Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How to Build Muscle and Strength: Intro

Whether you are 15 or 75, man or woman, you should exercise 5-6 days a week. When you do exercise, you should always strive to build muscle and strength. Of course, building more muscle will make you look and feel great, as well as make life easier for you on a day-to-day basis. But the biggest reason that you should exercise to gain muscle is because your health and fitness are unavoidably connected to the amount of lean mass you have.

Building muscle quickly, consistently, and with the least effort possible is the focus of this four-part series. Since high school, I've always been obsessed with building muscle. However, I don't like spending much time in the gym. This has pushed me towards efficient exercise programs.

This quest for a super efficient program happened by accident. For most of my life, I've been relatively successful slowly building muscle. But, for the last two years, I've been unable to get any heavier. Consequently, because I started to plateau, I had to do some research to find the most effective techniques to get the results I wanted. My goal was then to put together the best techniques into a single efficient program. Although it took me a while, I have finally managed to put together all the tricks that make your body grow muscle like a Spartan!

Building Muscle 101
Growing new muscle (or losing the muscle you already have) is determined by the balance between muscle synthesis and muscle degradation. (1) When exercising, this balance gives a person one of three possibilities:
  • If muscle synthesis is less than muscle degradation, then muscle mass is lost.
  • If muscle synthesis is equal to muscle degradation, then muscle mass is unchanged.
  • If muscle synthesis is greater than muscle degradation, then muscle grows.

The first and second possibilities explain why low-intensity cardio or light weights do not usually grow muscle (or can cause a person to lose muscle). If you don’t need the muscle because your effort is too low, then your brain will get rid of it. If you have just enough strength, then you’ll maintain the muscle you have.

To make the last possibility happen (building more muscle), a person has to create a demand for new muscle (i.e., get stronger). This demand can be simulated with heavy or high intensity exercises.

Creating optimal feedback for new muscle is notoriously difficult to do. More often than not, you’re program will not stimulate enough muscle synthesis or it will generate too much muscle degradation (or both). For example, a person can:
  • Create too much or too little muscle damage
  • Receive too much or too  little recovery time
  • Not receive adequate nutrition
  • Not stimulate enough muscle-building hormones (known as anabolic hormones)
  • Stimulate too much muscle-destroying hormones (known as catabolic hormones)

When poor technique or an ineffective program is used for more than a couple of months, a person usually experiences a drop in progress--otherwise known as a plateau. I can tell you from personal experience, plateaus suck. Fortunately, an effective exercise program is a great cure. An effective muscle-building program has to:
  • Maximize anabolic hormones while minimizing catabolic hormones.
  • Supply the body with the correct nutrients at the right times.
  • Use just enough exercise to be effective while also providing enough rest to allow for proper recovery.
  • Employ effective technique to get the most bang for your buck.

Getting Started
If you are a novice (someone who doesn't exercise very much) then you are in luck: Your body is so starved for exercise that it will grow on anything. (2) And I do mean anything. For a novice, poor technique has very few negative consequences. However, as the novice body starts to adapt to an exercise routine, bad technique can eventually stop progress cold, causing a frustrating plateau.

Avoiding plateaus is as easy as taking some time to learn the right muscle-building techniques. You can combine different techniques to build your own effective exercise program that fits perfectly into your life. These techniques should also make your workouts more enjoyable.

But no matter how well-designed your chosen exercise program is, the first two weeks may be very difficult. The last thing I want is for your enthusiasm to fizzle out if your first attempt at pull-ups (or any other exercise) doesn't go so well. You have to believe me when I say that if you push through this transitional period, you will be amazed with how quickly your body adapts. Although it won't seem like it on day one, it will only take a couple of weeks for you to actually look forward to your daily workouts (especially as you see positive physical changes, which can take as little as three to four weeks). Promise!

If you want to improve your PT performance--or how you look in the mirror--then you have to actively build muscle. There's no way around it. Fortunately, as you build muscle (and clean up your diet), all of your PT measurements (push-ups, sit-ups, waist, and run) will improve. You may even find that you no longer dread your PT test.

There are actually several exceptional techniques that can ensure that you are constantly building muscle with minimal effort. In the next post, I'll talk about the best ways to increase raw strength through exercise technique.

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