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The Science Of Muscle: 15 Things To Know About Packing On Size

Tech & Science

Think of the stereotypical woman in modern western society and what type of woman do you think of? A woman with a tiny midsection, pretty skinny and slim all over, toned and fit, and a woman who’s got a drop dead gorgeous physique to go along with her stunning looks. A lot of women hate that gender stereotype, because for many, achieving that look is basically impossible. Well, men have to put up with these stereotypes too, and for dudes out there, it’s all about getting big and lean, with a ripped and chiselled physique.

Nowadays, more of us than ever before are walking around with muscular, ripped physiques, or are at least working hard in an effort to get one. But we’re constantly being bombarded with these images of guys and their ripped physiques, images that adorn magazine covers with actors and other celebs that are on TV. Most guys want to look like that, look like these celebs, but don’t have the foggiest idea how to go about it.

For the majority of people wanting to get built, the process of putting things in place to get there comprises of buying a gym membership, throwing around some weights, then going off and sitting in the sauna when things start to hurt. A week is needed to recuperate, and then they’re at it again, doing the same useless session. Others feel the need to pump their bodies full of drugs, then train half-ass and expect to blow up, pack on size, and get the results they’re looking for. It doesn’t work like that. To get big – or to “get swole” as most gym rats would say – you need to first understand what’s going on, the physiology and the mechanisms involved in building muscle. Only then will you be able to approach things the right way, to establish that mind-muscle connection that you always hear bodybuilders harping on about. This article’s about the science, physiology, and psychology, behind building muscle and packing on quality muscle mass.

15. Carbs Aren’t Just A Source Of Energy

If you want to get big, you probably know that your diet, what you put in your body and feed your muscles with, is an integral – it can even be said to be the most important – part of the whole muscle building process. You can lock yourself away in the gym for hours and hours, keep pounding weights until you’re about to drop, but if you haven’t gotten your diet and nutrition in check, forget about building muscle.

Protein is of course massively important when it comes to building muscle, but I’ll get into that in a bit. Carbohydrates, although many athletes tends to limit their carbs, should definitely be a part of your diet – good, quality carbs that it. Carbohydrates give you energy, but – something a lot of people aren’t really aware of – they fill out your muscles, giving them that round, fuller appearance. That’s why pro bodybuilders deplete themselves from carbs leading up to a competition, then suddenly, about a week before they’re due to step on stage, they carb load, which basically means, if done properly, eating nothing but carbohydrates. This is all done to fill out the muscle, replenish those depleted glycogen stores, and give those muscles a more rounded look. Now of course, don’t do this. What these top pros do is seriously bad for their health, and they take insulin too because they’re taking in so many carbs. But the message to take away from this is if you want to get big, you’ve got to eat carbs, along with your protein of course.

14. Metabolic Stress

I mentioned in the intro, the term “getting swole.” That isn’t just a made up saying, or something referring to getting bigger and more muscular. It refers to the cell swelling, otherwise known as “the pump.” The pump is something that every person wanting to build muscle and have a really productive workout should be aspiring to get every time they enter the gym. It’s basically metabolic stress which causes cell swelling to occur around the muscle that’s being trained. Glycogen from your carbohydrate intake helps swell the muscle, which can contribute to muscle cell growth. Anyone who’s never experienced the pump is missing out on the whole point of training with weights to gain muscle.

In fact, most people stop when they feel the pump because it hurts; it’s a really tight feeling due to all the blood rushing into the muscle, and it’ll feel like your skin is going to explode. As perhaps the most famous bodybuilder of all time, Arnold Schwarzenegger, once said – no article on packing on size would be complete without a quotation or two from Arnie – “the pump is like cumming, the feeling’s as satisfying as having sex with a woman.” Now, who wouldn’t want that sensation every time they visit the gym? Get cumming…I mean pumping!

13. Mechanical Tension

This is perhaps the most important factor when it comes to building muscle. Now there are different ways to train, sure. The previous point, for example, where I delved into the pump, involves primarily the use of a moderate amount of weight, and more volume. That’s one way to achieve the pump and to spark your muscles into growth. Another way, and the preferred way for most people, is to put the muscle under a tremendous amount of stress and tension, something that can only be achieved in this manner by lifting heavier weights. It’s about lifting more weight than the muscle is used too, which puts it under a lot of stress and means it has to adapt and make changes in order to deal with that added tension. Do this time and time again, session after session, and the physiology – the chemical make-up – of the muscle will change, meaning you’ll eventually be able to lift more and lift heavier, which will cause the muscle to change again, so on and so forth in this muscle building cycle.

12. Muscle Damage

Ever heard the expression “tear it down and it’ll be built up stronger,” or something along those lines? This definitely holds true when it comes to packing on muscle mass.

