Whether you’re working out because it makes you feel good or because it helps you look a certain way, you probably already know that building muscle isn’t as easy as it sounds. More than a simple correlation (more squats, bigger glutes), achieving these gains is like solving a complex equation with a wide variety of variables including the exercises you do, what you eat, and how much rest you get.
Without understanding the role each of these elements play, you’ll likely spend hours each day lifting weights, but your progress will only be so far. Luckily, you don’t need to be a muscle math prodigy to come alive, and winter is the perfect time to start.
How does your body build muscle?
When you work your biceps, the tension of the movement causes micro-tears. At a microscopic level, this means that the fibers that make up the muscle in your arms are damaged or cut completely.
When your body has everything it needs to heal, it over-corrects by building new tissue on top of the damaged one. This helps to better prepare your muscles for exertion and prevents new micro-tears from forming in the future. The repetition of this cycle – stretching, repair – improves the size and strength of the muscles.
It’s a pretty simple process, but there are a few things that make it more powerful and more efficient.
Key elements of being strong
There are four main elements to consider when it comes to growing your muscles. Knowing how they interact will help you stay healthy and see results in time for spring.
Consistency is key
You certainly can’t make progress in bulking without consistent effort. The size and strength of the muscles only increase by going through a repeated cycle of experiencing and healing micro-tears.
Consistency builds over time with discipline. But sometimes that’s not enough, so you need to find extra motivation to take action.
As I started my fitness journey, including a friend really helped me stay on the right track. My roommate and I bought a treadmill, and the rule was: When one of us ran, the other had to do the same. In a matter of months, that imperative consistency has pushed me from just two to three minutes of a painful run with wheezing to effortlessly running the mile line.
Use these weights correctly
Only frequent and heavy lifting causes muscle growth. But if you don’t know how heavy is heavy enough, there are two ways to tell.
Start by pushing to failure, which is fitness jargon to lift to the point where you can’t do another rep without lowering the weight. But as you get stronger, you’ll find that getting to this point using weights of the same size will require you to do more and more reps. Therefore, you will need to gradually increase the amount of weight you lift over time.
[Related: Muscle stiffness can be an athletic superpower]
“Practicing the moves doesn’t build muscle like you really push and fail a few reps,” says Jim Bathurst, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and head of fitness at Nerd Fitness.
For greater gains, she recommends prioritizing exercises that target multiple muscle groups at once, also known as compound exercises. These include standards such as bench press, deadlift, pull-up, squat, overhead press, and rowing. In fact, by doing these six exercises, you will be working every major muscle group in your body.
But whatever moves go into your routine, Jim recommends completing each properly: “This can help minimize injuries and increase the amount of work you do to the muscles.”
Mastering your form will take knowledge and practice. Start by doing your research; There are several apps and online videos you can check out to better understand the correct form of each exercise. You can then apply what you learn by exercising in front of a mirror or by filming yourself and reviewing your movements. If you still have questions, it may be time to ask an expert. A coach or trainer will give you special attention and correct your form as needed. They will even be able to tailor certain exercises to suit previous injuries or level of expertise.
Eating right is a very important part of your routine.
Once you have caused all the micro-tears mentioned above through removal, you need to let them heal. However, if you don’t properly fuel yourself, your muscles can’t repair and grow themselves—they need enough calories and protein to do the job.
“Unlike fat reduction, the development of lean muscle tissue requires energy when building the body and needs materials to do so,” says Michael S. Parker, founder of Forge Fitness and a certified fitness nutritionist. “Naturally, this substance is in the form of nutritional components and is found in our food.”
When it comes to how much you need to eat per day to make these gains, Parker explains that everyone is different, but a good rule of thumb is to meet your maintenance energy level and then surpass it. That means eating enough calories a day to offset what you burn by exercising and just surviving, and then some. This extra energy is called a calorie surplus, and it’s the additional energy your body needs to build new muscle. While everyone’s body is unique, generally speaking, you don’t need a lot of excess to boost growth – 300 to 500 extra calories a day will suffice. But that’s only true if you work hard, failing three to four times a week.
If you don’t know what your level of care is, there are a number of online calculators that can help you with this. These tools take factors such as your age, weight, height, and typical daily activity levels into account to provide a fairly accurate picture of your calorie needs. You can also use an app like MyFitnessPal, which is intuitive and offers a large library of foods so you don’t have to manually enter each one.
Apps can also provide an estimate of the number of calories you burn during your workouts, but if you want a clearer picture you can use a fitness tracker. These gadgets vary widely in accuracy, but in my experience, the Garmin Venu 2 Plus delivers outstanding results compared to products from companies like Fitbit or Whoop. This gadget also tracks a wide variety of activities, including strength training, cycling and swimming.
But it’s not just a matter of calories in and calories out. When it comes to food and muscle growth, quality is just as important as quantity.
“You’ll need to make sure you have an adequate and balanced ratio of carbohydrates, protein, and fat to ensure maximum absorption and distribution of nutritional building components,” says Michael.
Protein is essential for building muscle, as it aids cell replication, he explains. Carbs, on the other hand, are a source of energy and help your mind and body function at optimum levels.
A 2017 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that muscle growth or maintenance in most people requires a daily protein intake of 1.4 to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight. This means that if you weigh 150 pounds, you need to eat 105 grams of protein per day to build muscle. In terms of food, that means three eggs, two pieces of bacon, a bowl of Greek yogurt, a chicken breast and a protein bar.
And don’t forget to get some oil. Prioritize clean dietary fats such as monounsaturated (like avocado, peanuts, and almonds) and polyunsaturated (fish, sunflower seeds, walnuts), but also add small amounts of saturated fat (butter). , coconut oil, cheese, bacon).
But in addition to some rest, you will also need to relax. Cortisol, a stress hormone, is catabolic, meaning it directly impairs muscle growth by inhibiting your body’s ability to synthesize proteins.
complete it carefully
You’ll see many products that promise to boost muscle growth, burn fat, or improve performance—but supplements aren’t bottled miracles.
“[Supplements] quality exercise cannot replace basics like proper nutrition and quality sleep,” says Jim. “If you’re slowing down in your workouts, not consistently getting enough calories and protein, or staying up late and having terrible sleep, supplements won’t be the magic solution.”
There are several supplements that are safe, affordable, and scientifically proven to help you get ahead. But if you have any medical conditions, talk to your doctor before making any major dietary changes.
Michael explains that protein supplements can help you achieve these gains, but they’re unnecessary if you’re already getting what you need from food. Creatine is another popular supplement among those looking to invigorate, and it also has the added benefit of being inexpensive. It’s not essential for muscle growth, but if you’re looking for a bit of a boost, research has found that creatine is safe, and when used correctly, it can aid rapid muscle gains by improving the quality of your workouts.
“Caffeine and other natural stimulants can help you push harder during workouts, but should be used as little as possible,” explains Jim. If you take it too much or too late during the day, it can disrupt your sleep, which has the opposite effect as we mentioned above.
Michael warns that people should be cautious with other non-caffeine-based pre-workout supplements, as there is no science to support their safety and effectiveness, and they can even form patterns of addiction.
“The safety of reinforcement has increased slightly over the past 15 to 20 years,” he says. “However, it is still prudent to be careful when supplementing.”
As you progress, you’ll find many ways to fine-tune your routine. But no matter what stage you are at in your fitness journey, the basic principles will be the same: consistent and vigorous exercise, proper nutrition, and the always necessary recovery that good sleep and relaxation provide.
Rinse (because you never want to be the one who stinks at the gym) and repeat.