Discover How Muscle Grows and Build maximum muscle in minimum time

Muscle Knowledge = Muscle Mass and Power

Have you ever wondered how muscles grow? What causes muscles to grow in the first place?

Just like any skinny guy in a hurry to gain muscle, I followed muscle magazine programs blindly. I thought the big guys knew what they were talking.

Major mistake!

You know why? Because it was like asking tall guys how they got so tall. They knew nothing. It was just genetics that got them there. And in case of professional bodybuilders its steroids that got them there more than training!

But once I knew simple muscle science I was blown away. I found that Muscle building is as much science as it is art.

That's how I built 24 lbs of muscle in 15 short weeks. 

Understanding these basics of muscle growth can be the difference for you too. It can be the difference between you becoming an informed bodybuilder who knows what he is doing vs an ignorant one who is just going through the motions hoping for the best.

I want you to be an informed bodybuilder. Remember education is the right motivation. Enough false promises.

In the Muscle Anatomy 101 section you learn about muscle structure and how they work. Its time to discover how they grow.

Inside this article:

Two Cool Ways Muscles Grow

Have you ever wondered how your muscle get bigger? How does proper training and nutrition build the muscles you desire? And why muscles fail to grow sometimes? What could be the mechanism?

There are two ways muscles grow: They can increase the number of muscle fibers or increase the size of individual muscle fibers.

Increase in number of muscle fibers is called muscle hyperplasia. 

Increase in size of individual muscle fibers is called muscle hypertrophy.

Hyperplasia has not been proven in human beings although splitting of muscle fibers have been shown. Even if it exists, it contribute not more than 5% to your "get big" goals.

95% of the time its Muscle Hypertrophy that leads to bigger muscles.

Therefore it is muscle hypertrophy you should care about.

Muscle hypertrophy results when your individual muscle fibers increase in size, make their cytoplasm grow and increase the number of contractile proteins, making them bigger and stronger.

The rest of the article is about maximising your muscle hypertrophy goals. That brings me to the next topic...

The Two Types of Muscle Hypertrophy

You already know that muscle fibers are made of cytoplasm and contractile proteins. To make them bigger you can add more cytoplasm, more proteins or both.

Hence we have two types of hypertrophy

a. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and
b. Myofibrillar hypertrophy

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy typically seen in bodybuilders is increase in muscle cell fluid {cytoplasm fluid is 25 to 30% of cell volume}, increase in mitochondria {powerhouse of cells} and capillary density.

It is best achieved by moderate-high intensity, high volume training.

Myofibrillar hypertrophy typically seen in weightlifters is increase in muscle fiber contractile proteins. 

It is best achieved by high intensity, low volume training.

Which Type of Hypertrophy is Best?

You need both as both have a role. Your job is to build the most muscular, strongest body possible. And by proper training you can get both.

Even research has indicated that a bigger muscle is by and large a stronger muscle too. Just see how sportsmen everywhere are getting bigger every decade. Most have realised that gaining mass has both aesthetic and performance benefits. 

My "only low rep" training mistake

If you read my story, you will remember how I could compete with strongest guy in the gym but has little muscle to show for.

I have been guilty of training very high intensity and very low reps. I got insanely strong and could compete with strongest guys for low rep work but missed the muscularity I could get from increasing volume. Until I learnt that both has their place.

Don't repeat my mistake.

When you work both low reps and high reps, you can get best of both the worlds. You get a boost of both contractile proteins {strong, hard muscles} and cellular hydration {bigger, stronger muscles}.

Bottomline - Strong, Hard, Muscular body that all women crave in me. You will get the body of your dreams.

Don’t get into which is best discussion. Decide which is best for you right now.

If fast muscle gain is your main goal right now, train with moderate to high intensity and high volume exercises.

Later, once you get your desired level of muscle mass, you can do pure strength training and make strength building your next goal.

Remember the muscle building toolbox? Right tool for the right job! 

Related Articles:
Muscle Building Vs Strength Training
Your Muscle Building Toolbox

Take home point: Since muscle gain is your goal, you need to train for hypertrophy with targeted muscle gain strategies. 

