Bigger and Stronger: The Science Behind Muscle Growth and Strength

“You will train always for a hundred terrific reasons. Quit and it will be for no good reason at all.”
~Dave Draper, former Mr. America and Mr. Universe

Do you want to know the secret to gaining mass and power from your workout regimen? Here it is – there is NO secret – it’s SCIENCE.

Many “old-school” – or worse, ill-informed – fitness trainers believe in an erroneous dichotomy. They teach that you train for strength one way, and you train for size another way. With this mindset, the two goals are mutually incompatible. But science teaches us something different – it is possible to maximize your success and get both BIGGER and STRONGER at the same time.
Let’s take a closer look.

HYPERTROPHY – THE RESPONSE TO AN INTENSE WORKOUT

“It was not easy. I trained brutal all my life. It was like an explosion and I was growing like a balloon. Boom, boom, boom, like crazy.”
Sergio Oliva three-time Mr. Olympia

There are at least 320 identical pairs of bilateral muscles found in the human body, resulting in upwards of 640 skeletal muscles. One of the goals of a proper training regimen is symmetrical muscle growth on both sides of the body.

Muscle growth – properly called hypertrophy – typically refers to an increase in the volume of myofibrils, the long proteins that make up muscle cells. This growth occurs as a biological response to stimuli, such as the intensive anaerobic exercise engaged in by powerlifters, bodybuilders, and other physique or strength athletes.
Working out with weights actually damages muscle fibers, and afterwards, the body starts to repair that damage:

  • White blood cells rush to the injured muscles to reduce inflammation.
  • Cytokines – special “cell-signaling” proteins – are released, further stimulating white blood cell response and triggering the production of satellite cells.
  • Satellite cells can fuse with existing muscle fibers, facilitating repair and growth.

It is important to keep in mind that the muscle repair that turns into muscle growth does not happen during the workout – it occurs during periods of rest, for up to 48 hours following a workout. Real growth happens when the rate of repair happens faster than the damage. Since muscles get stronger and more resistant to damage the more they are exercised, the biggest gains are usually seen among beginners.

THE WORKOUT FACTORS THAT AFFECT MUSCLE GROWTH

During weight training, there are four main factors that play a role in the stimulation of muscle growth:

MUSCULAR TENSION

Muscular Tension

The minute cellular damage–microtrauma – that triggers muscle repair and growth happens both during the negative and positive portions of an exercise. During the stretching (negative) phase, contracted muscles lengthen to their stretched positions when they are forcefully moved by the weight.

During the contraction (positive) phase, the weight makes it difficult for the muscle to once again contract. The force exerted to move the weight is what causes the microtrauma.

In his book, The Strength Training Anatomy Workout II, powerlifting champion Frederic Delavier wrote, “To ensure that you provoke a significant muscle-building response, you must continually apply force on your muscles by using heavier and heavier weights.”

TIME SPENT UNDER TENSION

Time Spent Under Tension

Size (of the weight) isn’t the only thing that matters. How long that weight is used is also critically important to muscle growth. Some people like to use lighter weights, because they are then more easily able to increase the time spent under muscular tension, BUT – if the weight used is TOO light, then during the contraction phase, the force needed will be too small to trigger a signal for muscle repair and growth.

Research has shown that the compromise between time spent under tension and absolute negative/positive tension seems to be reached by working out at 70% to 80% of maximum strength.

FEELING THE “BURN”

Feeling the Burn

The exertion during a strenuous workout causes your muscles to need more oxygen. During an aerobic workout, such a cardiovascular session, you breathe faster, in order to get enough oxygen to generate the energy you need.

But during anaerobic exercise like weightlifting, your muscles need energy faster than your body can adequately provide oxygen. So, your body ramps up its acquisition of energy from glucose, in a process called glycolysis.

  • Glucose, the simple sugar from carbohydrates that is the body’s primary source of energy, metabolizes into pyruvate, which plays an important role in cellular respiration.
  • When you have adequate oxygen, pyruvate is broken down further to provide more aerobic energy.
  • But when anaerobic exercise results in a shortage of oxygen, pyruvate is converted into lactate, which means that continued energy production via glucose breakdown can occur.

Dr. George Brooks, a Professor of Integrative Biology of the University of California at Berkeley whose research focuses on metabolism and exercise physiology, says, “Lactate is not a waste product, and in fact, it is the most important (new glucose generator) in the body.”

