By John Kain
Building muscle is a key fundamental in changing a person’s body shape and composition, whether it’s for a particular sport, for men and women who want to bulk up / tone up or to simply feel and look better.
Body Type and Genetic Limitations
Before embarking on any muscle building programme it is well worth knowing what the likely outcome of all this sweat and hard work is going to be. This will largely be determined by your natural body type, these are broadly divided into 3 categories, Ectomorph, Mesomorph and Endomorph. Most people will not fit neatly into one or other category but will have crossover traits from other body types, we just need to understand whereabouts we fit on the scale.
Ectomorphs tend to have smaller frames, longer and thinner limbs (and correspondingly longer and thinner muscles), smaller joints and find it hard to gain weight, especially muscle.
Mesomorphs have thicker, sturdier frames, slightly shorter and more powerful limbs, bigger and stronger joints and will find increasing muscle mass a lot easier than ectomorphs.
Endomorphs are the classic rounder shape people with short, thick limbs, softer looking bodies, sturdy or stocky build and tend to be very powerful in moves like squats. They normally find it easy to put on muscle but difficult to avoid gaining fat weight.
Any training programme to build muscle should be specific to that individual’s body type because the training effect could be significantly different. For example, when beginning a programme, an ectomorph should be concentrating on low rep / high weight compound movements that involve as many muscle fibres as possible such as deadlifts, squats, bent over rows, bench press and barbell cleans. This will help to stimulate the bigger, fast twitch muscle fibres and help to provide a solid foundation for the other smaller movements as well as helping to strengthen tendons and ligaments.
An endomorph with their ability to easily gain weight should be looking to refine and sculpt the muscles by moving towards the other end of the rep range with lower weight and using more isolation type exercises like bicep curls, lateral raises and leg extension.
In addition everybody has a ‘genetic ceiling’ that has been pre-determined since conception. It just so happens that Usain Bolt’s, Mo Farah’s or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s genetic ceilings are somewhat higher than most of us, but that’s not to say we can’t push ourselves to achieve our potential and it’s certainly not an excuse to give up before we start!
We just have to be realistic and set goals that may be challenging but are achievable, don’t set targets that you are clearly not going to be able to achieve, that will lead to disappointment and frustration and no doubt a beautifully designed programme ending up in the bin or that funky phone app that tracks your workouts getting deleted.
Muscle and Tendon Physiology
Muscles need to be worked. Without applying a resistance to a muscle it will soon atrophy (waste away) and this can start happening in as little as 3 days if a body is completely inert or in a weightless environment. The body will always try to find the easiest way of doing things and use as little of it’s precious energy reserves as possible, it doesn’t want to be carrying around loads of extra bulky muscle and will attempt to use up this rich source of energy alongside stored fats and glucose. To convince the body that we still need this extra muscle we must constantly subject it to overload, after all, your body doesn’t know that we are doing this for recreation rather than survival. Constantly stressing and overloading a muscle will result in micro tears to the fibres that will grow back stronger and thicker in order to be able to cope with the added resistance. Tendons and ligaments on the other hand take a little bit more persuasion to adapt, they have a poorer blood supply and that means less nutrients and oxygen rich blood getting in to repair, so they must be worked carefully and gradually but over time they too will respond to added resistance by getting stronger.
Training Methods and techniques
Over the years, many methods of lifting a weight have been devised to work a muscle in a particular way for a particular outcome but the main principle behind any of these is the effect that this shock has on the muscle.
A lot of people will get stuck in the same routine, 3 sets of 10 on this, 3 sets of 10 on that, 3 sets of 10 on the other and wonder why any gains they have made seem to have come to an end or they feel they have hit a plateau. Your muscles are very good at adapting to a given programme or a given task and pretty soon they will be doing exactly as you ask but no more. To stimulate them into new growth we have to give them a shock, something they are not used to, a different order of exercises, a different load, a different rate of contraction or less recovery time etc.
