So you want to know how to gain weight and force your body into muscle growth?
You’re in the right place! This quick guide will show you how to create muscle growth, give you a quick primer on the adaptation process and I’ll leave you with the 7 rules of muscle growth.
Let’s get started!
What Causes Muscle Growth?
Muscle growth is a complex process, but the basics of it are really simple. In order to spur new muscle growth, you need to create an environment where your body needs muscle growth!
Imagine the skinnier, weaker people you know. Do you imagine that they work all day in a manual job? Can you imagine them lasting a day as a lumberjack?
Of course not.
Muscle growth is an adaptation. You grow muscle when you need to, if you don’t need to then you wont. This is the reason that strength and muscle mass are so closely related. If you put yourself in a position where you have to get stronger, your body has no choice but to add muscle. It can get stronger through some neurological adaptations but this will only take you so far. More muscle equals more strength and so the body responds by increasing the size of your muscles.
How Muscle Growth (Hypertrophy) Happens
When you put your muscles under a stress that they are not accustomed to, it damages your muscle fibres. This is, in the right amounts, a good thing.
Your muscles recover from this microtrauma in a similar way to how your bones repair after a break; they grow stronger. Your body recovers from this stress and strengthens the area resulting in muscle growth.
There’s lots of theory around how muscle growth happens on a cellular level, a lot of it is unclear though. Well established theories can be, and have been, partially or fully discredited. All we know for sure, and all you need to know, is that getting stronger over time increases muscle mass.
It is important to note that the muscle growth doesn’t happen in the gym, it happens when you rest. Your workouts are effectively the stimulus for muscle growth, but you still need to provide your body with the rest and nutrients it needs to for muscle growth to actually occur.
Muscle growth, or muscle protein synthesis, causes your muscles to grow but you must also be aware of muscle breakdown. Exercise is actually catabolic, but it primes your body for growth. You must make sure that you provide enough protein to not only achieve protein balance, but stimulate a net gain in muscle tissue.
Protein Synthesis > Protein Breakdown = Muscle Growth
Protein Synthesis = Protein Breakdown = No Change
Protein Synthesis < Protein Breakdown = Muscle Loss
Adaptation Theory (With Tigers)
One of the best known models of adaptation is Hans Seyle’s model of General Adaptation Syndrome, and it’s very simple as most good models are.
It is made up of three phases: Alarm, Resistance and Exhaustion
The alarm phase is what happens when we encounter a stress.
Imagine a tiger suddenly walked into the room right now, your body would react with an increase in cortisol and adrenaline, which mobilises your energy stores and primes your nervous system for fight or flight.
This doesn’t only kick in over life and death scenarios either.. imagine you’re waiting in your boss’s office when you turn around and accidentally knock a priceless ornament onto the floor, shattering it into several pieces.
Would your mouth get dry? Heart rate and blood pressure increase? Breathing become more shallow?
This is a stressor. It provokes a catabolic stress response.
The resistance phase is the body trying to cope with the stressor, imagine the tiger looks at you but doesn’t attack, instead it walks out of your house to find someone else to scare the living daylights out of.
Your breathing would start to normalise, your blood pressure and heart rate would go down and while you’d definitely still be on edge, your body’s systems begin to normalise. After a time, you’d wind down enough to be able to go to bed (after double-checking you’d locked all the doors) and in the morning you’d be more or less back to normal.
This is the right place to get off the ride. You recover and gain experience.
But what if the tiger liked your house and decided it was his now? You’d try and leave the room but every time you made a move it was met with a growl and an angry look. What would happen then?
Unable to calm yourself, you’d turn into a bit of a wreck after a week or so. You’d definitely calm down somewhat and try to rationalise the situation, but you’d find your health deteriorating the same as many people do when exposed to long-term stress.
When training for strength and muscle growth, you’ll go through lots of little adaptation cycles. The goal is that after recovering from each session, you will have an increase in performance for the next. In sports science, this is known as supercompensation.
When you do a tough training session, you’ll be weaker for 1-3 days afterwards, or perhaps longer if you’re just starting out. After you’ve recovered you’ll then be able to perform at a higher level than you could before that session.
Below if what supercompensation looks like. To continue progressing you must train again after you have recovered and gotten stronger but before you start to decline back to your base level. If the stress from the training session was too great or recovery wasn’t possible then the fitness level would remain below baseline for much longer.
The point of this is that you must recover to get stronger. It’s better to recover and get stronger from a series of easier sessions than to do a series of hardcore sessions that burn you out and make you ill because you can’t recover from them.
The Rules Of Muscle Growth
The rules of muscle growth are simple.
