Growing muscle is a primary focus for many people where health and fitness are concerned.
For many, building muscle is the main goal even when they don’t realize this.
And what do I mean by that?
Well, ever heard of someone saying they want to get toned or tone up.
First, The Myth Of “Toning”
The concept behind “toning” for many people, especially women, means making floppy muscles tight and rigid through strenuous activity.
This is meant to improve muscle definition and give a firm look at one’s overall body composition.
The truth is, toning is not what it's made out to be.
Actually gaining the effective benefits of what counts as toning is really two fundamental things.
Losing body fat and building muscle.
There are no two ways about it. If you want to improve muscle definition, you need to increase muscle size and volume and decrease body fat.
So how exactly do you build muscle?
I’m sure you have a basic idea, in that you eat lots of protein and lift heavyweights.
Well, in a very fundamental sense, that is true, but in order to really nail your muscle-building potential, there are some finer details you will need to consider, and we’re just about to dive into them.
First let’s look at the different ways in which your muscles grow, and yes, there are different types of muscle growth.
Types of Hypertrophy (Muscle Growth)
Myofibrils are the active components in a muscle cell or muscle fiber responsible for contraction and force generation.
Each muscle fiber has a certain amount of myofibrils which help it perform mechanical work.
When you put your body under strain through repetitive resistance training and mechanical stress, your body may respond to my instructing your muscle fibers to generate more myofibrils.
The more myofibrils a fiber contains, the bigger, stronger and denser it becomes.
Think of your muscle fibers/cells as bungee cords, and myofibrils as the numerous rubber bands all bundled up to form a single chord.
Myofibrillar hypertrophy is like bundling more rubber bands into one single chord. The result is obvious, a stronger, thicker, more resilient bungee cord.
Myofibrillar hypertrophy is, therefore, the best way to secure both size and performance gains when it comes to your muscles.
While exercise is an essential trigger for this type of growth, a high protein diet is a key that unlocks the potential for this to occur.
This must, of course, include a good balance of other macros and essential micronutrients in order to assist all the necessary muscle building anabolic functions.
- Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy
We’ve looked at myofibrillar hypertrophy, where we made the analogy of a bungee cord to describe how muscles grow in this way.
Now for a moment, I want you to forget that and now imagine a muscle fiber as a thick-skinned water balloon.
This will be how sarcoplasmic hypertrophy occurs
In each cell in your body, including your muscle fibers, is an internal cavity known as cytoplasm.
In the case of muscle fibers, it is referred to as a sarcoplasm.
This liquid inside of the muscle cell is what makes it like a water balloon.
Now, imagine you add more liquid to that balloon, what happens?
It grows bigger right?
Exactly, it grows bigger and becomes more rigid.
This is what happens with sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Your muscle cells swell up with liquid making them bigger and more defined.
The increase in volume and pressure is the result of a movement of substances such as glycogen and creatine into the muscles, causing a movement of water into the cell so that a fluid balance is maintained.
Fluid balance is the balance of water inside cells vs water outside cells. When your cells have more stuff in them and less water than what is outside, water moves in to balance everything for normal function.
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy doesn’t do much for gaining strength, but the extra storage capacity for energy supplies such as glycogen is a huge benefit when it comes to providing fuel for hard work.
We’ve gone through the two most common forms of hypertrophy, myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic.
We’ll call them the bungee cord and water balloon methods respectively.
One interesting thing to remember is that after a certain point, usually shortly after puberty, the number of muscle fibers existing in your body at any one moment remains constant.
That means after you mature into a biological adult, you are basically stuck with what you have in terms of the number of bungee cords/water balloon cells in your body.
However, there is a known way to generate new muscle fibers even past adolescent development, this is called hyperplasia.
Hyperplasia is stimulated by growth hormones such as human growth hormone (HGH) and insulin-like growth factor (IGF).
Both these hormones play an extensive role in the development of your tissues from the time you are born until your early to mid-20s.
After this point, the production of these hormones drops tremendously allowing your body to settle into its adult form.
Evidence has shown that in some cases, a very well calculated lifestyle and exercise habits can boost HGH and IGF levels to a point where they can stimulate new cell generation.
The most common way, however, and one we don’t advise unless your doctor says so, is to use external hormones such as injected IGF and HGH to stimulate new tissue.
This is common in the world of bodybuilding but has many risks as well as a rather hefty price tag.
So now that you know the different ways muscles can be built, let’s look at what it actually takes to get the party started.
5 Of The Best Habits For Naturally Building Muscle
1. Heavy Weights and Resistance Training
Lifting heavy or forcing past heavy resistance is one of the most tried and trusted muscle building methods.
In order to really harness the benefits of resistance training, a general guideline is to go use a resistance load of 65 – 75% of your 1 rep max (1RM).
Doing this at a volume of 3 to 5 sets of 8 – 12 reps each is considered the optimal guideline for good muscle building effects to take place.
