Maximal muscle growth
As a trainer and coach, I get asked a handful of the same questions with regards fitness and fat loss. Usually it's to do with losing belly fat, which ironically, is about the easiest thing to do. However, I often get posed with the question of what is the best training method that will yield the most amount of muscle growth in the shortest amount of time. Personally, I've been lifting weights since I was 14, which is.... err.... some years now, so I know it's not a quick process however you go about it.
This next bit may mean you stop reading right now because the real truth is, there is no 'best' way. There are various methods you could employ that would optimise your training that may suit you more and would allow you to achieve your potential. With that conversation stopper, let me explain the mandatory requirements you need to attain to make some substantial muscular gains.
Eat. I could leave it at that. It is so important to emphasise this point so I'll say it again. Eat. When it comes to adding muscle, it is like gaining body fat. If you have an excess of energy in your diet/lifestyle, then chances are you'll add body fat. If you are to build an excess of muscle on your body, you must grow more muscle than you lose. Adding muscle mass takes constant chemical, physical, and biological stimulation. If your body isn't building muscle its losing it, it's a constant see-saw of muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown. Dietary protein ingestion stimulates muscle protein synthesis. When you're not digesting protein, your body is breaking muscle tissue down. You must spend more time making than breaking. So, eat.
Train. In my opinion this comes second to eating. Mainly because eating alone stimulates muscle growth. Training without eating stimulates muscle to grow but the workout itself has caused more damage, so it kind of balances out. The key here is to train and eat. This promotes maximal protein synthesis. The basic idea is forming that constant training stimulation and eating stimulation should have you in a position where your making more than you're breaking. Muscle starts to grow. This process is weeks, months, and years. Not fast. Nothing like fat loss that can show positive results in days and weeks.
Rest. After the last paragraph, this seems counter-intuitive. However, once muscle protein synthesis has been stimulated it needs time to recover and grow. Bigger muscles are down to super-compensation. Much like a cut on your arm. It stops bleeding, forms a scab, the scab falls off and leaves a scar. The cut was your workout, the scab is the healing phase, and the scar tissue that is raised above the original skin level is a new larger muscle cell. If you train a damaged muscle, it won't have time to grow back bigger. It is a delicate co-dependant relationship that needs harmony. Too little food, training, or rest and growth won't occur.
Frequency. Firstly, some people recover really quickly. These extremely irritating people can train frequently, brutally and recover, which means they can grow more quickly. There's little you can do genetically, but individually you can tailor your training. If you don't recover well you're better off with short intense workouts and increase frequency. Avoid lengthy workouts as they'll impair your recovery ability. Get plenty of sleep and use fish oil. There are differences in body type in how to best fuel for body composition, that's for another day.
Intensity. This is an interesting point. I often observe people working out when I'm with clients in my gym. I can honestly say the vast majority of trainees simply don't work hard enough. Forget the reps and sets debate. The reps you're doing are nothing less than inadequate to be polite. When I said that training stimulates muscle growth, it does, provided you actually do enough to stimulate it. Our muscles adapt to stressful situations, which means forcing it to do something it's not used to doing. We walk around all day. So, by doing more walking would that mean you can run a marathon? No. So why would lifting weights until you don't feel like doing anymore mean you automatically get bigger muscles? It doesn't. You need to make them go to failure and beyond. This releases a cascade of anabolic hormones that signal for growth to start. No stress, no growth.
To tie this all together we have; optimal eating, rest, training, intensity and, frequency. All that's left are the sets and reps. Honestly, I don't think it really matters. This was my first point. There are so many different opinions or 'perfect workouts' that they all have a degree of efficacy. It is more important to pick a strategy and stick with it for 3-6 months to see if you get an improvement. If not then change it. Some people respond well to lower reps; heavier weights. Some people prefer higher reps. Some people love multiple sets with minimal rest periods, some people like advanced beyond failure sets. This is why it takes so long. You must find what works for you. Not just physically, but for long term adherence.
My take home message is, nail your food, training, and rest so that you're consistently doing it without fail. When you've mastered that then worry about sets and reps. Through trial and error find a plan that fits your recovery and stimulation needs, and, make sure it is progressive. You will then be able to maximise your muscle mass potential.
If you're looking for some help or guidance on individual training protocols contact me Ali@FatAlsGym.co.uk
Ali Stewart Dip. ISSN, CISSN