If you go to the gym chances are that you are not only trying to lose weight but gain muscle. Or perhaps you are one of those people who are “looking to get toned” but are worried about getting too bulky.
If you are a long time reader you will already know my pet peave of having women stop to ask me what I do at the gym to look like I do, my response alwas being “I lift weights”. There next response is 9 out of 10 times, “Oh but I don’t want to get bulky”. Seeing as I am anything but I find this hilarious. My quick response is generall the quick quip “its not easy to get big, and muscles burn more calories while at rest” then I walk away.
While the easy answer is the easy answer I thought I would explore the science behind why muscles grow from hypertrophy, cell activation, and hormones used. Although that would definitely be too long of an explanation
Muscle growth takes place after your workout when your body repairs and replaces damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process which fuses muscle fibers together to form new muscle protein strands or myofibrils. The repaired muscles increase in thickness and number to create muscle hypertrophy (GROWTH). All of this happens however after your workouts and while you rest. To gain or grow muscles you need to activate satellite cells. Activating satellite cells may be the difference between what allows some to grow massive muscles and what makes others “hard gainers”.
Underlying all progression of natural muscle growth is the ability to continually put more stress on the muscles. This stress is a major component involved in the growth of a muscle and disrupts homeostasis within your body. The stress and subsequent disruption in homeostasis causes three main mechanisms that spur on muscle growth.
In order to produce muscle growth, you have to apply a load of stress greater than what your body or muscles had previously adapted too. How do you do this? The main way is to lift progressively heavier weights. The additional tension on the muscle helps to cause changes in the chemistry of the muscle, allowing for growth factors that include satellite cell activation. Muscular tension also most dramatically effects the connection of the motor units with the muscle cells. Two other factors help to explain why some people can be stronger, but not as big as other people.
If you’ve ever felt sore after a workout, you have experienced the localized muscle damage from working out. This local muscle damage causes a release of inflammatory molecules and immune system cells that activate satellite cells to jump into action. This doesn’t mean that you have to feel sore in order for this to happen, but instead that the damage from the workout has to be present in your muscle cells. Typically soreness is attenuated over time by other mechanisms. This is also the reason why those who go to the gym for long lengths of time but never increase their weights often see great results during the first few weeks and then plateau.
Metabolic stress causes cell swelling around the muscle, which helps to contribute to muscle growth without necessarily increasing the size of the muscle cells. This is from the addition of muscle glycogen, which helps to swell the muscle along with connective tissue growth. This type of growth is known as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and is one of the ways that people can get the appearance of larger muscles without increases in strength.
So, what about hormones and Testosterone?
Hormones are another component largely responsible for muscle growth and repair because of their role in regulating satellite cell activity. Insulin Growth Factor (IGF), in particular Mecho-Growth Factor (MGF) and testosterone are the two most vital mechanisms that promote muscle growth.
Testosterone is the main hormone that most people think about when working out with weights, and there seems to be some validity to the thought that testosterone increases protein synthesis, inhibits protein breakdown, activates satellite cells, and stimulates other anabolic hormones. Although most testosterone is bound in the body and therefore not available to use, strength training seems to help not only release more testosterone, but also make the receptors of your muscle cells more sensitive to your free testosterone. Testosterone can also stimulate growth hormone responses by increasing the presence of neurotransmitters at the damaged fiber site, which can help to activate tissue growth. The IGF regulates the amount of muscle mass growth by enhancing protein synthesis, facilitating glucose uptake, repartitioning the uptake of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) into skeletal muscles and once again, activates satellite cells to increase muscle growth. There is the big reason why women especially have a harder time gaining muscle. In order for Figure and Physique competitors in a natural competition to gain size their training and diet is highly specialized in order to allow the largest amount of protein synthesis as well as trainer accordingly to gain muscle. This is not the type of thing a first timer or even experienced lifter is liable to stumble upon while working out. It is a science.
Where is my “Rest” muscle and how do I train it?
I personally dislike rest days, for me it’s harder to stick to my diet when I do not go to the gym, that doesn’t mean they are not important though. If you do not provide your body with adequate rest or nutrition, you can actually reverse the anabolic process and put your body into a catabolic or destructive state. The response of muscle protein metabolism to a resistance exercise bout lasts for 24-48 hours; thus, the interaction between protein metabolism and any meals consumed in this period will determine the impact of the diet on muscle hypertrophy.
So as you can see “EAT, TRAIN, REST, REPEAT!” Really is a valid mantra. If you eat the right foods, train hard and rest enough to allow for repair you will grow your muscles. And yes, the more muscle you have the more calories you burn while doing nothing.