Approximately 30% of all glucose you use during a workout comes from lactate-generated glucose.

The buildup of lactate – also called lactic acid – during strenuous exertion is why you feel the “burning” sensation in your active muscles after just a few minutes of maximum effort. The pain forces you to stop, to prevent injury and to force a period of recovery.

HYPEREMIA, OR “MUSCLE PUMP”

Muscle Pump

When you continue doing multiple repetitions, your muscles rapidly fill with blood and your muscle fibers press together tightly, as more nutrients are brought in and waste products like lactic acid and carbon dioxide are removed. During proper training, muscles can receive up to FOUR TIMES their normal amount of blood.

In the seminal bodybuilding movie, Pumping Iron, Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “The greatest feeling you can get in the gym or the most satisfying in the gym is the pump…blood is rushing into your muscles…Your muscles get a really tight feeling like your skin is going to explode any minute…It feels fantastic.”

OTHER FACTORS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO MUSCLE GROWTH

In addition to what happens during a workout, there are several other factors that can affect hypertrophy. Knowing how to manipulate these factors to your advantage is key to achieving optimum muscle mass.

Genetics – Approximately 68% of people will realize “average” muscle mass development, while the remaining third is split by people who will see above-average and below-average results.

Age – From age 50, the average person loses 1% of their muscle mass per year, and this can accelerate at age 60. Without effective weight training intervention to counteract that loss, a 70-year-old might have 25% less muscle mass than they did at age 25.

On the other hand, however, resistance training can reduce or even reverse the detrimental effects that aging has on muscle mass. Perhaps even more importantly, weight training can help with both injury prevention and rehabilitation when an injury does occur.

Training Experience – Beginners who are exercising and eating properly will see faster gains than those who are more experienced.

Hormones – Naturally-produced testosterone plays a major role in the regulation of muscle mass and in how your body responds to exercise. Because males typically have five times the amount of natural testosterone that women do, men have an easier time achieving significant muscle growth.

Testosterone helps muscle growth by:

  • Increasing protein synthesis
  • Inhibiting protein breakdown
  • Activating satellite cells
  • Stimulating other anabolic hormones

A proper workout puts your body’s testosterone to good use. Up to 98% of your normal, natural testosterone is already used by the body and therefore not available, but regular, intensive training has surprising hormonal benefits:

  • Releases more testosterone
  • Makes muscle cell receptors more sensitive to the positive effects of testosterone
  • Stimulates growth hormone response

Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF) is a growth hormone secreted by the liver that helps promote mass gain by:

  • Aiding in protein synthesis
  • Helping glucose conversion
  • Facilitating the conversion of amino acids -the body’s “building blocks” into skeletal muscles
  • Also helping to activate satellite cells

Nutrition – Besides the workout routine itself, there is no single factor that contributes to muscle growth over which you will have more control than your nutrition. Eating right (or eating wrong) can have a tremendous impact on the success or failure of your goals of adding mass and getting stronger.

Some experts that more than 50% of your bodybuilding or strength training success is because of proper nutrition and hydration. Dr. Doug Kalman, R.D., Director of Nutrition at Miami Research Associates, says, “Most lean men who can’t gain muscle weight are simply eating and exercising the wrong way.”

So, what are some tips about developing an ideal diet plan that can help you maximize your chances of successful you reaching your growth and strength training goals?

If you are looking to add 1 pound of muscle per week:

Consume PLENTY of protein – Because protein synthesis is key to muscle growth, it is important to build up your protein reserves. When you begin an intensive workout schedule, your body will be breaking down proteins at an accelerated rate, and you will likewise have to increase your protein consumption if you want to gain muscle mass.

Daily, aim for 1 g of protein per pound of body weight. For example, if you weigh 170 pounds, you will want to take in 170 g protein per day.

Ideal sources of protein include:

  • Lean animal proteins – beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and fish
  • Dairy products – low-fat milk, cheese, cottage cheese and yogurt
  • Beans
  • Nuts

Increase your caloric load – It sounds pretty simple: if you want to gain weight, eat more. But how much is enough? Luckily, Men’s Health released an easy-to-calculate formula that you can use to figure out your own “magic number” needed to gain one pound per week:

  • Your weight in pounds.
  • Multiply A by 12 to get your basic calorie needs.
  • Multiply B by 1.6 to estimate your resting metabolic rate (calorie burn without factoring in exercise).
  • Strength training: Multiply the number of minutes you lift weights per week by 5.
  • Aerobic training: Multiply the number of minutes per week that you run, cycle, and play sports by 8.
  • Add D and E, and divide by 7.
  • Add C and F to get your daily calorie needs.
  • Add 500 to G. This is your estimated daily calorie needs to gain 1 pound a week.

