I recently wrote about the importance of muscle building for fat loss.
It may seem counter-intuitive to train for muscle gain when your goal is to drop body fat. But that extra muscle will increase your metabolism and increase the amount of calories you burn on a day to day basis.
So adding a little extra muscle can really help your fat loss goals.
With that in mind it would be useful to explore the key principles of training for building muscle.
As with any type of training, you will need to adhere to the principle of overload in order to be successful in your muscle building efforts. Overload is a way a saying that you are subjecting your body to something that it is not used to. Only by doing that will you be able to stimulate your body to adapt and, in this case, build new muscle.
So if you are a beginner, then simply getting to the gym and lifting some moderately challenging weight will probably be sufficient to get you some initial gains.
Beyond that, you need a bit more strategy to make sure you are overloading your body in a way that is going to keep that gain train going!
Muscle Building Mechanisms
There are three commonly regarded mechanisms thought to underpin muscle building efforts.
These are as follows:
1) Mechanical Tension
2) Muscle Damage
3) Metabolic Stress
This means, when training for muscle mass, we need to overload one or more of the three factors above.
With regards to Mechanical Tension, think in terms of multi-joint exercises and heavy weights! So heavy sets of squats, deadlifts and bench press would fit the bill nicely.
For metabolic stress, we need to be thinking about slightly longer, but lighter sets to get that muscle pump and feel that muscle burn!
In terms of muscle damage, you need to try and induce small micro-tears in your muscle through your strength training efforts. The best way to achieve this is through emphasising the eccentric part of an exercise. The eccentric part of an exercise is the lowering part, where a muscle is lengthening.
The thing is, we are much stronger during the eccentric part of an exercise (it's always easier to lower a weight than it is to lift it, right?). So you need to get strategic about how to overload those eccentrics!
That can be an article for another time. For now let's summarise how to best achieve a compromise between all three muscle building mechanisms....
In order to go heavy enough to achieve sufficient tension, yet long enough to create enough metabolic stress, you need to be lifting weights that will result in you reaching failure after performing 6-12 reps.
That's the sweet spot.
So if you can't manage six repetitions on an exercise, drop the weight a little. Likewise, if you can manage more than 12 repetitions, then increase the weight a little.
Whilst working within that range, you should also try to make the lowering portion of each repetition slower than the lifting portion. This will help you to emphasise the eccentric portion of the lift a little.
So there you have it, 6-12 repetitions per set with slow eccentrics, and you have achieved a great compromise between the three mechanisms underpinning muscle growth!
Of course there will be times when you don't want to go for a compromise and you should focus on just one of the three factors to overload. However, the protocol outlined above will serve you well as a significant mainstay of your muscle building efforts.