You’ve heard the old saying “train hard” and while this is true, if you are looking to make adding a muscle a true priority then you must train SMART as well. There are key factors that influence muscle growth in humans.
Several hormones are considered anabolic however the most influential is testosterone (T) and growth hormone (GH). These hormones (especially androgens) give males their characteristics of higher muscle mass, deeper voice, and facial and other body hair. Although androgens are commonly thought of only as male sex hormones, females also have them, but at lower levels. Also, androgens are the precursors to estrogens in both men and women. Growth hormone, which stimulates growth, cell reproduction, the release of insulin-like growth factors, and testosterone are the primary drivers in protein synthesis (building muscle). Pretty much these hormones call the shots above all.
The second factor in adding muscle tissue is adequate amounts of protein. Muscles are in essence proteins or chains of amino acids bound together. There are 22 amino acids, some of which the body can produce on its own (non-essential) and some that the body must get through your diet (essential). Look at hormones as the architects and amino acids/protein as the building blocks and material of muscle. Recovery almost goes along with hormones as sleep/rest is a precursor to sound hormonal levels. Look at recovery as allowing the building blocks and cement to settle and harden. If you lay down a foundation and then try and build on it before the cement dries, then the entire project is likely ruined.
How do we train to specifically add on muscle tissue? Although the degree of muscle mass that we can put on IS genetically determined most people do not get close to their genetic potential due to a lack of coaching/knowledge on HOW to train for muscle mass.
From a training perspective, there are 3 very influential factors that lead to muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth). They are tension, volume, and intensity/metabolic stress.
Tension & Intensity
Tension is closely linked to intensity so they will be covered tandemly. The intensity of resistance training is a percentage of the maximal amount of lifting. The HIGHER the intensity the higher the tension is. Think of how slow a weight moves when it is heavy with maximal force being applied as opposed to when the weight is light. A heavier load means more tension. Now here is where things get interesting, when multiple large muscle groups are involved such as compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and presses under high intensity or tension the body will temporarily go into “fight or flight” mode and increase its own anabolic hormones naturally! This is HUGE for building muscle.
Volume is the total amount of WORK put in expressed in pounds, so if you squat 200 pounds 10 times then your total volume would be 2000 lbs. Now here is a mistake that a lot of athletes make who solely do volume training. They move the weight very slowly to produce artificial intensity, many going for the “burn” the issue with this is that you do not get the muscle fiber engagement that is optimal for muscle growth.
Examples of Volume Exercises