You should take the term “killing it” in the gym quite literally; the aim of your session should be to obliterate that muscle you’re working. Tear it down to the point of failure, to the point where it’s sore as hell and literally can’t lift another thing. That’s when you know you’ve had a damn good gym session. It’s also something you need to push through. Most people – especially those who first start lifting weights – when they experience that soreness, they take a long time off before they’re at it in the gym again. But muscle soreness, which essentially means you’re damaging the muscle, is great for growth. After repeatedly heavy sessions, muscle fibres will be torn apart, ripped to shreds and built up again stronger, and be reinforced with new fibres and tissues, giving you strength and that dense look in the muscle.

11. Intensity, Volume, And Duration

No one has the perfect way for you to train. Sure, there are things that work for everybody, training techniques that everyone’s bodies will respond too, but at the same time, it’s important to note that everyone’s body is different, and some respond better to certain training styles rather than others. We each have a different physiological make up, and what’s more, muscles within the body have their own make-up too. You could be someone who loves to train heavy when bicep training and you’ve got some of the biggest arms around, but your chest doesn’t get a god damn thing out of heavy duty training, it requires a more moderate amount of weight, more reps, and more sets. So, the intensity of each person’s training, volume of sets, the duration of the workout, all influence muscle growth, but you’ve got to give different styles a try if you’re a gym rookie and see which type of training your body responds to the best.

10. The Impact Of Hormones

Hormones are essentially what gives a guy the ability to pack on huge amounts of muscle. They are why, when you’re a teenager and in your twenties, you’re more likely to be able to build an awesome muscular physique – with more ease – and keep off the fat, and then as you get older, things gradually begin to go the other way. There are a number of hormones involved in muscle building, but the main one being testosterone. It’s the male hormone, and what it does is to repurpose pluripotent cells (essentially stem cells without a function) to become muscle cells rather than fat cells. It’s why bodybuilders who have packed a lot of lean hard muscle onto their frames also have only a few percent body fat, because this hormone steers cells into the path of becoming muscle, not fat.

People know that testosterone is the key hormone when it comes to building muscle, hence why many add to their body’s natural production of this hormone by taking synthetic forms of it – anabolic steroids.

9. There’s No Such Thing As Overtraining

A lot of people love hearing this because it gives them an excuse to train for an hour or so, then call it quits, and lift weights maybe only on a few days a week. It’s the lazy person’s excuse, but it’s not them that’s to blame – they’re only getting this information from people who deem themselves to be experts.

But there is absolutely no such thing as overtraining. I get what these people are trying to say, but overtraining’s the wrong way to put it. There’s such a thing as under recuperating, but overtraining? No.

You can kill yourself in the gym, for 12 hours a day if that’s what you want to do, and as long as you’re getting in your forty winks, getting in plenty of rest, and you’re eating enough of the right foods to get your body through the workout and for your muscle to strengthen and grow at the end of it, everything should be just fine. If you’re training 12 hours a day, sleeping for a couple of hours, eating a couple of piddly meals, then, of course, the next day you’ll feel like you’re at death’s door. That’s a case of under recuperating, not overtraining.

8. Protein Is Vitally Important

Diet is probably the most important thing when it comes to building muscle. Sure, you can train hard and kill it every day for hours and hours in the gym, but if you don’t have your diet sorted out, what you’re putting into your body, what you’re feeding your muscles with, you aren’t going to get the desired results, unless you have genetics that allow you to do so.

I’ve mentioned the importance of carbohydrates in a bodybuilding diet. Carbs are important to fill out the muscle and give you energy to train, but what builds the muscle in the first place? Protein. When you’re killing it in the gym, employing the methods of metabolic stress, mechanical tension, and muscle damage, you’re essentially destroying the muscle, and it needs to heal, build up again to the point where it’s bigger, reinforced with more fibres, more tissues, and it’s protein that makes this happen.

7. Muscle Building And Strength Building Are Two Different Things

Most people think you’ve got to lift heavy to get big, “go heavy or go home” is a common saying. Sure, lifting heavy is great for muscle growth, but only if the weight’s being lifting in a controlled manner. Swinging that weight in any only fashion to get it up and make the rep isn’t going to do any good. It’s a common problem when weightlifting, because people let their egos get the better of them and just want to lift heavy. If you’re swinging the weight, not lifting in a controlled manner, you’re recruiting a ton of other muscles, and there’s little tension on the muscle you actually want to train. Train smart, not heavy.

What I’ve just mentioned there is powerlifting. Powerlifters train for strength, and do whatever they need to do to get the weight up, which might include swinging, bouncing weight off the chest, etc. Bodybuilding and building muscle isn’t about lifting heavy all the time, it’s not about how heavy you can go. It’s about making the muscle do the work, not using your momentum and other muscles to get the weight up willy-nilly. So, don’t confuse the two; training for muscle and training for strength gains are two different things.

