To understand how to build muscle fast, you need to understand a few key things. In this article, we’re going to break it down for you in the easiest, most simple way to get you on your way to muscle gain.
For muscles to grow, they need to be trained properly. This is best done through lifting weights, providing resistance for your muscles to work against to stimulate the three mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy – the process by which your muscles increase in size.
These mechanisms are:
- Mechanical tension refers to how much time under tension your muscles receive during an exercise and the subsequent amount of force they need to generate to complete the movement. Mechanical tension is created when a movement is highly controlled and performed slowly (increasing time under tension), because this recruits a high level of motor units and muscle fibers.
- Metabolic stress is when there is a buildup of metabolites in muscle cells, like lactate, phosphate inorganic, and ions of hydrogen, as well as blood and oxygen deprivation (hypoxia) in the muscle. This accumulation causes the muscles to look ‘pumped’ by causing cell swelling, which is beneficial for aesthetics but is also advantageous for increasing anabolic hormone release.
- Muscle damage is achieved by constantly using a progressive overload of weights, which refers to the incremental increases in intensity as you get stronger. Progressive overload is typically done by increasing the size of the weights used, but it can also be created by decreasing rest times, increasing reps, increasing workout duration, or adding in supersets, the key focus is to make your workout more intense so your muscles keep getting damaged from the exercise stimulus so that muscular hypertrophy can occur.
To hit all three mechanisms during your training, you need to be lifting heavy using a variety of rep and set ranges (for metabolic stress), increasing the weight over time (for muscle damage) and performing exercises slowly (for mechanical tension). That is how muscle hypertrophy is stimulated.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be eating in an 800-calorie surplus to gain muscle, you just need to be eating enough. If you are in a slight surplus, this optimizes muscle building as there are circulating nutrients for maximal muscle protein synthesis. If you are in a caloric deficit, it is hard to build muscle as your body is in a catabolic state – a state of breaking down tissue rather than anabolic – a state of building tissue.
You need to be eating enough protein – amino acids are the building blocks of muscle repair and growth. Eat at least 0.7 grams per pound of bodyweight.
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Muscles don’t grow in the gym, they grow when you’re asleep, as shown in this study published in 2011. If you’re not sleeping properly, you are unknowingly activating specific pathways that activate muscle degradation. insufficient sleep causes a spike in cortisol (a stress hormone) and a reduction of testosterone and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), two hormones integral to muscle and strength building. The reduction of these hormones puts us in a catabolic state, meaning we break down muscle, no matter how heavy you’re lifting.
That’s the simple science of how to build muscle. It’s not as straightforward as ‘just lift heavy’ – there are a number of physiological and biochemical processes that are involved in muscle growth and retention, and you need to ensure you’re facilitating all those processes to see any physical changes.