Muscle is an amazing tissue of the body. It is the very part of our body that gives us the control that we want and need in life. The mind is often useless if it doesn’t have muscle to put thought into action. It is also a major part of our body’s defense mechanism. You muscle protects things structurally (joints, bones, etc.), metabolically and physically whether by means of escape or defense from the dangers both human and non that we encounter.
BUILDING MORE MUSCLE DOES NOT MEAN BULKY
Protection is the first area to mention when discussing why you need more muscle. Muscles are major protectors of the joints and bones in our body. Strong muscles that span joints serve as braces for the forces that would otherwise separate and render these joints useless. The same goes for muscles that support long bones. If we didn’t have muscles that were able to absorb the impact of forces that we experience every day than we would always be dealing with fractures and immobility. In fact the activities that promote muscle building are the very same activities that increase bone mineral density, which is especially important for women later in life after menopause. Muscles also help us to maintain our balance protecting us from falls. Muscle tissue is also huge regulator when it comes to blood pressure and thus has indirect protection of many different major organs including the heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes.
Metabolically, muscle is very important in maintaining a healthy weight and absorbing the harmful effect of the typical American diet. This is not to say that if you work out and gain muscle that you are automatically at a healthy weight and can eat whatever you want. But it does mean that those people who spend good amounts of time every week doing weight bearing exercises are less prone to things like diabetes, hypertension, cancer, heart disease and atherosclerosis—all things that come with obesity— muscle is a very good metabolizer of the extra fuel (glucose and fat) that we have every day in the typical “unhealthy diet.”
Everyone has experienced the importance of doing things that only having strong muscle will allow you to do. I am talking especially about your mental health here. Basically, if you aren’t strong than you likely aren’t active (they go hand in hand) and if you aren’t active than you are so much more prone to things like injuries, sickness and even depression.
At the end of the day, the more work you put into something (being lazy or being active), the better results you will achieve. This has always been a widely accepted truth that applies to many areas of life. The harder you study, the better grades you will achieve. The more time you spend fine-tuning your athletic skills, the better athlete you will become. The longer you spend learning to play an instrument, the better musician you will become. Therefore, it only makes sense that the more time you spend in the gym, the stronger and more muscular your physique will become, correct? Not the case.
More is not better when it comes to resistance training, distance running, even exercise in general if your goal is to be healthy, strong and fit.
Every single process that occurs within the human body is centered around keeping you alive and healthy. Through thousands of years of evolution the human body has become a finely-tuned organism that can adapt well to the specific conditions that are placed upon it.
We become uncomfortable when we are hungry or thirsty, we acquire a suntan or burn when high amounts of UV rays are present, we build calluses to protect our skin, etc. So what happens when we break down muscle tissue in the gym? If you answered something to the effect of “the muscles get bigger and stronger”, then congratulations! You are absolutely correct. By battling against resistance beyond the muscle’s present capacity we have posed a threat to the musculature.
The body recognizes this as potentially harmful and as a natural adaptive response the muscles will hypertrophy (increase in size) to protect the body against this threat. As we consistently increase the resistance from week to week the body will continue to adapt and grow.
Sound simple? Ultimately it is, but the most important thing to realize in relation to all of this is that the muscles can only grow bigger and stronger if they are provided with sufficient recovery time. Without the proper recovery time, the muscle growth process simply cannot take place.
Sleep, Eat, Train, Eat, Repeat
Your goal in the gym should be to train with the minimum amount of volume needed to yield an adaptive response. Once you have pushed your muscles beyond their present capacity and have triggered your thousand-year-old evolutionary alarm system, you have done your job. Any further stress to the body will simply increase your recovery time, weaken the immune system and send your body into catabolic overdrive.
Most people train way too often and with far more sets than they really need to. Then eat like crap. Or not eat enough. The majority of people, trainers, coaches structure workout programs in a manner that actually hinders their gains, the gains of their clients/athletes and prevents them from making the progress that they deserve. If you feel like your training is too much of one thing or simply doing the same things over and over again, doing so may be costing you not only your time but also results.
Here are 4 basic guidelines that you should follow if you want to achieve maximum gains:
1) Train no more than 5 days per week.
2) Do not let your workouts last for longer then 1 hour.
3) Perform 5-8 sets for large muscle groups (chest, back, legs) and 2-4 sets for smaller muscle groups (shoulders, biceps, triceps, abs).
4) Get plenty of sleep. Shoot for 7 – 9 hours per night.
For maximum results (size and strength) take all sets to the point of muscular failure and focus on progressing in either weight or reps each week. For bigger muscle, train in the range of 8-12 reps, for strength, stay around 3-7 reps. If you train hard (where the last 2-3 reps are really hard) and are consistent, training more often or any longer could be counterproductive to your gains!
In addition to training, your muscle food aka nutrition will play an even bigger role in comparison. Dial in MORE lean meats, fresh vege’s, LESS processed foods, breads, pretzels, desserts and simply follow the steps above.
When you get it right… you’ll know.