Gaining Muscle

Growing Muscle

The ultimate goal. Elusive in nature.

Excuse me while I get a little corny, but muscle is magic. Those magical little protein filaments are responsible for giving us the ability to do, well… everything.

What else is going to keep you durable for the long haul?

We’re fragile without muscle. Handle with care-worthy.

So how exactly do we get more of it?

Hypertrophy and Protein Synthesis

Hypertrophy can be described as the enlargement of a muscle belly, and this occurs when muscle cells, specifically muscle fibers, grow in size.   Our fast twitch muscle fibers become larger and thicker when we implement strength and resistance training.  Long term hypertrophy, the growth of our muscles over time is known as chronic hypertrophy.

When we train, we experience transient hypertrophy.

This is the “pumped up” feeling we experience when we lift weights.  After weight training, your muscles will undergo a very important biological process known as protein synthesis.

This is the process of increasing the protein content of muscle cells.  Without protein synthesis, our muscles won’t grow.

Protein synthesis is the process of repairing or even removal of proteins in the body that are damaged.  New proteins are then formed.  These new proteins will be more dense, and stronger than the ones before.

When you work out, protein synthesis tends to decrease.  During rest and recovery periods – after lifting – is when protein synthesis begins to increase.

This is just one of the many ways our body adapts and responds to stress.

Our bodies are incredibly efficient at adapting to, and handling stress.  When your body is repairing, it’s in an anabolic state.  Your muscles will grow in size during your rest periods.

Growing Muscle

Below is a list of practices that will help promote muscle growth:

Get enough calories – We’ve discussed the importance of calorie consumption. It’s vital for the growth of muscle tissue. It is absolutely essential. Do not disregard this in the hopes that you will magically grow your muscles without the proper raw materials needed to build them. Keep track of your daily calories. If you see that you are low, and bedtime is approaching – start eating. At the same time, don’t overeat. Don’t allow yourself to go over, and justify it by eating less the next day. That isn’t how this works. Don’t give yourself unnecessary wiggle room, because you don’t have wiggle room. If you want to look a certain way, you need to eat accordingly.

Get enough of the right calories –  All calories are not created equal.  The foods we eat are made up of macronutrients.  the 3 major macronutrients are: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.  It’s important to know what type of calories you’re consuming.  You need to be getting the right amount of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. This is also vital for the growth of muscle tissue, and the burning of body fat. If you’re not getting the proper ratio of macronutrients daily, you will need to adjust the type of food you are eating, or the amount of food that you are eating.

Lift with intensity – Resolve to lift with intensity (every workout).

Again, I want to make sure we know the distinction between lifting with intensity, and killing yourself. We’re not killing ourselves in the gym, we’re pushing ourselves. It’s not necessary for a workout to cause pain. If you are experiencing pain, you might consider having someone examine your form, because you may be doing something wrong or even dangerous. Lifting with intensity is important. Push yourself! Maintain an intense mindset when you lift. Listen to music that inspires you, and pumps you up during your workouts. Keep your rest periods short between sets. Lift with purpose and intent. Don’t half-ass it. If you’re dragging, you’ll need to be the one responsible for psyching yourself up to get maximum benefit.

Overload your muscles – When we impose stress upon our muscles, our body will adapt and respond accordingly, in an effort to adapt and respond to that stress more efficiently in the future. This is the only thing we are doing inside of the gym. Imposing stress, so that your body will adapt and respond the way we want it to. If you are lifting the same weight for months, your body will adapt and learn to lift that particular amount of weight. This is why it’s so important to push yourself. Once your body has adapted to the stress you impose upon it, it will require additional stress to continually make progress. You want to carefully and appropriately go up in weight and/or volume over time. By appropriate, I mean, it’s not necessary to go up in weight every week. Your body won’t adjust or respond that quickly. You’ll sacrifice form just to move the weight. Go slow. Make sure you’re lifting with proper form, and then when you feel like you have mastered a set weight for a particular exercise – bump up the weight. When you increase the weight, make sure you’re making small, incremental weight increases. It’s counterproductive to make a 50 pound jump – it’s much more appropriate to make 5 to 10 pound increases – at most. It’s during these “push yourself” sets that you should utilize the help of a spotter who can assist you if you get stuck.

