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How to Build Muscle

To understand how to build muscle, we must first understand what causes muscles to get bigger.

What Causes Muscles to Get Bigger?

The bicep muscle alone has over 200,000 microscopic muscle fibers. Muscle fibers are what help you lift any kind of resistance. The bigger and stronger the muscle fibers are the more weight you can lift.

When lifting a weight, only the required amount of muscle fibers are recruited. Muscle fibers contract in an all-or-nothing manner. After a number of contractions, the muscle fibers get tired. In order for you to continue to lift a heavy weight, new, fresh muscle fibers must jump in to help.

As a survival mechanism, muscle fibers adapt to intense stress by getting bigger, thicker and stronger: this is known scientifically as muscle hypertrophy (hyper = "more"; trophy = "growth of organ or tissue").

Bigger muscle fibers equal bigger muscles.
So the main goal of bodybuilding is to stimulate the most muscle fibers in any given muscle as possible.

Main Goal of Bodybuilding
To stimulate the maximum amount of muscle fibers possible

So  now the question becomes how do you stimulate the maximum amount of muscle fibers?

Here is how to stimulate the most muscle fibers:
  • High volume training (high number of sets and reps)
  • Short resting periods in between sets
It will become clear to us how to stimulate the most muscle fibers as possible when we compare bodybuilding (muscle) to powerlifting (strength).

Bodybuilding versus Powerlifting

Bodybuilders and powerlifters manipulate the training variables differently to achieve there respective goals.

The main goal of bodybuilders is to achieve muscle mass; while, while powerlifters are only concerned with lifting the maximum amount of weight humanly as possible for one or two reps (strength).

Training Variable Bodybuilding Powerlifting
Number of Reps 6 - 12 reps 1-3 reps, up to 6 reps
Rest between Sets 0 - 2 mins 2 - 10 mins
Number of Sets Large body parts: 10 -16 sets

Small body parts: 6 - 9 sets
16 - 32 sets total
Order in which you perform the exercises varied limited
Exercises Performed wide variety limited
Frequency of workouts 3 - 5 days a week 3 - 6 days a week

We will now dig deeper and analyze why manipulating these training variables, as suggested in the bodybuilding column of the above chart, will help you build muscle.

But remember, these are just general guidelines! Ultimately your body will adapt, so you will have to break these general guidelines just to shock your body into responding.

Number of Reps - 6 to 12 Reps

To build muscle the majority of your training should fall in between 8 to 10 reps.

There are a number of reasons why higher reps are more effective for building muscle than lower reps.

First - Performing 6 to 12 reps requires that your body recruit fresh fiber to replace the tired fibers; thus, recruiting more muscle fibers than you would if you performed one or two rep maximum lifts (powerlifting).

Second Studies have proven that higher reps generate more testosterone (muscle-building hormone) which is a major factor in producing muscle.

Higher levels of testosterone are why men can bulk up much more than woman can. Likewise, it is why people who train naturally can't bulk up like those that use steroids, testosterone! Just so you know, I'm not advocating steroid use: it's dangerous and illegal - stay away from that stuff.

Third - Studies have proven that higher reps causes capillarization.

The Doctor's Corner

Capillaries are the smallest form of blood vessels. Blood flows through the capillaries carrying essential nutrients to the entire body. Capillaries are lined by life cells, which can multiple and stretch if they are forced to.

So why is enhancing capillarization important...

Because capillarization causes the capillaries to expand and multiply. The increased blood flow means more nutrients (protein, amino acids, carbohydrates) and anabolic hormones (testosterone and growth hormone) are going to the muscles.

Rest Between Sets - No longer than 2 minutes

Ideally your rests should be between 30 - 60 seconds.

Shorter rest also prevents the recruited muscle fibers from recovering; therefore, the body is forced to recruit the resting muscle fibers.

Remember, the more muscle fibers that are recruited, the more fibers there are that have to get bigger, and therefore the more larger your muscles get.

Studies also seems to suggest that resting periods between these ranges promotes the most anabolic hormone secretions.

The higher blood supply to the active muscle resulting from shorter rest periods increase capillarization of that muscle. 

Number of Sets - 6 - 16 sets

Again, the higher set volumes will tire muscle fibers and require the assistance of the resting muscle in order to continue to lift the heavy load.

Larger body parts, such as the back and legs, require around 10 - 16 sets to completely fatigue.

If you perform 16 sets for a smaller body part such as the bicep, you will be overtraining the muscle, so only 6 - 9 sets are required.

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