Choose the RIGHT Carbs – Carbohydrates – bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, candy, etc. will give you the energy you crave when you are training hard. But you must take special care to choose carbs that provide that energy without causing excessive blood sugar peaks and valleys.

High-glycemic foods such as sugary snacks, breads with refined flour, soft/sports/energy drinks, and potatoes WILL give you an immediate boost, but you will shortly thereafter suffer a debilitating crash – confusion, low energy, and ravenous hunger. All of these can wreck your workout.

Low-glycemic foods, on the other hand, give you sustained energy without the crash – apples, pears, beans, unsweetened whole-grain bread, and sweet potatoes, for example.

Learn to read labels so you know what you are putting in your body. Low-glycemic foods to be higher in fiber and lower in calories. One good rule of thumb, according to Dr. Don Layman, a professor at the University of Illinois, is to look for a carbohydrate-to-fiber ratio of 5:1 or lower.

For example, a sweet potato will have 4g of carbohydrates and 1g of fiber per serving, while an Idaho potato might have a ration that is closer to 10:1.

Knowing the difference can keep your energy and sugar levels stable and provide you with a steady supply of energy that you can count on.

Understand the Importance of Amino Acids – Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which means they are key to muscle growth, strength gain, recovery, and fat loss.

There are 23 proteinogenic – protein-building – amino acids, but humans do not have all the enzymes necessary to naturally produce all of them. There are 15 amino acids classified as either “essential” or “conditionally essential”, meaning they cannot be synthesized by humans or by an individual with certain health conditions.

Unlike as is the case with fat and starch, the human body does not store excess amino acids. This means that the need must be met by the regular consumption of foods rich in amino acids. Being deficient in even one of the essential amino acids means your body’s proteins – your MUSCLES – will begin to break down.

Amino acids come primarily from meat, dairy, and seafood, all though there are some plant-based protein sources that provide most – but not all – of your amino acid requirements. For this reason, it can be difficult for vegans and vegetarians to maximize their muscle growth through dietary means alone.

WHAT ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS THAT PROMISE “MESSAGE MUSCLE GROWTH”?

We are going to operate under the assumption that you are smart enough to avoid illicit and dangerous supplements such as anabolic steroids or Human Growth Hormone. If you’re talking about the kind of nutritional supplements, powders, and preparations you can find online and in health food stores, that is a SLIGHTLY different matter.

First off, there are no “quick fixes” – You are ALWAYS going to have to put in the work.

Competitive powerlifter Chris Gibbons says it best:

There is a tendency to think that there is a magic powder or supplement that will give you the physique of your dreams, but there is no substitute for hard work and commitment,”

“Building strength takes years, not weeks or months. It is an act of discipline and must be earned through commitment to hard training and a good diet.”

There are some “experts” who will tell you that the use of dietary supplements is an absolutely critical component in any strength athlete’s arsenal. But there are just as many experts who tell you that you can achieve most of the same benefits through your diet. Complicating the issue is the fact that many nutritional supplements contain impurities or contaminants, are mislabeled, or make claims without any scientific basis.

Every reputable gym will have trainers who specialize in sport nutrition, or perhaps there is even a certified dietician or nutritionist on the staff. Before you begin any supplement plan, seek their advice as to which supplements and brands they trust (if any), and then discuss their advice with your person physician, to avoid any harmful interactions with any prescription medications you may be taking.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TRAINING FOR SIZE AND TRAINING FOR STRENGTH?

As explained above, training for size means causing the microscopic tissue damage that results in continued repair that causes a muscle to grow larger. Training for strength means training to increase the force produced by a muscle. When you pursue those goals separately, size refers to what you look like, while strength refers to what you can do. Many of the things you do in pursuit of size also support gaining strength – regular targeted exercise, proper execution and technique, caloric intake, proper nutrition, etc.

