When you walk into any traditional fitness club you’ll inevitably see people pushing, pulling and lifting weights. They complete several exercises, each including several sets and reps, thinking that their bodies will miraculously change. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. You will see people religiously following their workout programs only to find that their bodies haven’t changed and their weights remain the same. There is more to the science of developing muscle size and strength than just lifting weights.
Effective muscle development is a science. There are many factors to consider when putting together an effective workout program. It is like growing a garden. Putting seeds into the ground is not enough. The soil needs to be filled with nutrients, it needs water and lots of sunlight. The same is true of weight training. Simply picking up weights and tossing them around is not enough. Your body needs to:
- Work hard enough to cause it to change.
- Fully recover from the workout.
- Be prepared to build new muscle.
Are You Working “Hard Enough”?
We often hear the saying, “Work smarter not harder”. That may be an effective motto in the workplace but when it doesn’t apply when it comes to muscle development. Resistance training (aka. weight training or strength training) involves exercise where muscles of the body contract against an external resistance. The goal of resistance training is to increase strength, size (mass) or endurance.
In order to achieve positive results from resistance training, versus maintaining or losing size and strength, the muscles need to be overloaded. Overloading the muscles results in better communication between the brain and muscles involved. This is also referred to as “progressive overload”.
The principle of progressive overload involves increasing the workload gradually over time as your muscles adapt to the increasing loads. Over time your body adapts and this results in increases in muscular strength and/or size. In other words, as you increase your weights your strength will increase. If you train at the same weight your strength will remain the same.
Recovering from the Workout
The results you get from your workout are only as good as the rest and recovery you give the body. This recovery time is where the real training effect takes place. When you complete an intense workout your body recovers in two phases:
Compensation is what happens to your body after a workout is over. It brings your body back to its normal state of functioning after a training session. Depending on the intensity of the workout it takes 24 to 48 hours to fully recover. Recovery of the body involves:
- Heart rate and blood pressure returning to normal.
- Removal of lactic acid and byproducts from intense exercise.
- Replacing glycogen (energy found in muscle cells) back into the muscles.
- Repair of muscle fibres.
- Restoring the body’s normal hormone levels.
Supercompensation is the process that occurs right after the body returns to its normal state. During supercompensation, your body goes above and beyond the physical state you were in before your exercise session by:
- Storing extra glycogen in the muscles (to prepare for more vigorous exercise sessions)
- Adding new proteins to muscles to make them stronger
Supercompensation lasts a short time and goes back to normal state if the body is not challenged again. Timing is important in order to take advantage of the supercompensation cycle. If you schedule your next workout when your body has more energy stores to do more more and has more muscle fibers, you can expect to see increasing results with each successive exercise session.
More Muscle = More Dietary Protein
The human body is constantly breaking down and building muscle proteins. In order to increase the body’s muscle mass you need essential amino acids (only available in the protein that we eat) to build new muscle proteins.
The amount of protein that we need to include in our daily food intake is relative to our size. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is outlined below (determine your weight in kilograms and multiply it by the number of grams listed):
- Sedentary Adult: 0.8 grams/kg (body weight)
- Physically Active Adult: 1.0 grams/kg (body weight)
- Strength Athlete: 1.4 to 1.8 grams/kg (body weight)
** To convert pounds (lbs) to kilograms (kg) use the following calculation:
Weight in kilograms (kg) = Weight in pounds (lbs) ÷ 2.2
Right after an intense workout your body needs energy to help with the recovery process. Eating a snack with some carbohydrates and protein after your workout helps fuel muscle growth and replaces energy stores for your next workout. Researchers have found that weight trainers that consume protein and carbohydrates within 30 minutes of completing an intense workout (10 grams of protein and 40 grams of carbohydrates) significantly improves recovery time. Examples of a post-exercise snack include:
- Whole grain cereal with skim milk
- Fruit smoothie (with protein powder)
- High fiber crackers and reduced fat cheese
- Low fat cottage cheese and berries
Final Thoughts …
An effective workout program for increasing muscle size and development is more than just lifting weights. It requires dedication to making lifestyle changes, consistency and a commitment to the following:
- Repetitive bouts of exercise (above normal levels of activity)
- Rest and recovery
- Good nutrition and hydration
In addition to this, you need to continually evaluate your progress using the program and make adjustments and changes to continue to see lasting results.