Building muscle is one of the primary reasons that many people workout. However, it is also a goal that many fail to achieve. Building muscle is not as easy as doing a few squats and calling it a day, it requires dedication, consistency and patience. Many become discouraged when immediate results are lacking and never achieve their goals. But, with the knowledge that we have compiled, that won't be you. To make your life easier and to help you achieve your goals, we dove into science and have broken down all that you need to do and know to be successful at building muscle.
Muscle building occurs as a result of muscle hypertrophy. Hypertrophy is defined as an increase and growth of muscle cells, so muscle hypertrophy is growing the number and size of your muscle cells. There are two types of muscle hypertrophy. Myofibrillar muscle hypertrophy refers to the growth and multiplication of the parts of the muscle that make muscle fiber contract. Myofibrils are considered the “motors” of the muscle fiber, and help with strength and speed. Training for myofibril hypertrophy includes heavy weights, less reps, more sets, and longer rests between sets.
Sarcoplasmic muscle hypertrophy refers to the growth of the sarcoplasm, or an increase in the volume of sarcoplasmic fluid in the muscle cell. This helps with energy levels and endurance. This also helps muscles appear bigger as they become enlarged, and this kind of hypertrophy is often the cause of a muscle “pump” in which muscles look bigger after training. Training for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy includes lighter weights with more reps, shorter breaks, and less sets.
There are pros and cons to both types of hypertrophy. Myofibril hypertrophy is more functional, it increases the strength and density of your muscles and helps them to become stronger. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy helps your muscles to appear larger and may improve your muscles glycogen stores improving your ability to perform for longer periods and have more endurance. Unless you are training solely to be a bodybuilder (who primarily trains via sarcoplasmic hypertrophy) or a powerlifter (who primarily trains myofibril hypertrophy) you will probably want to include a bit of both types of muscle hypertrophy.
In general, there are two components to either muscle hypertrophy: quality stimulation and repair. Stimulation occurs when you are working the muscle. As you lift a weight, do a weighted squat, or engage a muscle using any type of resistance, a contraction occurs. Each rep, there is another contraction and repeated contractions cause damage to the internal muscle fibers. The extent of this damage depends on how heavy the weight is and how many times you lift it, ensuring that there is enough damage is crucial for really building your muscle.
Experts recommend using an exhaustion scale to gauge if your muscle has adequately been stimulated. You should aim to do as many reps as you can with quality form until you reach momentary failure. This point of momentary failure is where you are really stimulating the muscle fibers.
If you are unsure of how much weight you should use to stimulate your muscles, you can use this advice: Figure out the heaviest weight that you can lift for one rep of the exercise you are doing. This is called your 1-Rep Maximum. Then, use a weight that is at least 80 percent of your 1-Rep Maximum to complete 8-12 reps of each set. Always be sure to do a warm up set with a lighter weight to just get your muscles moving and ready to work. Alternatively, you can figure out your 1-Rep Maximum and use weights that are between 30 to 50 percent of that to do 25 reps in each set. This may be more sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, but research suggests that this kind of training can help you gain as much muscle and strength as heavier weights with less reps.
Regardless of the method, just be sure to lift with proper form until you are fatigued to the point that you can no longer do another rep to fully ensure you are properly stimulating your muscle. And, make sure you are checking to see if you should increase the weights you're lifting. If you have been using the same weight for a few weeks, it may be time to up the ante and go up five or ten pounds. You’ll only get stronger if you increase the weight you lift (or the number of reps you do).
Once your muscles have been fully stimulated and your muscle fibers have been damaged, they are ready for repair. After the workout, while you are resting and recovering, new muscle fibers are produced that help to repair those damaged during the workout. These new muscle fibers also help to replace the damaged ones. This replacement and repair is where muscle growth actually happens.
To aid in muscle recovery, many experts recommend switching up muscle groups. You can have a leg day Monday, a back workout Tuesday and a chest and arms workout Wednesday. Alternatively, you can alternate between push day and pull days in which you focus on how you are using a muscle rather than the muscle group. Regardless, make sure to include some rest days (link to article).
Almost as important (if not more) is ensuring you are properly fueling yourself. You see, muscle mass can only be built if you are in a caloric surplus. Unlike losing weight, when you are trying to gain muscle you are trying to add something to your body. This requires you to eat more than you would normally to ensure you have enough fuel to create the new muscle while also completing all of your other daily functions. If you don't eat enough, your body may actually start to shrink your muscles as it uses their energy for fuel, causing the opposite of what you want to happen.
Although all macronutrients are important, the most important for muscle growth is protein. Protein provides your body with essential amino acids that help to build new muscle tissue and repair broken muscle tissue after your workout. When sedentary, you may only require .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight, but if you are working out and doing resistance training to build muscle, you'll need more. Aim for .55-.77 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Post workout nutrition and post workout protein is also essential for muscle growth, you can learn more about that here. A daily chocho shake can help you get up to half of your recommended protein intake, and adding chocho to your recipes or cooking from our recipe bank can help you to add lots of quality protein to your diet.
Carbohydrates and fats are also important for muscle growth. They provide your body and your muscles with energy so that when you workout, you do not feel fatigued before starting. Whole grain sources provide you with long lasting energy that can fuel your workouts and your everyday activities. Be sure to include carbs into your pre workout snack for sustained energy. Fats are also necessary as they help your body and hormones function. You can learn more about what kinds of fats to eat here .
Don't be discouraged if you do not see immediate results, building muscle takes time. Staying motivated and consistent is key. After a few months of consistent resistance training and quality nutrition, you may begin to see results. But any major gains take a while to become visible. And, you may not even really see your results if your body fat percentage is above a certain point. Many adults carry enough body fat to hide muscle, so measure your gains in the amount of weight you can lift before failure or how strong you feel rather than in how you look or how much you weigh. Looking to see if you have lost weight is actually a horrible measure for muscle gain, as muscle weighs more than fat so when gaining muscle you will likely gain weight.
Gaining muscle requires resistance training, proper nutrition and time. Through stimulating your muscles, pushing them to failure, and giving them rest and recovery you can create microtears and grow your muscles as fibers repair and replace the damaged tissue. Proper nutrition provides your body with protein to aid in that muscle repair as well as carbs and fats to provide you with fuel for your workout and everyday functions. Be sure to eat in a caloric surplus so as to not degrade muscle mass. Including a daily chocho shake is a great way to meet daily calorie and protein goals. And you’ll need to be patient. Building muscle takes time, so don't fret it you don't see immediate changes. Consistency is key, and before you know it you'll be stronger and lifting more than you could when you started. That's when you know it's working!