Build bigger muscles

Professional Personal Trainer and Director of Body Excel Gym, Dave Giloi, discusses how to effectively and efficiently build bigger muscles.

Building bigger muscle has been keeping gyms bustling for decades. The principles behind this are not complicated but frequently misunderstood and shrouded in myth.

Achieving a defined and toned appearance is also part and parcel of increasing muscle size.

Definition in both men and women is merely a function of low levels of body fat with increased size of a muscle (making it more visible). Obviously, with women, the extent to which muscle is to be increased is less than with men. But to improve definition a moderate amount of muscle gain is necessary.

Bulky appearance is usually a combination of increased muscle size with the fat stores still on the high side. Decreasing fat stores will be the most effective way for men and women to improve the definition as opposed to laying off the weight training as is usually the response.

There are two main training principles when it comes to increasing muscle size.

1.  High Load (heavy weight) – Causes myofibrils, which make up the fibres, to split longitudinally and subsequently increase in number while resting. This cannot happen if the load is too low or there is inadequate rest.

2.  High Fatigue – Cause excess fluid to be pushed into the muscle, both during exercise and chronically as a result of consistent exposure to these fatigue levels.

This determines much of how to structure an effective workout. We now know the weight has to be heavy, but how heavy is appropriate? Sixty to 80% of one rep max is usually most appropriate.

Heavier than that makes achieving high fatigue levels difficult. Lighter than that will not elicit the correct load associated response, which causes the muscle “tears”. If you aren’t able to calculate this figure for a given exercise, then simply work with a weight that should allow 8-12 repetitions and push for as many reps as you can. If the rep number falls outside of that range, then you need to adjust the weight up or down.

Rest intervals important

Rest intervals in between sets need to be long enough to allow for the load to remain high. If rest is too short then load decreases. If rest is too long, however, then the fatigue levels aren’t high enough. One minute 30 seconds to 2mins is the optimum time for most people.

Some body builders advocate short rest intervals of 30sec to keep fatigue high, which is certainly the case; the only problem is that the load is sacrificed. With 2 min, glycogen and phospho-creatine levels begin to return to adequate levels to allow for a strong set.  If you have achieved appropriate levels of fatigue, you will need all the time you can get and should feel that 1min30 is slightly too short.

Many gym enthusiasts also make the mistake of increasing repetition number to increase definition. This can have the opposite effect as it will not maximise muscle growth because of the decreased load (and the cardio benefit to adding 3 or 4 extra reps to a set is negligible). Therefore keep reps and fatigue in the correct range, just add cardio and eat better.

Never neglect technique

Another important factor to consider is technique. This must always be foremost in your mind.

Quality movement, concentrating on the muscle you wish to work. If form is sacrificed, usually to push heavier weights, risk of injury is increased as well as quality of muscular work being reduced.

Pushing the weight is half the battle, the other half being lowering the weight. In fact, research shows that lowering the weight is more important than pushing the weight when it comes to muscle gains.

Eccentric movement under load causes the muscle tearing spoken about above. Always lower the weight slowly with control to maximize this effect. This will also increase the levels of fatigue.

Variety is another key to inspiring continuing muscle growth. Surprising the muscles keeps them guessing and growing. It also and reduces training monotony, which is a component of over-training.

Also, if you are mentally stimulated and enjoying your training as opposed to being bored, you will generally push harder and work more consistently.

You do need to have threads of similarity from session to session for the sake of effective progression but also need variety to keep growing. Planning your programming through effective periodisation is the best way to go. Laying down a foundation of general and maximum strength is a great way to maximize muscle gains when you move onto the bulk building phase.

Rest is where the magic happens. 

Try not to over-train

While muscle fibres must recover effectively to grow, this is the component that most get wrong.

When something is good, more must be better is the usual mantra. Most people tend to over train, feeling that by resting they are being lazy and could be doing something to be getting stronger, bigger or fitter. In reality, after a tough training session, the best thing to do for a muscle is rest. Let it grow, leave it alone to do so and you will reap the benefits.

Forty-eight to 72 hours is usually adequate. Longer than 4 – 5 days may be too long, which indicates that training muscles twice per week is optimum.
After 4 – 5 days, the detraining effect begins and you want to catch the muscle for its’ next training session, when it is at its’ strongest. If you wait a week, the muscle has begun to become weaker already.

These are some very simple, but highly effective training principles, which should help you in the quest for larger muscles. Something important to remember is that at some point you will reach your maximum potential.

Doing more, eating more, training more, resting more, pushing harder or searching for the next big training secret will not change this predetermined maximum. Be realistic and expect good, but normal results.

The dangers of expecting more than your healthy potential can lead you down an unhealthy and commonly walked path. You may be genetically gifted, or you may not. Focus on your own goals, do not focus on what others can or can’t achieve.

Enjoy your training and always put your health first.

Source: Dave Giloi, director of Body Excel Gym

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(Health24, July 2010)

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