If you are reading this then the chances are good that you want to increase the size of your muscles. I’m sure you are already doing all that you can, including training regularly and hard, eating a nutritive diet that allows for proper muscle growth and lastly getting enough rest to allow those nutrients to do their work and promote new tissue growth. What do you know of muscle growth though? By understanding all that there is involved, it stands to reason that you will become that much more able to make the right decisions in order to maximize your muscle mass gains. If knowledge is truly power then I aim to equip you with all that you will need in this new series that will be unfolding in the next few weeks. If everyone is onboard at this point, let’s get started.
Every body is different. This we all know and have talked about far too much when it comes to building muscle. The factors that make someone stronger or larger naturally are many, and why it makes it almost impossible to emulate anyone else’s training plan and receive the same results as the originator. Some are born with favorable joint lengths and connective tissues, as well as extremely strong tendon and ligament strength. Some may have more type II fibers and a nervous system that naturally recruits larger amounts of muscle fibers. So what can we do to use what we have been given and build upon it?
Regardless of what you may have heard, the only way to get a larger muscle is to get a stronger muscle. This is actually a scientific fact. Regardless of the rep range used, you must become stronger within it to make a muscle grow. There are rep ranges that work better than others for this but that is not the subject of this series. The two methods to increase muscle size are by increasing the volume of the tissue that supplies energy to the muscle, known as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, or by increasing the size of the contractile mechanism, known as sarcomere hypertrophy.
The most important part of what is involved in the production of energy that our muscles use, or adenosine tri phosphate, are the tiny engines within the muscle cells known as the mitochondria. When we train for higher reps or do large amounts of endurance training, our muscle fibers will adapt by increasing the number of mitochondria in the cells, thereby increasing mitochondrial density. Concentrations of the enzymes needed for oxidative phosphorlyation and the anaerobic glycolysis mechanisms of energy production will increase the volume of the sarcoplasmic fluid inside each muscle cells and the fluid between the cells as well.
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy provides very little in the way of direct strength, but has an enormous effect on overall strength endurance simply because all of these adaptations have enhanced the muscles ability to produce the fuel it needs. As you can see, the muscle has indeed become stronger by becoming able to lift for longer and that is why the muscle grew larger.
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy definitely increases muscle size, although not dramatically, but it also increases the amount of available ATP, and for this reason alone it makes sense to always have a high rep portion included in your training. ATP is the source of energy for all muscular contractions and to have a larger supply of this fuel can only be of benefit, regardless of the style of training you are doing. While the gains made with sarcoplasmic hypertrophy may be modest, roughly 20 percent of overall muscle size, the benefits are pretty obvious.
Increasing the mechanism by which muscles contract is where the bulk of the muscle is located. This is where the remaining 80 percent of muscle size is found and where the greatest potential for growth is present. Increasing muscle cell size is what needs to be your focus if you want to grow your muscles to their maximum limit. This occurs when the muscle is trained to increase the number of actin/myosin filaments, or sarcomeres, that the muscle contains. In order to do this, you must literally train your muscles to break down. Only when your muscle is effectively broken down will it be able to rebuild in a manner that is larger than it was previously.
When a muscle is put under an adequate amount of tension for long enough the increasing fatigue impairs the actin/myosin cycling necessary for the contractile filaments to maintain force production. This results is damage to the contractile filaments as the tension becomes too great for the fibers to structurally support.
Also, this type of training leads to post-workout breaches in membrane integrity that allows calcium into the muscle cells. By doing so, the increase in intracellular calcium activates enzymes called calpains that take away the pieces of damaged contractile filaments. Ubiquitin, a protein that is present in the mucle cells, binds to the removed pieces of filaments and by doing this it in effect labels them for destruction. Neutrophils, a type of granular white blood cell, are also brought into play and begin to release in large amounts. These neutrophils begin to ingest the damaged filaments in order to remove potentially harmful matter from the body.
This concludes what happens from training until the muscle is sufficiently broken down and has begun the early process to expedite repair. When we get together next I’ll be looking further into the breakdown of the muscle and at the process of exercise induced hypertrophy. Until then my friends,