Muscles: What is the best way to get “swole”?

We’re bombarded with images of extremely fit people all around us, whether it’s TV, instagram or street advertising. However, it may not be the main reason for you to go out and get moving. The benefits of exercise are numerous. If drug giants combined them all in just one pill, it would sell even faster than hotcakes.

Let’s get straight to the point though, how are you able to put on muscle?

Constant challenge

The sort of training you do has to challenge your muscles in one way or another. You need to lift more weight progressively in order to initiate the body’s response. Muscle cells or fibres respond to increased loads and try to stretch. However, the load could exceed their capacity and so they sustain some damage. Our bodies then regenerate new muscle fibres, stronger than the old ones.

We’re talking about a different type of “mussels” today. Source: Flickr.

A focus on the machinery

We use our muscle fibres in a sequential fashion. For instance, walking doesn’t require the full extent of our muscle force and as a result, not all of it is used.

In that case, Type 1 or “slow twitch“ fibres are the first to respond. Their contractions are not as strong but they can be sustained for a longer period of time. Type 2 or “Fast twitch” muscle fibres are next in line when you ramp up the intensity. The nervous system determines this recruitment process, where type 1 small nerves control type 1 and larger ones control type 2.

A study by Adam & Luca back in 2003 followed this concept and considered the approach of using light weights to stimulate muscle fatigue. They found that pushing muscles to the point of extreme fatigue with lighter weights was effective in stimulating growth. Additionally, the recruitment of “fast twitch” fibres was occurring at earlier stages, before the weight was heavy enough.

Stay light?

The traditional view says heavier weights are the number one choice when it comes to weight training, but can you get jacked by only lifting light weights?

Not exactly! Lifting weights near your maximum power trains the nervous system to recruit more of your muscle fibres. It also manages to engage both fibre types simultaneously. Therefore, it’s better to combine both light and heavy in your training regime.

On average, calves have a higher proportion of slow twitch fibres. Source: Flickr.

Are we there yet?

It doesn’t all finish in the gym, resting and proper nutrition are key to recovery.

Scientists have used protein manufacturing in muscles as a measure of its growth and recovery. Another study has shown that it reaches a peak between 24-36 hours after training and it returns to a baseline level after 36 hours. As a result, it’s not as effective to train the same muscle group on consecutive days, especially when reaching muscle failure.

Besides, the protein has to come from somewhere! Your choice of animal or plant protein should do it. as well as carbohydrates and fats to reach your daily calorie requirement.

Lift, eat and sleep!