Muscle Growth Secrets
We get inquiries about muscle growth frequently. Only fat loss inquiries are greater in number. Often, people ask what they "can take" for bigger pecs, biceps, or whatever muscle they want to see grow. While we sell excellent supplements, these won't do you much good unless you understand the principles of muscle growth.
Let's begin by answering the question, "Why do muscles grow?" Normally, they don't. But when you exercise, this changes. However, it's not the exercise that makes the muscle grow. What exercise does is destroy individual muscle cells (that's why it makes you sore). Your body has muscle stem cells that divide, and the new cells replace the destroyed ones.
This isn't growth, yet, just replacement. What if those stem cells were to keep dividing? Then, your muscles would swell up so much you'd look ridiculous (and feel worse). A protein called myostatin inhibits this cell division, keeping it from running away.
The amount of myostatin determines the limit for the amount of cell division. Certain hormones, mostly testosterone, depress myostatin slightly and allow the cell division to slightly exceed the replacement level. Voila, muscles grow.
Now, two reasons make this important for the body builder to know:
So, simply pumping out reps doesn't get you anywhere near the muscle growth you're capable of. In fact, it is likely to elevate cortisol (the stress hormone), depressing testosterone. This leads to many unpleasant effects, including bone mineral loss (testosterone signals the body to store calcium in the bones).
Effective weight lifting
The secret to an effective weight lifting program isn't to train more (and thus overtrain), but to train "fast and furious" so that you stimulate an adaptation. By fast and furious, I do not mean raise and lower weights quickly. I mean don't fart around. Do each rep with as much control and hard muscle contraction as you can, and do enough sets that you truly work that muscle.
For example, consider the bench press. Many people have learned to do three sets of 12 reps. This makes no sense, when you think about it. If you do that first set with any kind of serious effort, then there is no way you can repeat that after a short rest.
Instead of three basically useless sets, try doing really hard reps for a maximum of 4 to 6 reps. If you got to 6, you were probably not putting the muscle under hard enough contraction.
Let's say you cranked out 4 reps. On set 2, you cranked out only 2 reps. That's great--it means you are working very hard. For set 3, reduce the weight. Now keep doing sets with progressively less weight (depending on how many reps you did on the previous set) until you get a total of 24 to 30 reps. Regardless of how many sets it took or how many reps per set.
Effective weight training program
You are not going to elicit much of an adaptation response by doing isolation exercises. The exercises that bring that about are the compound movements that require great energy output and have a reputation for making lifters nauseated.
These include front squats, bench presses (done properly, not the normal way with shoulders rotated forward), clean and jerk, and deadlifts. These exercises are difficult to get right, and most people don't. They require coordination, and thus are too difficult for people who can't or won't focus on what they are doing.
These exercises are so brutal, the required rest period for most of us is going to be a week or more. That's why when someone says, "I do squats three times a week" you can bet that person is either on steroids or just clueless about how to do squats.
Most gym rats won't do these exercises, precisely because they are brutal and leave you feeling zapped for days. Body builders who want to maximize their muscle growth do these exercises for the same reason. It's while recovering during that zapped phase that you get the adaptive response.
And it's why you don't see a beanpole guy with tree trunk arms. To get huge (if that's what you want to do), you must do these brutal compound exercises in brutal fashion. Doing so leads to all-over muscle growth. If you don't want huge freaky muscles, don't worry. Humans don't have the genetic potential to get there without steroids. But you can get big, strong muscles for an impressive physique and a high level of usable strength.
Muscles may appear to grow when they swell up with water. That's an effect creatine has. This effect is temporary, but that extra water in the cells has advantages that also promote muscle growth (harder contractions during workouts, faster recovery, etc.). Thus, most pre-workout supplements on the market today contain creatine.
Other supplements, such as glutamine, aid in muscle repair and thus help muscles get larger faster.
And, of course, everyone knows that you need adequate protein for new muscle tissue to develop. But how much is adequate? The general rule of thumb for hard training athletes is 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of lean body weight. Your lean body weight is your total weight minus the % of your weight that is body fat.
So if you weigh 160 lbs and are at 6% body fat, then your lean body weight is about 150 lbs and you need 120 to 180 grams of protein a day. For a six meal eating pattern, that works out to about 20 grams per meal. Or if you had 3 protein shakes of 40g each 3 x /day, you'd get there plus have the protein from your other 3 meals.
If you're avoiding our nation's contaminated meat supply, how can you get enough protein with sufficient BCAAs and enough of the right protein profile? You'll need a protein supplement, and not some cheap chalky-tasting powder made with low quality milk. Get a good protein supplement. The variations of protein supplement categories is confusing, and we help clear up the confusion with our main protein supplement page. Just a note, we have gotten great results with the JS Nitro brand.
Sure, we're going to shill for our supplements. You also have the option of eating 18 eggs (1 and a half dozen) a day to get 126 grams of that protein. That's a lot of eggs, and at 60 calories each you're looking at 1,080 calories. Not bad, but still more than you probably want. The upside, of course, is if you're eating free-range eggs you're getting a healthy dose of vitamin D and important amino acids in each yolk.
Personally, I have some eggs nearly every day and cut back on the protein powders proportionately. But I have no interest in eating half a dozen eggs three times a day.
What it's about
Don't forget, it's not about how long you hang out at the gym or how many reps you do. It's about how much you load your muscles so they stimulate an adaptive response in your body. If you provide your body with the nutrients needed to achieve that adaptive response, you will reach your genetic limit for muscle size and strength.
Isn't a powerful and nicely shaped body worth doing workouts right?
Here's a great site for those who want to build muscle: Muscle Magazine. Muscle Mass Magazine a free online hardcore muscle magazine.
The articles on this site are authoritative, because:
Where an article is not bylined with a specific author's name, it was written by Mark Lamendola (see photos on home page and elsewhere on this site). Mark is a 4th degree blackbelt, has not been sick since 1971, and has not missed a workout since 1977. Just an example of how Mark knows what he's talking about: In his early 50s, Mark demonstrated a biceps curl using half his body weight. That's a Jack LaLanne level stunt. Few people can even come close. If you want to know how to build a strong, beautiful body, read the articles here.
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