Get plenty of rest/sleep – Rest and recovery periods are essential to any balanced and effective training program. Rest periods are when the magic happens. Micro trauma of the muscle fibers will occur when you lift. Your body repairs itself afterwards, during rest periods. This is where the real training effect takes place. When we’re physically active, we deplete our energy storages, and during recovery periods, we replenish them. Without sufficient time to rest and recover, your body can actually prolong the effects of tissue damage and the lowering of energy storages.

Sleep is very important recovery time.

Adequate sleep will not only help you stay mentally healthy; it will ensure you maintain a balanced hormonal profile, and it will aide in muscular recovery.  There are many studies that indicate sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone.  You will not metabolize glucose efficiently if you do not get a sufficient amount of sleep.  The body cannot function properly unless it is well rested.  Aim to get at least 7-9 hours of sleep every night.

Another thing to keep in mind is the central nervous system. The central nervous system is involved in the training of all of the muscle groups, so even if you rest one muscle group and focus on lifting another, the central nervous system might still need time to rest and recover.  Our joints could use a break occasionally, too.  My hope is that you fall in love with strength and resistance, but it’s not necessary to lift 7 days a week, and it could be detrimental to do so.

Get plenty of water – First of all, your body is dependent on water to survive, so it’s kind of important. Like rest and recovery, our bodies will not function efficiently without enough water consumption. The average person loses up to 6 pints of water daily (under average conditions). Dehydration can lead to a decrease in physical activity and performance. It’s imperative that you drink enough water; 65 – 75% of our muscle is composed of water. You need to stay hydrated to fully tap your potential. You need to keep your muscles hydrated. You’re going to want to drink water throughout the day, and especially before, during and after your workouts. You’re going to be losing a considerable amount of water during the workouts through perspiration, so you’ll need to replace it.

Before workout:  17 – 20 ounces at least 2 hours prior to working out

During workout:  7 – 10 ounces for every 10-20 minutes of working out

After workout:  20 – 30 ounces within 2 hours of working out

Drinking water helps expedite the fat-loss process as well. It flushes out toxins, and natural bi-products of fat.  Water also helps keep our stomachs feeling full.  Many people mistake being hungry with thirst.  Having an adequate amount of water will help boost your energy levels, and it will improve your mood.  Drinking enough water helps regulate body temperature, and it also aids the digestive system.  If you are having trouble getting enough water in throughout the day, consider drinking on a schedule.  Perhaps every 2 hours, drink 20 ounces.  Set an alarm on your phone if you have to.  You can also try to drink 20-40 ounces of water every time you eat to ensure you’re getting enough water throughout the day.  Be sure to drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up as well, to help aide the digestion process after breakfast.  Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink, by then it’s too late, and you’re already dehydrated.  There’s a very simple way to determine how much water you should be drinking daily:

Take your weight and multiply it by 75% – the answer to that – in ounces – will be the amount of water you should be consuming daily. Let’s take a hypothetical man who weighs 200 pounds and determine how much water he will need to drink daily:

200 X .75 (75%) = 150 ounces

It’s worth noting that 128 ounces = 1 gallon of water

Lift heavy – Metabolism plays a vital role in terms of weight loss – fat loss, specifically. We’ve discussed the importance of adding muscle tissue to your body, which will speed up your metabolism. In order to properly stimulate muscle growth, you must choose weights that push your muscles to their limits. This is going to require you to lift heavy weights occasionally. Your muscles will grow as a result. You need to pick weights that will stimulate your growth hormones, and lifting heavier weights will release more of these hormones. Lifting heavy means a 3-8 rep range is where you need to be – if you can lift the weight more than 8 times – and your goal is to be lifting “heavy,” you should go up in weight. Push yourself! Lifting heavy is the best way to jump-start the fat loss process. Lift to the point of pure muscle exhaustion. Your muscles are made of 2 types of muscle fibers – fast twitch muscle fibers, and slow twitch muscle fibers. Fast twitch muscle fibers are recruited when we lift heavy (3-8 rep range), and they give us explosive power. Slow twitch muscle fibers are recruited in volume training, and they give us muscular endurance. A balanced, periodized training program will require a mix of recruiting fast twitch, and slow twitch muscle fibers.

