The laws of muscle growth are as certain, observable, and irrefutable as those of physics.
These principles have been known and followed for decades by people who built some of the greatest physiques we’ve ever seen. Some of these laws will be in direct contradiction to things you’ve read or heard, but fortunately, they require no leaps of faith or reflection. They are practical. Follow them, and you get immediate results. Once these rules have worked for you, you will know they’re true.
- Muscles Grow Only if They’re Forced to This law may seem obvious and not worth stating, but trust me, most people just don’t get it. By lifting weights, you are actually causing tiny tears (known as “micro-tears”) in the muscle fibers, which the body then repairs, adapting the muscles to better handle the stimulus that caused the damage. This is the process by which muscles grow (scientifically termed hypertrophy). If a workout causes too few micro-tears in the fibers, then little muscle growth will occur as a result because the body figures it doesn’t need to grow the muscle to deal with such a minor stimulus again. If a workout causes too many micro-tears, then the body will fail to fully repair the muscles, and muscle growth will be stunted. If a workout causes substantial micro-tearing but the body isn’t supplied with sufficient nutrition or rest, muscle growth can’t occur. For optimal muscle growth, you must lift in such a way that causes optimal micro-tearing and then you must feed your body what it needs to grow and give it the proper amount of rest.
- Muscles Grow from Overload, Not Fatigue or “Pump” While many think a burning sensation in their muscles is indicative of an intense, “growth- inducing” workout, it’s actually not an indicator of an optimum workout. The “burn” you feel is simply an infusion of lactic acid in the muscle, which is produced as a muscle burns its energy stores. Lactic acid tells the body to start producing anabolic hormones, but too much impairs muscle growth and causes tissues to break down. Muscle pump is also not a good indicator of future muscle growth. The pump you feel when training is a result of blood being “trapped” in the muscles, and while it’s a good psychological boost and studies have shown that it can help with protein synthesis (the process in which cells build proteins), it’s not a primary driver of growth. What triggers muscle growth, then? Overload. (Progressive Overload is described above). Muscles must be given a clear reason to grow, and overload is the best reason. This type of training causes optimal micro-tearing for strength and growth gains, and forces the body to adapt. Drop sets, giant sets, and supersets are for the magazine-reading crowd and druggers. Such training techniques flood the muscles with lactic acid and are often done with isolation exercises, further limiting their effectiveness. They simply do NOT stimulate growth like heavy sets of compound exercises do.
- Muscles Grow Outside the Gym Many training programs have you do too many sets per workout, and some have you train the same body parts too often. They play into the common misconception that building muscle is simply a matter of lifting excessively. People who have fallen into this bad habit need to realize that if they did less of the right thing, they would get more. If you do too many sets in a workout, you can cause more micro-tears than your body can properly repair, and you can spend too much time working out, which drastically elevates cortisol levels and hinders growth. If you wait too few days before training a muscle group again, you’re overloading a muscle that hasn’t fully repaired from the last training session, and you can actually lose strength and muscle size. If you allow your muscles enough recuperation time (and eat correctly), however, you will experience maximum strength and size gains. Studies have shown that, depending on the intensity of your training and your level of fitness, it takes the body 2 – 5 days to fully repair muscles subjected to weight training. You experience this by feeling the reduction of muscle soreness, inflammation, and weakness that follows your training. Another aspect of rest is sleep, of course. The amount of sleep that you get plays a crucial role in gaining muscle. While your body produces growth hormone on a 24-hour cycle, the majority of it is produced during sleep, and this is a major anabolic substance. Good general advice is to get enough sleep each night that you wake up feeling rested and aren’t tired throughout the day. For most people, this means 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
- Muscles Grow Only if They’re Properly Fed – How important is nutrition? Nutrition is nearly everything. Simply put, your diet determines about 70 – 80% of how you look (muscular or scrawny, ripped or flabby). You could do the perfect workouts and give your muscles the perfect amount of rest, but if you don’t eat correctly, you won’t grow—period.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Packing on slabs of rock-solid lean mass is, in essence, just a matter of following these four laws religiously: lift hard, lift heavy, get sufficient rest, and feed your body correctly. That’s how you build a strong, healthy, ripped body.