How To Build Quality Muscle

Building muscle is no easy feat. But the majority of information out on the internet makes it seem like you can look like Hercules in 6 weeks. 

I am forever grateful for some of my mentors growing up. They instilled patience, discipline, and told me to always be a student rather than a guru when it comes to exercise and building muscle. 

The best piece of information I ever received was to seek perfection in your habits and in your movement skills. As your habits and skills improve, so will your results.

2 Keys to Increasing Lean Muscle

Mechanical tension is important and will forever be an important factor in building muscle. Putting more weight on the bar and increasing personal records on 5-10 rep maxes is essential to increase muscle size. Quality can refer to a number of things. When you are in the middle of a challenging set you tend to lose some common technical proficiency's. Your tempo increases, your body is less stable, and you use too much body English. Having a 315lb bench press is awesome but if your butt comes off the bench 6 inches then is it really doing you a lot of good? 
A set of 20 pull-ups with a half range of motion is good. A set of 10 strict pull ups with a full range of motion is great. 
A set of bicep curls that resemble a clean and press may make you feel a pump. A set of strict bicep curls with shoulder blades retracted and elbows at your sides will provide a greater stimulus. 

Stress is normally a negative when it is used in real world context. Training stress is simply the work/rest ratio of your training sessions. Metabolic stress is the burn sensation that comes when you do a grueling set that makes you cringe at the end. It is an important parameter in training but totally ignored by most lifters.

The main goal should always to get a little stronger over time. But another component is to perform a max amount of work in a short period of time. Gains are made when strength meets metabolic stress in a controlled and safe fashion. It is ignored by most lifters and not put in programs because it is uncomfortable and pushes you to your limit. But this is a challenge that you should welcome and also try to progress in. It will be to your benefit to include sets of 10-50 reps sometimes in your training program. Aside from the muscle building benefit, they help you create a form of grit and determination that will enrich all areas of your life. 

For anyone interested in getting bigger, or stronger the concept of progressive overload must be embraced. The simple act of adding weight to the bar each workout is a valid approach whenever you can pull it off. As a beginner, it works well but those days will fade and quite frankly you want them to happen sparingly for safety reasons. 

You should be open to all the possibilities to gain muscle.

Lose Fat Not Muscle

Losing weight can be very motivating. Every pound loss is closer to your goal right? But while you’re celebrating little victories on the scale, you might be losing more than just unwanted weight.

In order for you to have effective weight loss you have to consume a lower energy amount than total energy expenditure for a prolonged period of time. So the old adage of calories in versus calories out holds truth. As a result of this energy imbalance, your body can use multiple options for fuel. And you don't want one of those options to be muscle.

During normal weight loss, it’s generally expected that you lose fat and lean body mass in a ratio of about 3 to 1, meaning 25 percent of the loss is not from body fat, but from tissues like muscle. If you decide to be more aggressive with your weight-loss program, the amount of lean body mass loss can increase even more drastically.

You do not want this to happen.

Muscle is something you want to keep around. Muscle plays an important role in the regulation of resting energy expenditure. Which means the more muscle you have the higher your metabolism is when you aren't moving. This explains why you would be hungrier when you are following a resistance training program. The amount of calories you burn every day just resting is strongly correlated with the amount of lean body mass you have. Resting energy expenditure represents 60 to 70 percent of the calories you burn in a day so clearly the amount of muscle you have is important.

Muscle is also the body’s primary site of glucose uptake. Muscle stores carbohydrates for energy. This is important because it could help offset diseases like diabetes.

Muscle tissue acts as a fuel source and stores some fat and carbohydrates, but it’s mostly made up of proteins. Proteins are responsible for nearly every cellular task in the body. They function to form enzymes, hormones, and tissues. Protein is essential to life and, if needed, muscle can be broken down to be used in other processes.

How do you protect muscle during weight loss?

Exercise will help you keep muscle during weight loss, but what you eat and when you eat can make a large impact as well. One key component is making sure your protein consumption is adequate for your body. A general requirement for protein is in the range of 0.8 to 09 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. This comes out to be 70 to 90 grams of protein per day for a person that weighs 200 pounds. Those requirements are minimal intakes to sustain normal function for the body. Those who are looking to optimize their lean body mass during weight loss will be at a loss if those minimal requirements aren't increased. Those upper limits could be in the range of 1.2 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This comes out to be about 109 to 200 grams of protein day for a person that weighs 200 pounds.

Research has shown that higher protein intakes of 25 to 35 percent of total daily calories from protein can offset the muscle loss and also promote greater reductions of fat and total body mass compared with normal protein intakes of 12 to 15 percent of total daily calories from protein.

We have established that an adequate protein consumption helps lean mass retention during weight loss. But sufficient protein consumption also gives the body a greater thermogenic effect upon consumption compared with carbohydrate and fat. Your body doesn't just burn calories during exercise, it does it during digestion too. The thermic effect of food is the caloric cost of digesting and processing different macronutrients in your diet. Protein also offers a greater satiety response. When you consume a suitable amount of protein from your diet you feel fuller longer. This helps you not to feel terribly hunger during the day and gives the potential for greater weight loss and to be more specific, fat loss.

For better quality weight loss you want to preserve your muscle. weight. Losing too fast and not getting enough protein daily can lead to substantial muscle loss. But through consuming enough protein, and eating multiple high quality protein meals per day you’ll more effectively lose fat, not muscle.

Have You Reach Your Muscle Building Potential?

