Muscle Building

The science behind weight lifting and building muscle

In the article about strength training I mentioned some things about the science of muscle building and how it works, well here’s the article about the “Why” behind my training methods.

Muscle building and strength training go hand in hand. If you bring up your strength on key lifts and eat at caloric surplus you will build muscle. However, if you don’t you will get stronger without adding muscle and weight, thus increasing your relative strength. This is the complete opposite of what strongmen do, they just want to get as strong as possible and they don’t care if they gain weight.

To look good you want to get your relative strength up as high as possible. This means dropping body fat and building enough muscle to maximize relative strength, not absolute strength like strongmen.

Muscle anatomy

Skeletal muscle has a fairly easy to understand anatomy. It all comes down to fibers called myofilaments, these are long protein strings sliding past each other. The myosin myofilament pulls on the actin and they produce muscle flexion and extension, this way we can move the way we do.

muscle anatomy.jpg
Muscle Anatomy

Next are the bundles of myofilaments, called myofibrils. These myofilament clusters are surrounded by sarcoplasmic reticulum and transverse tubule. These both have an essential function regarding muscle contraction and relaxation. When these myofibrils are bundled again and wrapped in plasma membrane, they form muscle fibers (or muscle cells). Many muscle fibers are then bundled into fascicles and multiple fascicles make up a skeletal muscle.

The myofilaments will slide past each other and contract the muscle when an impulse is send from the central nervous system. The stronger the impulse the faster and more powerful the contraction of the muscle fibers will be.

Biological science behind muscle hypertrophy

When you are training your muscles with resistance training the body will respond. Every time you lift weights your muscles will be damaged, because of the stress on the muscle fibers, micro tears will appear and your body will repair these and strengthen the muscle to better handle the resistance next time. This might result in bigger muscles . But here are two different ways for your body to increase skeletal muscle size.

Whether or not your muscle size will increase depends on the presence of resources and energy stores. By training for strength but eating at a calorie deficit you will increase strength without gaining weight, thus you will build more relative strength. If you do eat in a caloric surplus you will build muscle in one of two possible ways.

The first is when your muscles are under tension for a medium period of time, this means 30 to 60 seconds. The time under tension (TUT) here is the time your muscles are working. Your body will respond by repairing cells of course, but furthermore it will mostly increase the fluids around the muscle cells. Simply said, these fluids contain the fuel for your muscles. This happens when training in the rep range 8-15. Don’t take this as a solid number or a fact, but as a guideline. It’s different for everyone and not a definite threshold. Between the two different hypertrophies there is more of a border area, the types of growth will happen simultaneously but in various percentages of total growth.

Now when you are training for strength your central nervous system will be damaged because of the high neural activity during heavy sets. The nervous system will be repaired and improved to handle stronger neural impulses which results in greater strength. But a muscle can only produce so much power, so to keep the muscles safe and make sure they won’t damage too bad your body will also strengthen skeletal muscle. This means it will build more muscle fibers to lower the stress on each individual fiber. Some sarcoplasmic hypertrophy will take place as well but in a much smaller percentage than would happen if you train in the higher rep range. This new type of growth, increase in muscle fibers, is called myofibrillar hypertrophy and that is exactly what we want.

The amount of fluids in your muscles will vary greatly. Are you drinking enough and are you using the muscle enough? Or could the muscle work with less fluid around the muscle fibers? These small differences will show greatly in muscle size. And when this happens your muscle will look flat and you’ll look considerably smaller if you don’t work out for a while.  If you build more muscle fibers however, even after a few weeks of training you will still have most of your size and strength. Not only will this type of growth build better muscle for the long run, it will also help you develop a strong, dense and proportionate muscular body.

Hope you enjoyed this article, ’till next time!

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