Don't let anybody tell you otherwise. You are into muscle building  and want to build the best looking muscular body possible, not strength training where getting strong is the only goal.

So its hypertrophy is what you want, but what are the essentials of muscle growth? Its time to find out...


The 5 Pieces of the Muscle Puzzle

Bottom to top: Sequence of the Muscle Growth Process

Let me break the muscle building process into a nutshell.

The Muscle Building Process:

Proper Stimulus + Sound Nutrition + Recuperation = Muscle growth

Although this is a simple formula, you need some details to make the best out of it.

I cover nutrition and recovery below but the first goal of your training is to stimulate your muscles to grow.

PROPER STIMULUS is the most fundamental aspect of muscle growth. Without proper stimulus, everything else fails to take off. What will high quality supplements do if muscles are not stimulated in the first place?

But how do you provide the most effective stimulus?

How do you force your muscle to grow?

You do that with high threshold, high volume muscle building exercises. I call them Skeletal loading exercises as they load your muscles and bones like no other exercises can.

That brings us to the first key muscle growth principle...

A. Stimulate muscles with high threshold, high volume muscle building exercises 

There are two mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy {or growth}. {1}

1. High tension

2. Maximum metabolic stress

When you combine them, you create the optimal anabolic environment for muscle growth.

Tension technique:

Tension is the language of muscle. You can create tension without any weight by just using isometrics or bodyweight training, but your best strategy is to lift heavy weight targeting type II High threshold muscle fibers.

How? Lift heavy weights for high reps. Recall from muscle anatomy 101, type II Muscle fibers have maximum growth potential.

Guess what they best respond to? They respond best to high loads {broomstick vs heavy dumbbell analogy}.

If you train with low weights for high reps, you build type I endurance fibers. The marathon runner has highly trained type I fibers but no muscle to show for.

So train for high threshold muscle fibers for muscle size and power.

5 Targeted training techniques for type II fibers:

To target these fast twitch type II muscle fibers, you should train with:

  1. High intensity -  65 to 85% of One rep max
  2. High Reps - 6 to 12 reps with 30-70 seconds under tension
  3. Multiple sets - 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps each
  4. Small rest intervals of 30 to 90s - to maximise anabolic hormones and amino acid uptake
  5. Use a 4020 tempo - 4 seconds to lower weight, no pause, 2 seconds to lift weight and no pause at top of movement

These strategies target the type II fibers which are your ticket for muscle mass and power..

How High Volume and Metabolic Stress produces Muscle Hypertrophy

Pound heavy weights for high reps

Metabolic Stress technique: By using high reps and low rest intervals, you create high metabolic stress which is crucial to stimulate fast muscle gains. It causes metabolite accumulation which triggers hormone release.

Such metabolic stress is shown to:

  • release maximum growth hormone
  • release maximum testosterone and 
  • increase amino acids uptake which means increases protein synthesis in your muscles after workout

All this leads to optimal muscle repair and growth. Add progression {reps or sets} to your workouts and your muscles will be left with no choice but to grow, grow, grow!

Do you know why most muscle builders fail?

I have found two reasons:

i. Most use either low volume {low reps,1-5} or low intensity {high reps, 15-30} during training.

They fail to use the intensity and metabolic stress principles that are CRUCIAL for muscle growth.

Although you need phases of low rep training too, but your main goal should be heavy weights for high reps.

ii. Also if you find yourself using same weights week after week, then settle for little/no muscle gains because your body adapts and muscle growth stops.

Bottom line: More weights on the bar = More weight on the weighing scale. Go heavy, do more reps and new muscle follows.

SIDEBAR: Role of Neural factors:

Have you noticed that early into any new program you will get stronger before you get bigger? Its neural efficiency improvement and I have covered in the Training Effect article.

But why and how does that happen?

Let me explain you with an example.

Think of a riot. In the first few minutes, the police is enough in controlling the crowd. The silently patrolling policemen become more active, move to the site and do their best. They do not ask for extra help yet but rushes all the existing policemen to the spot and control the situation.