Keep in mind, the heavier you lift, the more recovery time you will need.


I’ll take this time to debunk another misconception that refuses to die:

Woman and gaining muscle

I still encounter women who are hesitant to try weight training because they assume it will make them appear bulky or masculine. There are some who assume that lifting heavy will result in huge muscles, and they’ll be stuck with them forever.  There simply is no validity to this myth, and yet it’s still being touted as fact – often.  Women do not – and cannot – naturally produce as much testosterone as men.  Women will develop muscle mass, if they lift appropriately, but it will not be an absurd amount.  Women who use anabolic steroids (synthetic testosterone), along with other drugs, are the ones who are adding the massive amounts of lean muscle mass on to their bodies.

Women who conduct an appropriate weight training regimen – without the use of anabolic steroids – will achieve a toned and fit physique. One that is strong, yet still feminine.  Properly performed, lifting heavy can provide significant functional benefits and improvement in overall health and well-being including increased bone, muscle, tendon and ligament strength, improved joint function, and reduced potential for injury out in the real world.

Weight training is for everyone – men and women.


Setting Goals – (Achieving them, too)

We all have goals.

We may not realize it, but striving for something is in our nature. It is within us all to want, or crave something.

But it takes more than just wanting. In order to attain what you strive for, you must put thoughts into action.  The difference in wanting/striving and getting/achieving is purposeful, meaningful action.

You can’t wish for a better body. Changing your physique for the better requires consistent dedication and hard work.  There are no shortcuts to getting the body of your dreams, and that’s the point.

The work is the payoff.

But, we still need an endgame.  We still have a desired result in mind.

Learning to set measurable, realistic and attainable goals may be the most important thing you ever do in your entire life. Fitness goals are no different.

Write them down!

I know it’s cliché, but it’s true – a goal that isn’t in writing may as well be a wish.

Documentation will be a critical part in determining your success. You’ll want to see quantified results.

Below is a list of things that can help you achieve your fitness goals (whatever they may be):

LOOK AT IT – Once you’ve written down your goals, I want you to keep that piece of paper somewhere you’re going to be forced to see it. Put it on your refrigerator.  Put it on your bulletin board above your desk at work.  Tape it on your bedroom wall.  Put it on your bathroom mirror.  Put it anywhere – just make sure it’s visible – every day!  If you can’t see your goals every day, you will forget about them.  Keep them in the forefront of your mind, and you will gravitate towards them daily.  Write down sticky notes with motivational sayings on them and put them on your computer at work and at home.  It may seem cheesy to write all of this down, but it will keep you from slacking and giving up.

Be Specific – It’s very easy to say we want to get in shape. Most people have that as a goal at some point in their lives.  But it’s not specific.  There are too many variables in sayings like “I want to lose weight,” or “I want to get skinny.”  Now, if I say something more specific, like “I want to lose 15 pounds in 2 months” – I have a much higher chance of success because my goal is very specific.  You set yourself up for success when your goals are specific.

Make Sure Your Goals Are Something You Can Measure – You cannot change what you do not measure. It’s important to measure your progress.  But, it’s worth noting that the more you measure your progress, the more you can continue setting goals.  You should never stop setting new goals for yourself.  As a species, we are meant to challenge ourselves, and create things.  We are purposeful beings that thrive when we aspire towards something every day.  The only way to truly progress in life, and in living, is to set measurable goals for yourself, and then work daily to achieve them.  Keep a notebook with you during the workouts.  Track how much weight you are lifting.  When you find yourself lifting the weights easily, and you want to challenge yourself, you can gradually go up in weight.  It’s also a good idea to keep a food journal with you to keep track of what you are consuming.  One of the great things about technological advancements in the fitness industry is that there are many tools and applications that can help us keep track of our progress.  Today, we can measure our heart rates during exercise, our workout duration times, calories burned, water consumption, and food intake.  Utilize these resources in measuring and quantifying your progress.

