Muscle Building 101
Welcome to blog post Monday! Todays topic is muscle building or muscle growth. We’ve all seen those instagram posts of massive guys with huge bulging muscles, but what’s the science behind it and why do we/can we end up looking like that. Well, I want to keep this as simple and straight forward as possible, so let’s go!
Our bodies have a few different types of muscle, but the one we are most interested in is skeletal muscle. Skeletal muscle attaches to bones via tendons and help produce movement that you require on a daily basis. They are comprised of thousands of muscle fibers bundled and wrapped together in connective tissue known as epimysium. Outside of the epimysium is another connective tissue you may be familiar with known as fascia, this separates the muscles from one another.
The muscle fibers themselves are comprised of myofibrils and sarcomeres which are the basic units of muscle contraction. Muscles require a signal from the motor neuron in order to work. The heavier the load you lift, the more motor neurons you need to activate. For example; lifting pen vs lifting a 45lb barbell. The more motor neurons you can “learn” to recruit, the heavier the load you can lift.
How muscle growth actually works (Simplified)
When you resistance train, you effectively form micro-tears in the muscle belly. When you have finished with your training session, your body begins the repair process by replacing the damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process of fusing muscle fibers together and forming new muscle protein strands (myofibrils). The repaired myofibrils increase in thickness and number to create muscle hypertrophy. (Growth). In order to do this effectively it requires protein, a building block for repairing the muscle.
So what is optimal in terms of training for growth?
Well, ALL rep ranges will elicit growth with the muscle whether you’re doing 1 rep or 30 reps. However, the multitude of research narrows it down to 8-12 repetitions being the range for optimal hypertrophy (muscle growth).
So what next?
In terms of body composition, 8-12 reps is optimal as we just established, however, in order to continue on this trajectory, we need to incorporate our next important aspect, “Progressive Overload.”
Progressive Overload is exactly as it sounds, progressively overloading the muscle during training, that is gradually increasing the load lifted in order to continue adaptation. We do this by adjusting the frequency, intensity, duration (time) and type of a workout and closely track the progress. The adaptations we are looking for are muscle strength, size and endurance.
Frequency - the number of times you actually workout, measured weekly. Increasing frequency can be as little as adding in one additional day per week.
Intensity - How hard you’re training during the training session itself. Progressively lifting more weight, doing that one additional set, adding in drop sets etc etc. Theres a reason I’m standing there shouting at you!
Time - This relates to the duration of a particular exercise, we talk about “Time Under Tension” or TUT. This relates to the number of seconds it takes to perform a given rep.
Type - Refers to the specific exercise being performed. Change the exercise, change the programming to overload a specific muscle group.
So why do we want progressive overload?
In simple terms, in order to see changes in your physique, the muscle requires stimulus, and that stimulus must progress otherwise your muscles will get bored.
Additionally, the more muscle you build, the more weight you are able to lift and thus the more fat you burn, AND bonus, if you remember from our previous article on “How Dieting Stops You From Losing Weight!” We learned that the more muscle we have the more fat we can burn.