But when it gets out of control they call for extra help, maybe riot police to handle the situation. 

A similar thing happens in your muscles. In the early days of any training program your brain fires more rapidly and strongly to lift the weights. This is called efficient neural firing or improved neurological efficiency {policemen}. The same nerves fire better, recruit more motor units { hence muscle fibers} and lift the heavy weights on your bar. They get the job done.

The brain does this thinking that the new training {stimulus} is only temporary and short term enhanced neural firing is enough during this period. 

But what if you continue to add more weights or reps to your next workouts? The existing neural firing is maxed out. it cannot cope up and instead the brain now signals the muscles to increase protein synthesis {riot police} because only bigger and stronger muscles can help lift your new target weights.

So your body adapts to the new program with new muscle mass.

This explains the role of consistency in training and the amazing effects it can produce.

The now enhanced protein synthesis becomes more noticeable between 4 to 6 weeks of any training program, hence you need to stick to a program at least for 4 weeks, preferably 6 weeks to see the big changes it promises.

Bottomline: Neural strength gains initially and hypertrophy later. Remember to expect such gains in any training program.

So expect new muscle growth within 4 to 6 weeks, but what stimulates new muscle growth? Who tells the muscle cells to become bigger?What is the exact mechanism?

Enter Muscle building Hormones...

How Anabolic Hormones stimulate Muscles to grow

You may have noticed that a lot of changes happen in your body before, during and after exercise. {2}

For example; Your breathing increases, your heart pumps blood faster {5-6 times it resting level} and you get a rush of energy especially during high intensity workouts.

All these results from an interplay of hormones, neurotransmitters and systemic responses, all geared to provide you with physical, mental and psychological boost to finish your reps and sets.

Here's how your body prepare you for a better workout...

1. Epinephrine or adrenaline to the rescue: You have seen Olympic weightlifters do it. Wrestlers do it often too. They pump themselves up for performance as it gives an amazing adrenaline rush.

As soon as you make an intention to do an exercise, your brain its up {psychic stimuli}, releases epinephrine and increases muscular force. Many bodybuilders have a ritual they go through to put them at adrenaline high before heavy lifts. I will reveal them in a later article.

All these helps you lift heavy weights by making your heart, lungs and muscles work together to push weights to the limit.

2. Role of Hormones: Three important hormones namely testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor {IGF-1} are released into the bloodstream during exercise. These are anabolic muscle building hormones {all released naturally}  released during exercise and increase in concentration till one hour post-exercise. 

Insulin shuttles glucose and amino acids into muscle cells. 

Their goal: Increase uptake of amino acids into muscle cells for repair and protein synthesis. They have receptors on muscle cell membrane to which they attach and signal the DNA to increase protein synthesis.

3. Testosterone and IGF-1 also activate muscle satellite cells which play a crucial role in muscle hypertrophy. More on this below.

4. Catabolic hormone cortisol is released into the blood after 45 minutes into your workout. It breaks down muscle tissue to release energy during workouts.

But you need not worry about it. Your pre and intra-workout nutrition will ensure proteins are not broken down during or after workouts. Less breakdown means more muscle.

So what creates maximum hormonal response?

If hormones are so anabolic, how can you maximise hormonal response to training? Here’s how to do it.

  1. Train with full body exercises using compound exercises like pulls, presses, squats and deadlifts
  2. Do both upper and lower body exercises in every workout
  3. Do multiple sets of 3-4 sets per exercise
  4. Perform each set for at least 6 to 12 reps
  5. Take short rest intervals of 30 to 90 seconds

All this creates metabolic stress, the primary stimulus for anabolic hormone release.

SIDEBAR: Role of Satellite cells in muscle hypertrophy {3}

Until last few years muscle hypertrophy remained a mystery. Scientists wondered where does the extra cytoplasm and nuclei come from. Muscle satellite cells provide the answer.

Anabolic hormones stimulate satellite muscle cells which are at the base of each muscle cell. 