Have you ever seen someone advertise a 12 week muscle building program? I have no issue with these programs as long as trainers are honest about them. I love that it can help a person get started toward building lean muscle. But I dislike it when they make it seem like you are going to reach muscle building destination at the end of the 12 weeks.

You are never done!

If a trainer has told you that you can no longer gain muscle or that you can't make any more positive changes to your physique then they are misleading you. You can not max out your genetic potential.

Don’t get me wrong. There are upper limits to how much muscle you can build. There also limits to muscular strength and aerobic endurance. But I am sure you probably will never reach them. This phenomenon is known as the "genetic ceiling." How do you know if you’ve reached your genetic ceiling?

You don't. In fact, you can’t and never will.

How do you know when it is time to change things up?

You can gather enough data to tell if your training regimen is producing positive changes in your physique. This means that you need to keep notes on your workouts if you don't have a trainer doing it for you. Take measurements, write down your sets and reps so you can see if you are getting stronger over time. If you're not growing from your present routine then you could change a few variables and possibly see results. The number of possible ways to vary program design is virtually unlimited. Unless you try each and every alternative, there’s no way to know if another approach might be the ticket to further gains.

You have to put a lid on some of the false information you come across because most of it has an angle. They are trying to sell a supplement, a product, or some high dollar personal training fees.

Understand that the reason your muscles adapt to an exercise stimulus is a function of survival. Let me repeat that. Your muscles adapt because it is trying to maintain balance. Your body doesn’t realize the reason you hit the gym is to look jacked in a tank-top. That is a ridiculous thing to think. It senses a high degree of physical stress that it believes is a threat to survival. The response that your body takes is to coordinate a series of intracellular events to strengthen the muscles and supporting tissues so that they are better prepared the next time you lift. It could care less what you look like in a V-Neck T-shirt or bathing suit.

You stop making gains or I guess some people call it a plateau because the more you continue to provide similar stimuli, the less of a need for future adaptation. Further growth can only occur by subjecting your muscles to a different stimulus. This is why I love training. Because it forces you to find the comfort in the uncomfortable. 

A “ceiling” may exist in theory. But you never actually realize your full genetic potential. There is always the ability to further increase muscle mass. Muscular gains can be made even at the most advanced levels. It will just be at a slower pace than when you first started training.

Now the closer you get to your individual ceiling, the more essential it is to take a scientific approach to training and nutrition. From a training standpoint, this entails precise manipulation of resistance exercise variables. You may have to change how you load the muscle, and the types of loads you use in given rep ranges. I've covered this in depth in a previous blog post. 

Truth is, you’re only limited by your determination and base of knowledge.

If someone tells you that you’re done adding muscle, pay them no attention. It’s a self-limiting attitude that will keep you from achieving your full genetic potential.

Lift Light Weights For Big Muscles

I absolutely love the art of of bodybuilding. The science of gaining muscle has always fascinated me. I don't care too much about being on the beach, social media, or on stage showing off my physique. But I love the experimental process of creating a healthier body and mind. However, gaining muscle is still one of those topics that is terribly misunderstood. 

For those who want to maximize their muscle gaining potential, stay away from lectures by gym bros. They will typically give you what they think worked for them or what they saw in some magazine.

You might hear, "You have to lift to failure." "If it's not heavy then you aren't working hard enough."

But if your goal is to gain muscle and you have been searching for the truth, I'm here to give it to you. Science says it makes sense to train across the continuum of repetition ranges. While there may be validity to focusing on the so-called "hypertrophy range" (6-12 reps), both high (15-20+) and low (1-5) repetition ranges should also be incorporated into your training program.

Not only does such an approach ensure full stimulation of the spectrum of muscle fibers, but it also serves as preparatory work for optimizing performance in the hypertrophy range. Low rep work enhances neuromuscular adaptations necessary for the development of maximal strength. When max strength increases due to low rep work then you can guarantee you will be stronger at moderate loads. This will give you greater mechanical tension which is key to gaining muscle. Let’s say your low rep work increased your bench press from 150 lbs to 225 lbs. Now you can go down and train in the moderate rep range (6-12) with loads that was close to your old max. That is an example of how you can increase mechanical tension.

Now let's look at the other side of that equation. Performance of higher-rep sets help over time raise lactate threshold. This means you will have the ability to delay the onset of fatigue. This will increase time under tension during moderate rep training. Time-under-tension refers to how long the muscle is under strain during a set of an exercise. If you normally train biceps with curls at 50 lbs and the set lasts around 10 seconds. What will happen if you trained biceps with 25 lbs and the set lasts for 30-45 seconds? Over time you will get stronger and can increase the time under tension at that 50 lb set.

There are infinite ways in which varied intensities can be integrated into program design. Perhaps the best way to ensure continued progress is by periodizing training rep ranges over time. This simply means that you should have times in your training where all rep ranges are covered. How you go about covering that spectrum comes down to personal preference and making your program fit you instead of vice versa.

Another option is to base loading strategies on the type of exercise performed. I've experimented with this a lot in the past. I would focus on low to moderate-reps (~1-10) for multi-joint movements such as squats, rows, and presses. And prioritizing higher rep training (15+) for single-joint, isolation type exercises like curls, shoulder raises, and leg curls.

There are no set in stone rules here. The response to training varies by the individual and that is why you shouldn't follow what Jimmy in the gym said is the best program. You need to experiment with different approaches and find out what works best for you.