Muscle Growth Rule #1: Train Every Muscle Group
The muscles that you train are the muscles that grow. If you don’t train legs then you won’t see muscle growth in your legs. If you won’t train your upper body, you’re still not going to see much muscle growth there, even if you train legs quite a lot. For this reason it is important that you train each muscle group at least once each week for balanced muscle growth.
Muscle Growth Rule #2: Get Stronger
I see tons of people not achieving their strength goals because they’re thinking too much about their training. Yes there are loads of ways to enhance your training, lots of methods to get a bigger pump and there are more training routines around than you could read in a decade.
It doesn’t matter what you do if you’re not getting stronger.
Stronger is easy to measure. you’re either doing more weight for a certain number of reps or you’re getting more reps with a certain weight, or both. The simpler you keep it the faster you’ll progress. Pick a rep range and get stronger in that rep range, when you hit the top of the range, up the weight. Rinse and repeat. Change up the range every 2-3 months.
Muscle Growth Rule #3: Compounds First
In training there are big movements and there are little movements. Big movements, or compound exercises, are tougher but they hit two or more muscle groups at once and they promote strength and muscle growth very well.
Some people don’t like them because they’re hard. Some love them because they’re efficient.
Little movements, or isolation exercises, still have a ton of potential but I see these as movements that build on the effects of compound movements. They’re very good for building muscle with minimal stress on the joints.
You can build a good routine with only compound movements, but it is tough to build a good routine with just isolation exercises. It does really depend on your goal though. If you want maximal strength as well as muscle growth, I’d strongly recommend basing your routine on compound exercises and using isolation work to build on that strong foundation.
Muscle Growth Rule #4: Eat Enough Calories
Now it is true that you can gain muscle when losing weight, I do it, my clients do it, people in peer-reviewed studies do it. It definitely can be done.
That said, it isn’t optimal in most cases.
Eating more calories than you need puts you in a better position to gain strength, your natural testosterone levels rise, and your nervous system is in a good state for you to lift more weight. You’ll also have more fuel to put into the process of repairing and building muscle.
If you want to lose weight and you still have a fair bit to lose, keep doing what you’re doing. Accept smaller increases in strength and muscle growth until you hit your target weight before you increase your calories to fuel greater muscle growth. Focus on one thing at a time and you’ll get to your destination faster.
Muscle Growth Rule #4: Eat Enough Protein
The correct amount of protein to eat for optimal muscle growth is pretty hotly debated. I find myself somewhere between the meatheads and the government guidelines, but I’m much closer to the meathead recommendations.
To maximise muscle growth, aim for 1.5 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of lean bodyweight. If you’re fairly lean then just use your bodyweight, if you’re currently quite overweight or obese then this would likely have you eating more protein than you need.
The best day-to-day sources of protein include milk-based protein supplements, white meat, fish, eggs, and other dairy products such as cottage cheese, quark and skimmed milk.
Red meat can be used as well and has a ton of benefits but it should be enjoyed in moderation, current research links red meat consumption with incidence of some cancers. I wouldn’t be too surprised if this turned around in the next five years, but better safe than sorry.
It’s not too hard for a vegetarian to get sufficient amounts of protein for significant muscle growth but vegans may find it difficult. Vegans can get their protein through nuts, beans, tofu, seitan and quorn, they’re not as bioavailable as animal proteins but they’ll do the job.
Muscle Growth Rule #5: Be Consistent
Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’re doing well if you notice a decent difference in your first month. Muscle growth takes time. Although I’ll commonly see some pretty big changes in just weeks with clients, they’re merely a glimpse of a person’s potential.
Play the long game and you’ll go much, much further. Great drug-free physiques are built over years, sometimes decades. Aim to enjoy your training and fit it into your life in such a way that it is easy to keep up when life gets busy. As long as you’re consistent and you keep moving forward, you’ll get to your goals.
Muscle Growth Rule #6: Look After Your Body
To win at the long game you need to be able to finish the race. This means learning proper form, warming up well. knowing when to take a week off and using the appropriate equipment.
Every health and fitness change you make to your body is reversible but you only have one body. Treat it well, fuel it with the right foods, get as much sleep as you need or as much as you can, and remember that longevity is more important than speed.
Muscle Growth Rule #7: Supplement Effectively
Some supplements are rubbish, some are alright, and some you should just take because they’re awesome.
Whey/Milk Proteins are great if you need help hitting your protein requirements, they’re highly bioavailable and provide all the amino acids your body needs for muscle growth and health. Here’s the protein supplement I use. Yeah I’m biased, it’s our product.
Creatine is the top muscle growth supplement out there. Why? Because science says so. It’s possibly the most researched supplement available, it’s proven to be effective for assisting muscle growth, and some research suggests it may have benefits for your brain too. Yep we sell creatine too.
Others I’d suggest are vitamin D and/or cod liver oil.
What About Time Under Tension?
Did you get stronger yet bro?
Until next time,