So what are satellite cells?

You might be aware that cells of our body continually renew. Red blood cells renew every 120 days, skin cells renew every few days etc. But muscle cells do not renew, they can only become bigger, replace their proteins and to a lesser degree multiply {hyperplasia}.

But our muscle cells are unique. At the base of each muscle cell lies an undifferentiated cell called satellite cell. Satellite cells in response to targeted resistance training can increase in number and join muscle cells making our muscle cells bigger. We call this satellite cell proliferation and differentiation. 

This is the mechanism of muscle hypertrophy. When you train with high intensity and high volume, anabolic hormones are released. These hormones have receptors on satellite cells and activate them. Satellite cells donate their cytoplasm and nucleus to neighbouring muscle cells and makes them bigger.

This process of protein synthesis, satellite cells activation and uniting with muscle cells takes 4 to 6 weeks. Hence you will see best muscle gains if you follow a targeted plan for at least 4-6 weeks. You will have given the muscles enough time to respond and the above process to complete.

Thrash those 2 week programs as failure is built into them.

But this process requires lots of quality raw material making neutron and supplementation very important. 

This brings us to...

How Quality Muscle Building Nutrition helps muscle repair and growth 

So you are on a mission. A mission to add more proteins and store glycogen into your newer and bigger muscle cells. 

But what if you fail to provide the essential raw materials for your muscle cell factory? What if the new proteins you provide are of inferior quality?

Since your goal is to build hard, solid muscle mass you should provide your muscles with first class proteins, complex carbohydrates and plenty of essential fats. Or your muscle proteins will be of inferior quality - weak and floppy.

You require both high quality macronutrients and micronutrients for muscle repair and growth.

Macronutrients:

Proteins

Lean Meats and eggs are best Muscle Building Proteins.

Protein, carbohydrates and fats are called macronutrients since you require them in larger quantities.

Proteins: They are the building blocks of your new muscle mass so choose them wisely. Plenty of first class proteins, mostly from animal sources.

Remember muscle growth is a balance between protein breakdown {that happens during training} and protein synthesis {that happens after training.

Muscle growth = Protein synthesis - protein breakdown.

If you do not with adequate proteins where is the raw material for muscle repair and growth?

Without adequate quality proteins you WILL lose muscle and grow weak. Have a high quality mixture of proteins and carbohydrates immediately after workout {I call it the last exercise of EVERY workout} and maximise nutrient timing for accelerated growth.

Carbohydrates:

Fruits, vegetables and Grains are best carbohydrates for muscle building.

Your muscles are filled with glycogen which is stored form of glucose. During training you use up most of the stored glycogen and hence it needs to be replaced.

A high quality protein + carb post workout drink and plenty of complex carbs throughout the day will take care of you carb needs.

Also remember to gain lean muscle mass you should eat carbohydrates mostly around workout or else they might be stored as fats.

Remember the advice of Ben Pakulski, "Who eats carbs at best time wins in building lean muscle". 

Fats:

Fish, Olive Oil, Avocados and almonds are excellent sources of muscle building fats.

You require them to maintain integrity of your cell membranes but more importantly you need them to produce hormones. Testosterone is made from essential fats and any dietary deficiency can impair hormone production and hence muscle growth.

Also high quality fats like Olive Oil, fish oils help combat exercise induced inflammation and help your body repair, recover and grow faster.

Water: Want fuller looking muscles? Then be adequately hydrated. Drink one glass water every waking hour or get close to it. 

Micronutrients:

Vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants are nutrient your body requires in small quantities but are essential for digestion, absorption and  tissue repair. 

Add a quality multi-vitamin/mineral combination to the mix and see the results for yourself.

Supplements: Protein supplements and a multivitamins are excellent to meet your daily requirement of proteins and micronutrients.

Use a high quality protein supplement for times when you cannot eat enough proteins. Add a quality multivitamin as insurance against micronutrient deficiency very common among muscle builders.

