Hello lovers of muscle and mass, and welcome to another post dedicated to the sharing of techniques that will help you to grow your muscles to epic proportions. I bet that every man at one time in his life has imagined himself to be the biggest and strongest person on the planet. I can’t speak for the female readership on that one, but if that is your experience also, then that helps to somewhat explain the fascination with muscle that we as human beings have. Whether we are training them, feeding them, or resting them, the thought of our muscles is never far from our mind.
When it comes to building muscle, it seems there is never enough. The desire for more is insatiable, and that is precisely why the Muscle series was born. The plan is to try and learn new ways to convince our muscles to grow through the employment of various strategies that have some scientific or logical merit to them. We’ve looked at training frequency, and the ideal number of repetitions, as possible methods that we can use to tweak our programs in order to achieve better results. While we definitely have made some progress, I think today’s thoughts are extremely interesting, and are definitely deserving of our attention.
Fortunately from this point forward, Carlos Toronto is providing the research for the Muscle series as well as the Muscle Talk series, which means there will be an even greater focus on finding you top quality information. Today is no different, as the search for information has brought us to a very compelling muscle building theory. If everyone is ready, I’ll begin telling you everything you need to know.
In order to get to the point of this article, we need a little context first. Specifically, we need to look at what makes up our muscles – or the bit we are interested in. In striated muscle, which makes up our large muscle groups, a myrofibril (muscle fiber) is a basic tube like piece of muscle. They are composed of long proteins, and other proteins that hold them together. These proteins are organized into thick and thin filaments, which repeat along the length of the myrobibril in sections called sarcomeres. It is these filaments that are responsible for muscle contractions. There is a gelatinous substance that fills the space between the myrofibrils that is called sarcoplasm.This sarcoplasm is the substance that we are interested in today, as there are ways to make it grow.
Simply dealing with the bare basics of muscle fiber types, there are two – type 1 and type 2. Type 1 fibers are slow twitch, oxadative, and are more adaptive for endurance as they are slow to fatigue. Type 2 fibers, or fast twitch fibers, are predominantly larger, and are the complete opposite of type 1 fibers in that they are built for short bursts of strength, but fatigue very quickly. Whether they are for shorter, or longer durations of use, both types of muscle fibers need fuel to in order to function.
Our muscle fibers use energy in order to contract, and their source of energy is called Adenosine Triphosphate, or ATP. Our body generates ATP in several ways. The easiest and the quickest way is through what is known as the phosphagen system. The phosphagen system uses phosphocreatine to replenish ATP, but this source is very quickly depleted. As a result our body must quickly look for another source, and moves onto the second option. The second system used for energy is the glycolytic system. Gylcolysis is the breakdown of glucose or glycogen into pyruvic acid, or lactic acid when oxygen is not present. If the first two options are not available, the oxidative system begins the breakdown of substrates (carbs, fats, protein) in the presence of oxygen. This information will become relevant a little later, but for now it’s time to get back to the muscle fibers.
Hypertrophy – muscle growth – happens in one of two different ways. The first way is for the size and number of the myofibrils (muscle fibers) to increase, which is stimulated when the contractile filaments are damaged by adding sufficient tension to them over a long enough period of time. This was discussed at length in Muscle: Rep Range for Maximum Muscle Mass. By increasing the volume of contractile elements in our muscle fibers, especially Type 2 fibers, we can effectively build mass. The difficulty lies in the ability to lift weights heavy enough to recruit these fibers, and for a long enough time under tension so that the damage can occur which necessitates the muscle growth.
We also know that muscles use ATP for fuel. When there is insufficient ATP, there are concerns that arise in regards to our muscles. One such concern is that a decrease in ATP results in a decrease in protein synthesis. This compromises the operation of the muscle cells. Furthermore, it results in slower recovery time between training sessions, which ultimately can compromise growth of new tissue. Another concern stemming from the lack of ATP is regarding the hypertrophy of the muscle fibers. It’s possible that the number and density of these fibers may have increased, but there isn’t enough ATP present to fuel the function of the new growth, meaning that the new muscle isn’t usable.
This ultimately is one reason for a training plateau. New muscle has been generated through sufficient time under tension during training, but there isn’t enough energy to supply the new muscles with the necessary fuel to engage in adequate protein synthesis in order to recover fully and allow the new muscle tissue to manifest itself physically. If the new muscle has recovered and is present, there my not be enough ATP to make the muscle usable. It’s there, but inoperable.
This brings us to another method of creating muscle growth – sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. If we increase the sarcoplasm that houses all of the organelles, proteins, minerals, glycogen, and fats, then we increase the size of the muscle through the increased volume of sarcoplasm. Furthermore, we increase the number of mitochondrion that are present in the sarcoplasm. These mitochondrion are responsible for the production of ATP. So now not only have we increased our muscles in size due to the increased quantity of sarcoplasm, but we also have enabled the new muscle tissue to have enough ATP so that it will be usable. The extra ATP will also ensure that protein synthesis will take place in order for complete recovery of the new tissue. This will result in new muscle fiber growth.
As you can see, by focusing on expanding the quantity of our sarcoplasm we increase the density of our mitochondria. We also inrease the fuel sources housed in the sarcoplasm, which in turn enable our muscle fibers to grow even larger. Great, but how do we train our sarcoplasm to grow, you’re asking? I’m glad you did.
On the previous Muscle Monday, I wrote about the ideal number of reps to maximally stimulate muscle fiber growth. Now we need to add a set or two that maximally stimulates the growth of our sarcoplasm. The best way to do this is to train at 70 – 80 percent of our one rep maximum, and shoot for reps in the 8 – 12 range.
Why does this work? It works because the weight is still heavy enough that we are going to be maximally recruiting our muscle fibers and putting them under tension for a long enough time that they are going to be damaged enough to elicit growth, and we are also pushing them further in regards to their endurance. This will necessitate the body to adapt by making sure there is more ATP available for the next time that this occurs. That means more mitochondria will need to be present, and more fuel available to the mitochondria. This means that more sarcoplasm will need to be produced to house all of this muscle building fuel and muscle building mechanisms.
A method I use to train both my muscle fibers to their ideal level of stimulus as well as my sarcoplasm/mitochondria is as follows; I do a warm up set or two, just to get the muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments ready. I then do two sets of 5 – 8 reps at 85 percent of my one rep maximum. I then follow these up with one or two more sets at 70 percent of my maximum, striving for 12 reps. Due to fatigue, this is tough to do, but that’s the idea.
It’s this fatigue however, that is going to force the adaptation. I covered the Fat Loss side of this equation in The Mighty Mitochondria a while back. Regarding our muscles however, the body is going to be required to generate more energy so that the endurance portion of our work sets is possible. The immediate result is larger muscles due to the sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. The long term result is increased muscle fiber size and strength due to the additional availability of ATP. That my friends, is the difference between training hard, and training smart.
That’s three Muscle Mondays that have discussed training frequency, maximum muscle fiber stimulation, and now maximum sarcoplasmic growth. Add those three components together and you have a great recipe for muscle mass success. Combine this with what is covered each week in the two weekly Muscle Talk posts, add in Fat Loss Friday, and you are well on your way to getting all the information you need to train muscle, build muscle, and rip it up too!
Tomorrow is of course Muscle Talk, so it’s time again to learn about a new group of muscles this week, and the methods that are most effective to train them. While the Muscle series thus far has been focused solely on mass building, the Muscle Talk series focuses more on muscle function, and the exercises that compliment the muscle function. The idea is to be able to learn what will work best for specific muscle groups in order to effectively train them better for function, muscle size, and conditioning. I hope to see you all here bright and early my friends,