One of the most common fitness related questions is why do muscles get bigger when you lift weights? It comes somewhere directly after “How do I lose weight?” and “How do I make my muscles bigger?” There is a simple, 3 word answer to why your muscles grow when you lift; adaptive muscle hypertrophy. It sounds like med school gobldygook, but it really just means that your individual muscle cells grow larger. In this case they grow as a response to your lifting heavier and heavier weights.
Your body is a wonderful machine. Not only can it come back from a variety of punishments, but it often comes back stronger than before. When you lift heavy weights, you are causing muscle damage. It’s true. If you saw my post about muscle soreness a few weeks ago, you’ll remember that when you beat the crap out of your muscles during an intense training session, you actually cause small tears in your muscle fibers. Sounds painful, and it is. The technical name for all this carnage is microtrauma.
Well, the body doesn’t like to be in pain or to face things that it can’t overcome, so it looks for a way to avoid the problem in the future. In this case, it tries to get stronger spo that you won’t be able to inflict such damage on it in the future. Alas, that just means adding another 5lbs on each side of the bar, but your physiology doesn’t know that. It just adapts to handle the punishment that you’ve thrown at it so far.
How do your muscles actually grow due to all this?
What makes each muscle cell get bigger is really two different mechanisms, sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy. That just means respectively that your muscles fill with more fluid, and increase the amount of proteins, most importantly myosin II molecules, in the muscle fibers.
How can I maximize muscle hypertrophy so my muscles grow bigger?
While everyone may not want to look like a bodybuilder, and in fact, most probably would rather not be subjected to the stares that accompany 21” arms, many guys would like to pack on some extra muscle mass. As an added bonus, that extra muscle will help you stay lean, because your metabolism will be elevated and your daily calorie burn will be greater. In a way it’s good that most people would not want to grow as large as competitive bodybuilders, because no matter how hard or how long they train, most people can never get that large, even if they did have the desire to.
What is the best way to grow a bit larger and pack on enough extra muscle that you look better and leaner? You have to train to maximize muscle hypretrophy. Muscle hypertrophy is an adaptive response to progressive overload, os it only makes sense to mechanically load your muscles to achieve that. Progressive overload simply means that you gradually add more and more weight, so that your muscles must continually adapt to the added stimulus.
There are few keys to maximizing muscle hypertrophy.
Training frequency – New research indicates that with proper nutrition and rest,(very important, both), training frequency can be greater than had been previously believed. In fact, training an individual body part as little as every two days may give maximum results. This is due to the discovery that although muscles may be sore and still recovering, they can still adapt to stimulus. That leads to a new way to think about growing your muscles and the best way to make that happen.
The key is to do fewer sets for each body part, but do them more often. So, instead of doing 6 sets of leg presses and 6 sets of squats to failure once a week, do 2 sets of each to failure, 3 times per week. You are doing exactly the same workload, but just spreading it out over three different training sessions instead of doing it all at once.
Training Intensity – Strength increases due to progressive overload are primarily die to two mechanisms, , muscle hypertrophy and neuromusclular effects that lead to more efficient recruitment of muscles to do the work. Consistent increases in training intensity from added weight are essential to continued muscle hypertrophy. In other words, if you stop gaining, you stop growing.
Diet – No, not going on a diet, but the foods and supplements you eat are vital to making your muscles grow ever bigger. You need plenty of everything if you want to maximize growth, but don’t try and get it all in in one sitting. For one thing, your body can’t metabolize more than about 20 – 30 grams of protein at a time. You need about 1 – 1.5 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass if you want to grow to your fullest potential. I know that sounds like one of those spam emails you get a hundred of every day, but it’s true.
See my post last week on the best time to eat carbs and when to eat protein to maximize muscle growth. I take a look at the latest research, which reveals the nutrition timing secrets to really packing on the muscle mass.
Sleep – New studies come in seemingly every week revealing the importance of sleep to virtually all aspects of health. For the purposes of what I talk about here the ones that matter are fat loss and muscle gain. You will be better positioned to achieve the opposite if you skimp on your good quality sleep. Just one of many reasons to get enough rest centers around your body’s production of human growth hormone (HGH).
REM sleep is when you body releases most of it’s HGH, a hormone strongly connected to your inevitable decline, as it slowly disappears from your body. Keeping HGH levels at Santana Moss like levels as you age will go a long way to helping you maintain or increase muscle mass and sport a fat free midsection as you age past 30.
These are some of the most important aspects of getting those muscles to grow and keep growing. Remember, get those muscles bigger and your waistline will get smaller, and that’s a winning combination!