Barbell Curls 3 x 8
Close Grip bench press x 8
Split System Training
After a few months of training, you will have built a foundation of mass. It’s now time to start shaping and refining each individual muscle. This is done by splitting the body into training zones. A typical split looks like this . . .
Chest / Triceps
Back / Biceps
Legs / Deltoids
Chest / Triceps
What Else is Needed for Muscle Growth?
Your body relies on more than workout induced stress to grow. Without the proper nutrients, and an adequate level of rest and recuperation, the muscle fibers will never repair and you will be in a constant state of catabolism (muscle depletion). The key muscle building nutrient is protein, which provides amino acids as the cellular building material. The branch chain amino acids leucine, valine and isoleucine, are especially important in this process.
The repair of our muscle tissue mainly occurs when we are in a state of rest, and primarily while we are asleep. We also need to give the working muscle enough time to recover before stressing it again. That is why we should wait at least 48 hours before working a muscle again.
Building muscle is essentially a simple, but by no means an easy, process. It involves putting your muscles under the maximum amount of controlled stress in order to cause micro-tears in the muscle fibers, then providing the nutrients to allow the natural repair and rebuild process to take effect. So long as you are feeding your body the proper nutrients, mainly in the form of protein, and giving it plenty of time to rest, it will grow back bigger and stronger than it was. Continue doing this consistently, making sure that the stress is constantly increasing, and you will have created the conditions to make your muscles as big and strong as they can possibly get.