If you have spent any time in a gym, then you have probably heard some of the following statements about muscle building.
Questionable phrases like:
Muscles don’t know how much weight you're lifting, they only know tension.
Muscles respond differently to different types of training.
High rep sets (over 15 reps) help tone muscles.
To build muscle you have to do low reps (6-8 reps).
If you get really sore then you know you are building muscle.
Building muscle is all based on genetics, how you train doesn’t really matter.
There are different types of muscle growth.
If you have heard these then you probably know it’s all bro-science and half scientific truths AND there is some real “secret” to gaining muscle quickly and efficiently…wink, wink.
Are you thoroughly confused and frustrated because you don’t know what to believe or do in the gym? What should you ignore, what should you believe, and what should you do in the gym? I know, I’ve been there, I’ve wasted hours, maybe even years inside the gym and out on the road doing the “wrong” things but my mistakes are now your gains.
Yes, muscle growth is complicated on a physiological level BUT in the gym, building muscle is much more simple. In fact, if you follow a few simple principles then building muscle doesn’t require hours in the gym and a vast knowledge of strength training.
I want to give you a general overview of these principles now and then break each one into it’s own article so I can give you the science and usable examples you can transfer to your next workout.
Law of building muscle #1:
There are 3 ways to stimulate muscle growth. Hitting one, two or three of these in a workout will progressively maximize muscle growth efficiently and effectively.
Mechanical Tension: the amount of force produced in muscle fibers. There is active and passive tension on muscle during different phases of lifting.
Muscle damage: the microscopic “tears” to the muscle fibers by high levels of tension. The repair of this damage requires proper nutrition and rest. The fibers heal bigger and stronger so they can deal with future stress (hypertrophy).
Cellular fatigue: a host of chemical changes that occur inside and outside muscle fibers when they contract repeatedly. This comes from working the muscle to near failure AND this deprives it of oxygen which produces nitric oxide.
Research has repeatedly shown that mechanical tension is the key muscle building stimulus but in order to do that muscular damage and cellular fatigue happen to some degree.
These three factors are what scientists call the “strength-endurance-continuum”. It goes like this:
Heavy, lower-rep weightlifting primarily increases muscle strength and results in higher amounts of mechanical tension and muscular damage, but less cellular fatigue.
Lighter, higher-rep weightlifting primarily increases muscle endurance and results in lower amounts of mechanical tension and muscle damage, but more cellular fatigue.
Having explained that, what do you think is more effective for building muscle? Yep, you guessed it - Heavy, lower rep work because the muscle tension is the key.
I won’t bore you with scientific studies but I’ll give you the results. You can build muscle with lighter weights BUT you have to go to a dark, ugly place that is close to death called near muscle failure. Then you have to do it again and then do it again for a third set. Think a 20 rep set of back squats to near failure x 3 at light weight like 135lbs. HOWEVER, you DON’T NEED to do that.
The most effective way to build muscle is to train with heavier weights in moderate rep ranges of 8-10 reps AND use compound whole body movements like squats, deadlifts and pressing exercises. Push, Pull, Squat and you will build muscle! Lighter weights and other training methods can be effective for other things but not if you want to build muscle and strength as quickly and efficiently as possible.
In the next two articles, I will cover the other two rules of how to build muscle quickly and efficiently. Muscle is the key to health and longevity. Let’s go build it.