Sleep and recovery:

An ancient proverb says;

"Don’t run if you can walk, don’t walk if you can stand, don’t stand if you can sit, and if you sat, might as well lie down and take a nap."

That is best advice for muscle builders. Don't spend calories when not needed.

There is nothing wrong in putting your other goals on hold for 3-4 months and concentrate on gaining mass. Stop energy draining activities and start muscle building rituals.

So stop long hour sports, aerobics or anything that takes physical activity and instead rest, relax and recuperate. Make sleep your best friend.

A word on Sleep:

Did you know that maximum repair and growth happens during sleep? Your hormone concentrations especially growth hormone whose main function is MUSCLE GROWTH is maximum during sleep. So get early to bed and double your recovery. Your muscles will thank you.

If all is well your muscles produce more contractile proteins and get bigger and stronger workout after workout.

Muscle Repair, Growth and Recovery

Your muscles are like factories churning more proteins everyday. 

Give them proper nutrients, rest and no-stress life, they grow faster than you ever though possible.

I have covered nutrition and rest above. Its time for stress busting now. Stress takes resources away from muscle building factories and us them elsewhere.

There are two kinds of stress. Distress and Eustress.

Distress makes you anxious, panicky and frustrated. It is catabolic and eats muscle mass.

Eustress makes you excited, hard working and happy. it releases endorphins or feel good hormones. All these result in anabolism or muscle building.

Choose to work towards your goals, leave the worries behind and work on your minute to minute goals and all will be well.

I cover plenty of stress busting for muscle builders elsewhere, but remember stress is catabolic to your body and tears down proteins faster than anything else. That’s reason enough to remain calm.

Relax yourself and your body goes to work on muscle repair, new protein synthesis and recovery faster for the next awesome workout.

Why? Because it has nothing else to worry about.

The Twin Qualities of Patience and Consistency

Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will be your body. but if you are patient and consistent your body will change, your muscles will grow and your looks will be totally different soon,

Once you apply the 3 muscle growth principles of training, nutrition and rest, you need to give it time. 

How much? How about 4 to 6 weeks? 

Your body works in cycles or growth. Give your body time to respond. It needs to decide that increasing muscle mass in its own interest. It has to create a new homeostasis to else it will suffer pain.

So don’t be impatient. Your body does whats best for you - in this case, build muscle mass.

Remember consistency and patience are the hallmark of a successful muscle builder.

Be it a total body program to build full body muscle or specialisation program to build a lagging body part, the muscle building process remains the same. I urge you give it 6 weeks without giving up.

During these 4 to 6 weeks, the newer muscle proteins are synthesised and incorporated into your muscles, making them bigger and stronger.

At the end of 6 weeks, welcome your new body, get a new pair of shirts and enjoy your body. Then take another 6 week cycle to create even more muscle.

Summary and Key points

Muscle Building Process in a nutshell...

Now you know how muscle grows. You have discovered how training, nutrition and recovery works together to create new muscle. Miss any component your results suffer.

So,

Set a muscle building goal —> Train with heavy weights for high repetitions —> Provide first class nutrients, proteins, carbs and fats —> Rest and recuperate before next workout —>  Get big and strong. Period!

Repeat this cycle until you get your desired body.

This is how Muscle grows and knowing the process is the foundation principle every muscle builder needs to know.

Next: What makes you a hardgainer and Why hardgainers need to train differently using these targeted Muscle building Strategies designed for skinny ectomorphs.

› How Muscle Grows

Referances:

1. Brad Schoenfeld BJ. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2857-72. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e840f3.

2. Hansen, S., T. Kvornign, M. Kajaer, and G. Sjogaard. 2001. The effect of short-term strength training on human skeletal muscle: The importance of physiologically elevated hormone levels. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports 11:347-354.

3. Hanssen KE, Kvamme NH, Nilsen TS, Rønnestad B, Ambjørnsen IK, Norheim F, Kadi F, Hallèn J, Drevon CA, Raastad T. (2013). The effect of strength training volume on satellite cells, myogenic regulatory factors, and growth factors. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 23, 728-739

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