6. Compounds Movements

This is going to sound like I’m contradicting myself, but bear with me a sec. I’ve just mentioned you want to isolate the muscle you’re training as much as possible, not swing the weight, but lifting in a controlled fashion to put tension on the muscle. This holds true for every exercise, but when training certain body parts, you won’t have a choice when it comes to working other muscles. When bicep training for example, it’s pretty easy to target the bicep, the bicep alone. But when training big body parts such as chest and shoulders, it’s impossible to isolate those body parts completely. Other muscles are going to get involved. But again, do these exercises, such as bench press, deadlifts, squats, in a controlled fashion, and they can be serious mass builders. That’s because they utilize multiple joints, recruit different muscles, and stimulate the nervous system, all key factors that act as growth stimuli.

5. Resting And Recuperating

Contrary to popular belief, when you’re pounding away at the iron, you’re doing things that are priming your muscles for growth. Your muscles aren’t actually growing at that stage. Muscles grow outside the gym, hence you can appreciate why training’s only a small part of the muscle building process. The optimal time for growth is immediately after your training session, and during the night when you achieve REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is why resting and recuperating are incredibly important. If you’ve had a hard gym session and have gotten all the necessary nutrients into your system to fuel the muscle and replenish the glycogen, then it’s time to get in a good night’s sleep and let the growing process take place. When you achieve REM sleep, your body naturally produces more growth hormone, and the microscopic tears in the muscle begin to repair and get built up to a stronger state due to the reinforcement of more fibres.

4. The Psychological Side Of Things

You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it, the power of positivity and positive thinking can get you through any situation and where you need to go; those are basically life sayings that can be used in any situation, but if you’re trying to build muscle, it’s incredibly important.

You’ve got to truly believe what you’re doing is good for muscle growth, and have that positive mindset as you go about your business in the gym. A positive state of mind is also incredibly important when you’re actually lifting; it could be the difference between quitting when it starts to hurt, and powering through, getting in those few extra repetitions, doing a few more sets, and completing your training routine. Having a good mental state of mind is also important for establishing that mind-muscle connection, which is integral for making muscles grow. What I mean by that is…well, I’ve got to take it back to Arnold Schwarzenegger again. He once said he could go in the gym, do one set of one exercise of one body part, and that minute or so he spent in the gym would be more productive than most people’s hour or two-hour long workout. Why? Because he had the mind-muscle connection. He would put everything on the muscle and truly believed it would grow. And I firmly believe that, and you need to achieve that too if your goal is packing on muscle and being productive with your workouts.

3. Genetics

Now, don’t use this as an excuse to slack and give up on your goal of gaining muscle mass, but the fact is that genetics play a huge part in bodybuilding. Your genetics are what ultimately determines whether you’re able to pack a huge amount of size onto your frame, how hard it will be for you, what shape your muscle will be – if your bicep’s big and bulky or if it has that nice round peak at the top for example – how much food you need to consume to aid your muscle building goals – genetics play a part in everything.

You can take all the steroids in the world – which of course I’m not condoning or recommending, but a lot do – and have everything else, your diet, training, resting periods in check, but if you don’t have the right genetic make-up for building muscle, there’s only so far you’ll be able to go. That’s not to say you won’t be able to gain muscle, but how much, the shape of the muscle, etc. all of this is largely determined by genetics.

2. It’s A 24-Hour A Day Process

If you’re serious about gaining size, I don’t mean to deter you from your goal, but it’s going to be a hard slog, one hell of a hard and long road ahead. That’s because bodybuilding is unlike any other sport. The aim of the game is to build muscle, and that’s a 24 hour a day process. You need to have everything in place to facilitate muscle growth and to get optimal growth, from the training – the right type of training – to figuring out your diet, eating the right amounts of food and at the right times, and then getting in plenty of sleep on top of that. In all likelihood you won’t have the luxury of dedicating your whole day to building muscle – most of you are probably out and about on a daily basis and work for a living – so doing all of this is understandably going to be a tough process.

1. Turn Your Body Into An Anabolic Machine

The sole purpose of doing everything I’ve mentioned in this article is to turn your body into a muscle building machine, into an anabolic powerhouse where fat’s just dripping off you, and muscles are being stimulated, fed and built up around the clock.

Anabolism essentially means the growth of cells and the build-up of tissues to increase size. It means building muscle, but also burning fat. Getting your body into an anabolic state will enhance your fat burning capabilities too. Training hard, eating correctly, and sleeping will have that effect. But there are a ton of other ways you can turn your body into an anabolic, fat burning and muscle building machine. Eating certain foods can help stimulate anabolic processes, the cardio you incorporate into your training regime, when the cardio’s done, and your hormone levels all have a role in building an anabolic environment. You’ll only be able to pack on size if your body is in an anabolic state, so begin doing what you need to do to make it happen.

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