Training For Muscle Mass
Looking to put on muscle through your training? You’re certainly not alone. Even if they won’t admit it, most people start training because they want to look good naked, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Muscle looks good: it gives you shape and definition. For example, this whole thing about being ‘toned’ just means having some muscle and low enough body fat to show it off. You can’t be toned without any muscle, there’s nothing there to actually look ‘toned’.
Even beyond the aesthetics, having some muscle on your bones is insanely good for you. Studies have comprehensively shown that people with more muscle live longer. Muscle helps manage your metabolism and food storage, lowers the risk of falls in older adults and protects against injury in people who do fall. Aside from the health benefits, the added strength from the muscle mass will make all those day to day tasks (carrying objects, stairs etc.) a lot easier.
But enough about the benefits, how do you make this happen? Well in order to trigger the body to produce more muscle tissue, we need to present it with a reason to do so. Muscle grows because it is broken down, and during recovery, grows back to be slightly bigger than before. When this process is repeated over time, significant muscle gains can be achieved.
To create this breakdown, the most effective way is to work as much muscle as possible in each exercise. Think squatting, pressing, pulling etc. By using the biggest muscles in the body, we stimulate the biggest effect on the muscular, nervous and endocrine (hormonal) systems. Performing whole-body sessions multiple times per week (ideally three) allows for maximum stimulation of the body to produce more muscle (anabolic state) without going overboard and leaving the body in a constant state of breakdown (catabolic state).
Isolation exercises certainly have a place, but mostly as a secondary to the training detailed above. In advanced trainees, isolation exercises become a bigger part of the puzzle, but the whole-body training is still critical. The same applies to body-part splits – training a different part of the body each day. This is effective in people with lots of muscle mass, and each muscle group needs such a large stimulus that an entire session needs to be dedicated to it. But in beginners, this kind of volume is excessive: those brutal leg days with 1000 reps and eight days of soreness would be more effective if you had squats and then pressing and pulling, because the squats alone are enough to make the legs grow.
Nutrition also plays a critical role, as an underfed body won’t have the necessary supplies to build more muscle. A surplus of high quality calories, especially from protein is every bit as important as the training itself.