Make Sure Your Goals Are Realistic and Attainable – Generally speaking, we can only achieve goals that we believe we can realistically achieve.  It is unrealistic to set a goal of making 1 million dollars in a year when you’re current annual income is 15,000 dollars.  Our minds aren’t capable of making such a leap.  Setting goals that pertain to changing our body composition are no different.  Make sure your goals are realistic.  Once you achieve your goal – set a new one.  Celebrate the small victory, and then set a new small goal.  Eventually, little by little, you will be in the best shape of your life – and even then – you will want to continue setting new goals to achieve.

Make Sure Your Goal Is Attached To a Deadline – Attaching a deadline to your goal is something that will make the attainment of that particular goal much more likely.  If you have a timeline associated with something you want to achieve, then you will progressively work towards it.  You will have a sense of urgency.  It is much more likely that you will not reach your goal if you do not set a deadline in which to reach it.  Make sure your deadline is short enough to see results, yet it is not daunting or intimidating.  If you give yourself too much time, it is very easy to lose focus and to not stay dedicated to what it is you hope to achieve.

Example: I’m going to lose 15 pounds in 12 weeks, as well as reduce my body fat % from 22% to 20%.

Once you have clearly defined a specific goal you’d like to achieve, follow these 4 steps:

Step one:  Write down your weight.

I want to make sure you understand something first. You should not be obsessing over the number on the scale.  The number means very little.  You are not a number on a scale.  The number doesn’t define you.  That number doesn’t even really tell you a whole lot.  It doesn’t tell you how much body fat you have on your frame, and it doesn’t tell you how much lean muscle mass you have on your frame.  I’m asking you to document it in the beginning, but please, don’t obsess over the number.  If you have a considerable amount of body fat to lose, then you know you’re headed in the right direction if the number goes down.  If you don’t have a lot of body fat to lose (and you’re trying to gain more muscle mass), the number going down week to week may not be a good thing.  The number might even go up!  Gasp!  Keep that in perspective when measuring your weight.

Step two:  Have someone determine your body fat.

It’s important to know what type of weight you’re carrying. Determining your body fat percentage will tell you a much more interesting story than a scale will.  You can determine how much fat you have on your body, but you can also keep track how much lean muscle tissue you have as well.  It’s important to increase the amount of muscle we have on our bodies for numerous reasons.  One of the many benefits to strength and resistance training is that we will decrease body fat, and increase lean tissue.

Step three:  Have someone take your measurements.

Anyone at your gym should have the ability to take your body fat, and measurements. If the front desk attendant can’t do it, they can at least find someone who can.  Generally, a friendly personal trainer would be happy to help you – and you can use them as a resource as well.  Keep in mind that some of our measurements may decrease, while others may increase, and that’s okay.  You may lose inches on your waist and gain an inch on your biceps!  This particular scenario could potentially be a win-win scenario.  Also keep in mind that the differences in your body fat percentage and the differences in your body measurements will be the most dramatic in the beginning.  As your body acclimates to strength and resistance training, the differences will become less and less dramatic.

Step four:  Take a picture of yourself. I know, I know… this might be the last thing you want to do.

Take a picture with your body facing the camera, your profile, and your back. Make sure to include your entire body.  You’re going to want to measure the progress of your upper body, as well as your lower body.  Don’t be afraid to take these photos.  These photos will be invaluable when looking back on your fit journey.  They are documented proof of your transformation.  Day to day, you’re going to be examining your body in the mirror.  We all do it, especially when we first start exercising.  It will be very difficult to see your body changing day to day.  Measuring your progress with photos will be the proof you need to ensure you’re headed in the right direction.  Pictures can often be a driving, motivating force that helps keep people on the right track.  We need to see our transformation to really believe in it.  Once you believe in the transformation that is taking place in your body, it will inspire you to keep going.

Every 4 Weeks

Follow these four steps every 4 weeks. If you can, try to document your weight, body fat percentage, and your body measurements at the same time of day that you did previously.  Preferably, you want to do this as soon as you wake up, before you eat breakfast.  Aim to do them before your work out.  Aim to have the same person take your body fat, and your body measurements each time.  Use the same scale.  This will help maintain consistency, which will give you a more accurate representation of your results.  Try to take a picture of yourself in the same way you did previously, and wear the same outfit if possible.

Apply these ideas, and you’ll be smashing your fitness goals in no time.