How to build muscle mass


Muscle mass. How important is it to ‘build muscle‘? And above all how to do it?

The importance of growing on a muscle level can derive from multiple factors such as:

– improve your physical appearance
– make a qualitative leap in your sport
– recover the muscle mass inevitably lost through weight loss and definition
– create a body ‘protection’ which, in addition to allowing us to express more power, protects the body and stabilizes the risky joints
– purely aesthetic factors

Unfortunately, there is often a lot of confusion in gyms on how to ‘build mass’. First of all, the concept of ‘gaining muscle mass’ only for some differs with other much more technical terms, namely hypertrophy (increase in cell volume) and hyperplasia (increase in a number of cells). What is important to understand is how to work to have a real lasting effect on muscle growth.

The main factors that determine a real effect at the level of hypertrophy (muscle mass) are:

– the load
– the number of repetitions
– the recovery between sets
– the overall duration of the workout

In addition to many other factors such as nutrition, although in this article we will focus on weight training.

We are therefore not talking about the pumping effect as it is easily obtained with long repetitions and low recovery. Your muscles become bloody and full and swollen, but after a few hours you deflate like a balloon and you will have wasted hours in the gym.
Even doing a workout with too short series and high recoveries is not good for muscle mass, because you will only improve muscle strength without having real improvement effects on what we commonly call mass.

The execution of a low number of repetitions, in fact, less than 6, is powered by the energy system of phosphocreatine. Simply, this means that the use of a low number of repetitions exploits ATP and mainly the creatine deposited in the muscle. When using the range of 8-10 repetitions instead, the energy system of creatine phosphate does not last long enough and forces the body to turn to the next level energy source. This system is known as glycolytic because it relies on blood glucose circulating in the body and on glycogen deposited in the muscle. Also, this energetic mechanism is anaerobic, as the presence of oxygen is not necessary to feed this process, but it produces lactic acid, a condition that favors the release of the growth hormone, GH.
And it is not possible to increase this release by increasing the repetitions extremely, because in this case the load would be penalized which, having to be less to reach the end of the series, will inevitably attract fewer fibers involved in the exercise.

GH is therefore a fundamental hormone in our body for muscle growth and strictly depends on the correct range of sets / repetitions / recovery which can be simplified as follows:

3-6 sets x 8/12 reps x 90/120 seconds max recovery per single exercise

Maximum 3-4 exercises per muscle group

In general, anything under 8 repetitions requires more recovery, higher loads and will improve your strength (if the load is high and execution slow).
Anything above 12 repetitions will require less recovery and lower loads, improving your endurance and reconditioning.
Two other important factors mentioned: the load and the duration.
The load is important because it serves to attract the largest number of muscle fibers involved. It must be very sustained for growth but manageable, therefore equal to about 70/80% of its ceiling per exercise in order to increase muscle mass.
The overall duration of the training is instead linked to a hormonal discourse. Workouts must never be excessively long, as training 2/3 hours in the weight room is not for the purpose of muscle growth. In fact, after intense duration exercises, testosterone, and especially LH (the luteinizing hormone that stimulates the testicle to produce testosterone), decreases significantly and remains inhibited for many hours. In muscle, the anabolic action of testosterone and insulin contrasts that of cortisol.
Simply: if the cortisol levels increase too much, then when the training lasts too long, the risk of catabolism, i.e. the destruction of proteins (especially in the skeletal muscles) is high and counterproductive for muscle mass.

The speed of execution of the exercises is one last important factor.
Regardless of the fact that a load from hypertrophy does not allow you to go very fast, slow execution, especially in the eccentric phase (i.e. in the stretching phase), can increase damage to the connective muscle level (the non-elastic part of the muscle) with an excellent effect on growth as our body will have to rebuild them by increasing them at the fiber level. The only risk is that of feeling a little tired and losing elasticity, therefore at the subjective level, the right balance must be found in the speed of execution.

The best effects on muscle growth are when you do exercises with the highest and therefore widest possible range of motion (ROM ). Therefore the muscle develops best when doing exercises in which it is stretched and shortened to the maximum and is the reason why it is often better, for example, a bench press with dumbbells rather than with a barbell. In addition to creating an imbalance to be supported with the muscular system, a dumbbell allows you to go down more than the sternum line, making the stabilizing muscles work much more. This does not mean that a barbell or an isotonic machine does not make you grow, but the quality of the exercise changes especially in the most expert athletes.