The reason for this is that at this intensity, your muscles are experiencing both mechanical and metabolic stress.
The mechanical stress causes your muscle fibers to stretch, struggle and even slightly tear under the tension of the load you are moving.
This signals to your body that more resources are needed to deal with this new environmental pressure.
Your body doesn’t know that you’re just sitting on a bench pushing a barbell, you may as well be wrestling a grizzly bear 3 times a week.
That’s because your body sees an increase in average mechanical stress as an environmental challenge that needs to be overcome in order for you to continue surviving, so your body decides to build more muscle.
As for the metabolic stress, your body is constantly producing energy in the form of ATP for your muscles to be able to work.
A byproduct of this ATP production is lactic acid. This substance, also known as lactate, is used by your muscles for more energy, but if it accumulates to a certain point, it causes fatigue and results in a decline in activity capacity.
This is known as reaching your lactate threshold infancy science, and when you constantly try and push beyond this point, your body responds by building more muscles in order to consume more lactate so that you endure more work.
The reason this is most effective with heavy resistance workouts is that you are training with less oxygen in a state called anaerobic respiration.
This is the opposite to, say, going for a long steady run, where your lungs are constantly filling your blood with enough oxygen, putting you in aerobic respiration.
During the anaerobic state of heavy resistance training, you reach your lactate limit much quicker, stimulating muscle growth more effectively.
2. More Compound Workouts
It’s not just the intensity of the resistance training that’s important when it comes to effectively building muscle, it’s also the method behind how you deal with the resistance.
That’s why when it comes to optimal muscle building, compound exercises are the best.
Compound exercises have the benefit of targeting multiple muscles at the same time.
This means that the muscles that work together will grow together.
That allows for good body composition in terms of proportions and size ratios. You are building your body rather than just single muscles.
Another benefit of compound lifts is the functional benefits.
Because you are lifting or moving across multiple joints and muscles, you are engaging stability, balance, and strength at the same time.
This allows you to improve performance, functionality, and resistance to injury as your joints and muscles adapt.
Compound exercises also help reduce the risk of imbalance and boost your energy output and metabolism.
3. Progressive Overload
When your muscles respond to a new level of mechanical and metabolic stress, your body grows them to meet that challenge.
Once that challenge is met, it’s back to business as usual.
This becomes the new normal, so there is no longer a need to go any bigger or stronger.
This is what is known as a plateau.
When you reach such a plateau, the best way to overcome it is to increase the intensity of your workouts through progressive overload.
Progressive overload simply means upping the level of challenge you put your muscles and skeleton through.
This will produce the same reaction you will have experienced initially to get to your current level.
It is important to remember that while progressive overload is a reliable way to cause your muscles to adapt and grow, there are many variables that affect muscle growth past a plateau.
You also need to accept that your muscle growth potential is not indefinite and will level off at your maximum genetic potential, something which is unique to each individual.
4. Nutrition Is Key
Nutrition is a huge factor in how you grow your muscles.
The first most important consideration is protein since this is what your muscles will mostly be made from.
Good quality complete proteins are a must and you need them in the right quantity.
It is suggested that for the purpose of building muscle, an adult should eat roughly 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
That means if you weigh about 170lb, you should aim for 170g of protein per day.
But it’s not just protein you need.
Carbs play a vital role in building muscle for two reasons.
Firstly, they are protein sparing. This means they stand in when your body needs energy allowing the protein to miss the draft so to speak.
By doing so, your protein reserves are used for building muscle rather than fueling your metabolism.
Secondly, the glycogen that gets stored from carbs plays a role in sarcoplasmic hypertrophy as previously explained, and also helps provide energy for your workouts which ultimately stimulate growth.
Fats also have a hand in building muscle. They also contribute to the sparing of protein but most importantly are responsible for the production of hormones that drive the anabolic function of building lean muscle.
Those are your macros, but your micronutrients are equally important.
All the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs to drive on also contribute to optimal muscle growth.
5. Hydration Benefits
One undeniable resource when it comes to building muscles is water.
Water is essential regardless of what your health and fitness goals are, but when you are aiming for increased gains, your water intake becomes even more important.
Water is the catalyst and backdrop for almost every chemical reaction that takes place in your body.
Building muscle is, after all, a bunch of chemical reactions, so water is playing a huge role from the get-go.
If we look back to sarcoplasmic or “water balloon” hypertrophy, we can see how water has a direct impact on building muscles.
In this case, it literally forms your muscles.
Being well hydrated also boosts energy levels and recovery rates. Here are just a few reasons why and how water contributes to building muscles:
Enlarges muscles through sarcoplasmic hypertrophy
Acts as a fluid medium for the transfer of important nutrients
Acts as a base medium for blood.
Provides energy for several chemical/metabolic reactions
Forms part of the filtration system that cleanses the body
Building muscles is an art that involves a bit of science.
With the right strategy, knowledge, and determination, anyone can begin building the best body they could possibly have.
Start now with us at LIFE RENU.
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