Most of the differences between “size versus strength” training will be in your training regimen and in your actual workouts:

  • Specifically training for size means high volume – hypertrophy means more sets and more reps in any given workout, with weights between 70% and 80% of your capacity.
  • Specifically training for strength means less volume – power means fewer sets and reps during your workout, but at 100% of your capacity, with the goal of always adding more and more weight.

When you are just starting out with weight training, you will naturally see an increase in both muscle mass and power, but as you gain experience and reach a certain level of success, some trainers will tell you that you need to specialize – that you must choose and focus on either strength OR size If you want to continue to progress.
But maybe that doesn’t have to be the case…

IS IT REALLY NECESSARY TO CHOOSE SIZE OR STRENGTH? CAN’T YOU HAVE…BOTH?

Even at face value, it doesn’t seem that separating the goals of more power and increased muscle mass should be something to be desired. In the gym, physique athletes admire the strength of powerlifters, while strength athletes wish they looked more like bodybuilders.

Isn’t is possible to achieve massive gains in both size AND strength?

The answer is a resounding “YES”.

In fact, if you ignore the “conventional wisdom” of gym talk, you will soon learn that pursuing both goals simultaneously can actually produce superior results to narrowing your focus. When your mindset, diet, schedule, and technique are all working together, you will find that each goal can support the other.

  • The thicker muscle fibers resulting from hypertrophy can naturally produce more power than thinner fibers. Size training supports gains in strength.
  • During strength training, your motor cortex recruits more muscle fibers in order to move the desired weight. Strength training supports gains in size.

HOW SIMULTANEOUS TRAINING OVERCOMES FATIGUE SPECIFICITY

Fatigue specificity is one of the biggest barriers that slows down progress during weight training. In simple terms, it means that the fatigue you feel from a workout after performing a specific exercise or after focusing on a specific region of your body has a pronounced negative effect on any subsequent similar activities.

This negative effects is reduced when the activity or the region is changed.

Obviously, this means that the best way to be able to work out as often as possible and to realize the maximum results from those workouts is by alternating – making each exercise as different as possible from the ones immediately preceding or following it.

For example, if you are focusing on size-building exercises for your upper body, the frequency with which you can train is limited by the diminishing returns caused by fatigue specificity.
If you instead switched between size-building and strength-building exercises, you would be able to continue working out as frequently as possible while still progressing.

SO, WHAT IS THE RIGHT WEIGHT-TRAINING PROGRAM FOR YOU?

Contrary to what some websites, books, or magazines tell you, the most effective weight training programs are highly personalized – YOUR starting point, YOUR goals, YOUR potential, and YOUR availability to train all need to be considered.

In other words, there is no such thing as a successful “one-size-fits-all” program that can help you reach your maximum potential as an individual, in terms of both size and power.

The only way to achieve your goals is by seeking out the services of a knowledgeable and experienced professional – a certified trainer at a reputable local gym. When you meet in person and discuss what you are looking for, the two of you together can create a roadmap that can take you from where you are to where you want to be.

IT’S NOT SIZE VERSUS STRENGTH – IT’S SIZE AND STRENGTH

By now, you have hopefully learned that despite what you have “always” been told, it IS possible to train for both muscle growth and muscle strength at the same time. More importantly, you should have a better understanding of the what it takes to maximize success in both areas:

  • A regular workout schedule

Proper technique that focuses on both negative and positive muscle tension, sufficient time under tension, “muscle burn”, and hyperemia

  • Increased reps and sets and lower weights on “growth” days
  • Reduced reps and sets and greater weights on “strength” days
  • How working out produces more growth hormones
  • The importance of good nutrition during weight training – responsible for up to 50% of your success
  • How to calculate your caloric needs
  • Why amino acids are essential
  • How size training and strength training complement each other

But now that you know all of these things – what are you going to DO with the knowledge? Were you just curious, or would you like to see gains in both your muscle mass and in your muscle power? If all you want is more information, contact the Mecca Gym today to get all your questions answered. But if you live in or are traveling to Idaho and are SERIOUS about taking the next step in your physique or power training, come by the Mecca Gym and speak to a qualified instructor to see what your best options are.

This information is put out to help you achieve your fitness goals. If we have helped you in any way, please feel free to comment about anything that you have learned from this article.

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2017-06-08T00:11:05+00:00 November 23rd, 2016|Strength Training|0 Comments

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