This is where the various training methods come in.There are too many to mention here but they all rely on altering one of five variables known as the five R’s, range of motion, reps, resistance, rest and rate (speed) of the contraction. If you want to know more, speak to one of our trainers to book a session and they can go through a range of different techniques with you. Whichever methods you choose there are several key things to remember.
A lift is comprised of two parts, the concentric or shortening phase of the movement and the eccentric or lengthening of a movement, remember to use both parts. It’s common to see people doing an exercise like shoulder lateral raises with dumbbells and getting to the top then letting the weights drop down to their side or ducking underneath the weights when they get to the top. By slowly raising and lowering the weights it keeps the muscle under constant tension and it will be getting much more stimulation, plus the muscle is stronger during that eccentric phase so there’s no excuses for dropping the weights.
Always lift with proper form and technique, there is no use in cheating and using other muscles as the training effect on the muscle you are targeting is lessened. Leave your ego at the door, if the resistance is such that you can’t complete a movement with good form or without using lots of other muscles the weight is too heavy simple as that. Drop it down and do it properly (and when I say drop it down I don’t mean drop the weight crashing to the floor like some people who have forgotten this rule).
Pre and Post Exercise Nutrition
Throughout most of the day we should be looking to consume slow release carbohydrates as well as regular intakes of protein and good fats but fast-digesting carbohydrates are also useful at certain times of the day depending on when we plan to workout. These fast release carbohydrates are known as high glycaemic index foods and should be consumed first thing in the morning and immediately post exercise.
Getting in fast carbohydrates first thing in the morning when you wake will send a signal to your body to stop burning up muscle protein for fuel because while you are asleep or when you go for extended periods of time without eating your body feeds on your muscle for energy. By getting in fast carbohydrates like strawberries, watermelon or more filling breakfasts like white bagels it will stop it quickly and the body will turn to these carbohydrates for fuel.
Your post-workout meal is arguably your most important meal of the day. After a heavy and intense weight training session, your body is depleted of many vital nutrients including protein, glycogen (the stored form of carbohydrates used for energy), amino acids, and important vitamins and minerals. It’s absolutely essential that you replace these nutrients as soon as possible to prevent catabolism (muscle breakdown) and promote anabolism (muscle repair and re-growth) and protein synthesis.
There are many different studies and opinions on just how quickly a meal should be consumed post exercise but most of them recommend not leaving it longer than 75-90 minutes. After this time the body’s ability to use the nutrients effectively starts to diminish. If it looks like it’s going to be a couple of hours before a proper meal, try to consume something like a protein shake and a couple of bananas immediately after your workout until you can get a decent sized meal.
To replace lost muscle glycogen and spike insulin, you need to add fast digesting carbohydrates. Good examples of these are sports drinks, white rice, fat free sweets or white bagels.
The anabolic hormone insulin drives amino acids and carbohydrates (in the form of glucose) into the muscles for recovery and growth, and it also turns on the process of muscle protein synthesis (which is the biochemical steps that lead to muscle growth). Think of insulin as the key that will unlock the muscle for the other nutrients like protein to get in and start it’s repair and growth work.
ABOUT JOHN – John has been involved in fitness, one way or another for over 20 years and has a wide range of experience and knowledge in playing and coaching football, instructing clients in resistance training, preparing clients for endurance events and instructing a number of different classes including circuit training, spinning and his own personal favourite, high intensity interval training. He holds qualifications in personal training, nutrition advice, sports conditioning, supple strength, exercise for older adults and exercise referral, all gained through YMCA Fitness Industry Training, one of the UK’s leading training providers. Whether your goals are to lose weight, increase your level of fitness, get in shape for a special event or just to take the first steps towards a more active and healthy lifestyle, then John can help. Once we have established your goals, he will write a safe, effective and progressive programme that is designed specifically for you. Novice to athlete, inclusive of all abilities and ages John will inspire you to achieve your fitness goals. To book a session with John at our St Paul’s studio give us an Email at firstname.lastname@example.org