Whether you train because it makes you feel good or it helps you look a certain way, you probably already know that growing muscle isn’t as easy as it looks. More than just a correlation (more squats, bigger glutes), getting those gains is like solving a complicated equation with a wide range of variables that include what exercises you do, what you eat, and how long you rest. rest.
Without understanding the role each of these plays, you’ll likely spend hours lifting each day, but your progress won’t go far. Luckily, you don’t have to be a muscle math whiz to perfect your skills, and winter is the perfect time to start.
How your body builds muscle
When you work your biceps, the tension of the movement causes micro tears. This means that at the microscopic level, the fibers that make up your arm muscle are damaged or cut completely.
When your body has everything it needs to heal, it overcorrects by growing new tissue on top of the damaged one. This better prepares your muscles for the effort and prevents new micro-tears from occurring in the future. It is through repeating this cycle – stretch, repair – that muscles grow in size and strength.
It’s a fairly simple process, but there are several things that come into play to boost it and make it more efficient.
The essential elements to become stronger
There are four main things you need to keep an eye on when it comes to building muscle. Knowing how they interact will help you stay healthy and see results in time for spring.
Consistency is key
You will absolutely not make progress without constant effort. Muscles only increase in size and strength by going through the cycle of experiencing and healing micro tears over and over again.
Consistency is built with discipline over time. But sometimes that’s not enough, so you’ll have to find extra motivation to get moving.
When I started my fitness journey, involving a friend really helped keep me on track. My roommate and I had a treadmill and the rule was that whenever one of us ran, the other had to follow suit. Within months, this enforced regularity pushed me from wheezing through just two to three minutes of painful jogging to effortlessly running beyond the mile.
Handle those weights correctly
Only lifting often and heavy will cause muscle growth. But if you don’t know how heavy the weight is enough, there are two ways to determine it.
Start by pushing to failure, which is fitness lingo for lifting to the point where you can’t do another rep without losing weight. But as you get stronger, you’ll find that to get to that point using the same size weights, you’ll need to do more and more reps. This is why you will need to gradually increase the amount of weight you lift over time.
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“Going through the motions won’t build muscle like pushing and doing a few reps before failure,” says Jim Bathurst, certified strength and conditioning specialist and fitness manager at Nerd Fitness.
To get more gains, he recommends prioritizing workouts that target multiple muscle groups at once, also known as compound exercises. These include standards such as bench presses, deadlifts, pull-ups, squats, overhead presses, and rows. In fact, by doing these six exercises, you’ll work every major muscle group in your body.
But whatever movements come into your routine, Jim recommends complementing them with proper form: “It can help minimize injury and increase the amount of work you put on the muscles.”
Mastering your form will take knowledge and practice. Start by doing your research. There are several apps and videos online that you can check out to better understand the proper form for each exercise. You can then apply what you’ve learned by practicing in front of a mirror or filming yourself and revising your moves as you go. If you still have questions, maybe it’s time to ask an expert. A coach or trainer will give you special attention and correct your form if necessary. They may even adapt certain exercises to take into account previous injuries or level of expertise.
Eating well is a crucial part of your routine
Once you’ve caused all of the aforementioned micro tears by lifting, you’ll need to let them heal. But your muscles can’t repair and grow if you don’t eat properly. They need enough calories and protein to do the job.
“Unlike cutting fat, building lean muscle tissue requires energy because you’re building the body and need the material to do it,” says Michael S. Parker, Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist and Founder of Forge. Fitness. “Naturally, this material comes in the form of nutritional components and is found in our food.”
When it comes to how much food you’ll need to eat daily to get those gains, Parker explains that everyone is different, but a good rule of thumb is to reach your maintenance energy level and then exceed it. That means eating enough calories a day to make up for the calories you burn exercising and staying alive, and more. This extra energy is called caloric surplus, and it’s the extra boost your body needs to build new muscle. Although everyone’s body is unique, as a general rule, you don’t need a lot of excess to fuel growth – 300-500 extra calories a day will do. But that only applies if you train hard to failure about three to four times a week.
If you’re not sure what your maintenance level is, there are a number of calculators online that can help. These tools take into account factors such as your age, weight, height, and typical daily activity levels to provide a fairly accurate picture of your caloric needs. You can also use an app like MyFitnessPal, which is intuitive and offers an extensive library of foods so you don’t have to enter them manually.
Apps can also provide an estimate of how many calories you’re burning during your workouts, but if you want a clearer picture, you can use a fitness tracker. These gadgets vary widely in accuracy, but in my experience the Garmin Venu 2 Plus delivers exceptional results compared to products from companies like Fitbit or Whoop. This gadget also tracks a wide range of activities including strength training, cycling, and swimming.
But it’s not just a matter of calories in and calories out. When it comes to nutrition and muscle growth, quality matters as much as quantity.
“You’ll need to make sure you’re getting a sufficient and balanced ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to ensure maximum absorption and distribution of the nutritional building blocks,” says Michael.
Protein is essential for building muscle because it helps with cell replication, he explains. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are a source of energy and help your mind and body function at optimal levels.
A 2017 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that for most people, growing or maintaining muscle requires a daily intake of 1.4 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This means that if you weigh 150 pounds, you should eat 105 grams of protein per day to build muscle. In dietary terms, that translates to three eggs, two pieces of bacon, a cup of Greek yogurt, a chicken breast, and a protein bar.
And don’t forget to consume fat. Focus on clean dietary fats such as monounsaturated fats (think avocados, peanuts, and almonds) and polyunsaturated fats (fish, sunflower seeds, nuts), but also add a small amount of saturated fats (butter, coconut oil, cheese, bacon).
But in addition to resting solidly, you will also need to relax. Cortisol, a stress hormone, is catabolic, meaning it interferes with your body’s ability to synthesize protein, directly disrupting muscle growth.
Complete with caution
You’ll see many products promising to boost muscle growth, burn fat, or increase performance, but supplements aren’t bottled miracles.
“[Supplements] won’t replace the basics like quality workouts, good nutrition, and quality sleep,” says Jim. “If you’re slacking off in your workouts, not eating enough calories and protein, or staying up late and sleeping poorly, supplements won’t be a magic bullet.”
There are a few safe, affordable, scientifically proven supplements to help you get ahead. But if you have any health concerns, talk to your doctor before making any major dietary changes.
Michael explains that protein supplements can help you get those gains, but they’re useless if you’re already getting what you need from food. Creatine is another popular supplement among those looking to build muscle and has the added benefit of being inexpensive. It’s not essential for muscle growth, but if you want to get a little boost, research has shown that creatine is safe and when used correctly can aid in rapid muscle gains by improving the quality of your workouts.
“Caffeine and other natural stimulants can help you push harder during workouts, but should be used as little as possible,” says Jim. Take too much or too late in the day, and it can interfere with your sleep, which, as mentioned above, is counterproductive.
People should be careful with other non-caffeinated pre-workout supplements, warns Michael, because there is no science to prove their safety and effectiveness, and they can even form addictive patterns.
“The safety of supplementation has improved dramatically over the past 15 to 20 years,” he says. “However, it is always prudent to exercise caution when supplementing.”
As you progress, you’ll find plenty of ways to refine your routine. But no matter where you are on your fitness journey, the fundamentals will always be the same: regular, vigorous workouts, proper nutrition, and the ever-needed recovery provided by good sleep and relaxation.
Rinse (because you never want to be the smelly person at the gym) and repeat.
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