By Abigail D’Souza @abi_dsouzaa
Building muscle reaps a lot of benefits: improved strength, better performance in sports, improved bone density, speedier metabolism, and enhanced functional fitness for daily tasks.
A toned physique and a boost of self-confidence doesn’t hurt either.
Although it can seem daunting, it only relies on a few fundamental principles. And once you’re able to wrap your head around them, the results will follow.
(1) Progressive overload
Muscular hypertrophy, or muscle growth, requires muscle fibres to undergo cycles of damage and repair. Essentially, we work a muscle, it gets shredded up, and, as we eat and rest, the muscle repairs itself and grows bigger over time.
Progressive overload is a training principle where you gradually increase your load as you adapt to the old one. For example, doing three sets of 10 hammer curls using 8kg dumbbells. At first this may be difficult to complete, but over a number of sessions it’ll become easy to lift as your biceps adapt to the load. Once that happens, it’s time to slightly increase the load, in this case the weight of the dumbbells.
(2) Protein is power
Proteins are the building blocks of muscles so it’s only natural that we’d need to refuel them; even more so when training for muscle growth. The rapid breakdown and repair of these muscles requires additional protein to keep up with the fatigue the muscles are undergoing.
Healthline states that “eating for muscle gain requires sufficient protein and calorie intakes to drive growth. Avoid eating more than 300-500 extra calories per day to minimize gains in body fat”.
Try to keep the protein sources to whole, clean foods. Eggs, lean meats, fish, yoghurt, tofu, legumes, and nuts are your best bet. Protein powder can be used as a supplement if required, but is not recommended as your main source of protein.
A study completed in 2018 found that eating around 1.6 grams of protein per kg of body weight each day is optimal for those training for muscle growth.
(3) Higher load, lower reps
The number of reps of a movement and the weight of the load can achieve different outcomes.
For muscle growth it’s best to work with moderate to heavy weight and do six to 10 repetitions of an exercise within a set, with the final repetition being very difficult to complete.
As a rule of thumb:
- Training for strength: 1-5 reps
- Training for muscle growth: 6-10 reps
- Training for muscular endurance: 12-20 reps
(4) Compound v isolation movements
Compound exercises utilise multiple muscle groups to perform a movement, such as a pull up which engages the biceps, lats, delts, and core. In a training routine, compound exercises should be completed first and use the heaviest loads in your routine.
Isolation exercises should follow the compound. This movement targets a single muscle group by limiting its movement so as to not engage surrounding muscles. Examples include a calf raise (stimulates only the calves) or a leg extension (stimulates only the quads). Using a lower weight with higher reps is ideal for isolation exercises.
(5) Rest and recovery
Half of your progress comes from a good night’s rest. It’s only when the body has time to rest that it can regenerate muscle fibres and grow larger.
It’s not the best idea to train the same muscle groups on consecutive days. It won’t expedite your results but may instead lead to muscle strain and injury.
Part of this recovery can include stretching, foam rolling, low-intensity, low-impact exercise on your “days off”.
(6) The nitty-gritty
Form: Using correct form is the most important part of any training program to prevent injury to your joints and spine. If you can’t perform exercises correctly, that is, you’re feeling pain in places you shouldn’t/aren’t targeting, then it’s a good indication to reduce the weight.
When in doubt, seek guidance from a personal trainer or credible YouTube instructional videos. And don’t be afraid to ask an experienced gym rat to spot you if need be.
Consistency: This is probably the hardest part for most people but the most crucial in seeing change. Build a realistic routine that fits into your schedule and stick with it.
Don’t rely on motivation; it fluctuates. Build a habit of self-discipline and keep reminding yourself of why you’re training in the first place.
Patience: Muscle gain is restricted to 0.25-0.9kg per month – it doesn’t happen overnight. Find a routine that you enjoy, put in the work, and don’t beat yourself up if you stumble along the way. It’s all a mental game and you’ll come out stronger not only physically but mentally too.
Featured image: Pumping iron brings multiple benefits. Photo: Victor Freitas/CC/Pexels