The most common misconception about building muscle is that you can turn up to the gym a few times a week, lift weights and your muscles will grow. There is so much more to it than that. Why do you think people who go to the gym many times a week and have done for years aren’t all massive?
Another misconception is that you will grow muscle just by taking protein shakes. Many people who go to the gym regularly take protein supplements and still do not have big muscles.
However, we also know that there are indeed people who go to the gym a few times a week, lift weights, take protein shakes and who do have big muscles. So what is the reason why some people can follow this process and build muscle, while others can’t?
There are a few reasons why some people build muscle easier than others
- Natural testosterone levels – the more testosterone you have, the greater the opportunity to build muscle.
- Composition and balance of fast twitch vs slow twitch muscle fibres – fast twitch muscle fibres can grow bigger more easily; whilst you can change some muscle fibres to become fast twitch, the main balance is set up from birth and can also be swayed by ethnicity.
- Current level of fitness – technically an untrained individual can grow muscle at a greater rate than a regular gym goer as the activity provides a greater shock to the body for them compared to someone who goes all the time. It is the shock factor that stimulates growth so your current fitness levels will be a factor to consider too.
- Diet – you must eat more calories in a day than you expend to grow muscle efficiently, and around 30-40% of these calories should be composed of protein sources.
Testosterone levels help with the growth of muscles and power for lifting the weights. Protein helps to rebuild muscles efficiently so you can go to the gym again and repeat the process, whilst a general calories surplus means all energy can be stored for lifting weights and repairing the body. Fast-slow twitch muscle fibre balance indicates your individual potential for muscle growth; and current fitness levels control the level of shock imposed on your body.
Even though some people may know that to grow a muscle in both size and strength, you should be lifting weights for 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions, this will not necessarily grow muscle.
To grow muscle you must lift a weight with the same form and cadence for each repetition that is heavy enough so that you will not be able to do another repetition in this way. This point of ‘failure’ should be reached after 8-12 repetitions.
It is not the fact that you lift a weight for 8-12 repetitions in itself that grows a muscle. It is the concept of reaching the point of ‘failure’ between those repetitions, resting briefly and then repeating this sequence for another 2 or 3 sets that will grow a muscle.
Take home point
Do not go to the gym, pick a weight, lift it for 12 repetitions and then stop. If you can perform more reps with this weight, carry on until you will not be able to keep up the cadence and form for that weight and set anymore – it may even take you to 20 or more reps. This set would have taught you that the weight isn’t heavy enough.
Thus, for the next set, resting 30-90 seconds depending on your level of fitness, increase the weight. If you can go past 12 repetitions again, this weight is still not heavy enough. Continue to increase the weight, set after set, until you cannot lift the weight for more than 12 repetitions. This is then the correct weight to be lifting for 3-4 sets for muscle growth.
You will need to be mentally strong to take your performance to the limits of your body’s capabilities, rather than just to the extent of your will-power. But your aim is to match the extent of your abilities with failure point reached between 8-12 repetitions in a set.
This is how a muscle is stimulated to grow.
Head of Fitness and Nutrition
Fitness Body Pro