Building muscle comes from resistance training.
Resistance training is any exercise that causes your muscles to contract against any external resistance. Examples of resistance training or “load-bearing exercise” would be lifting weights, using resistance bands, using your own body weight as in push-ups, carrying bricks, or in my case, carrying heavy bags of mulch for my wife’s gardening. Thanks for the extra exercise, honey.
What Causes Muscles To Grow?
A lot of people think, that at the time you’re doing the exercise, that’s when you’re building your muscle, making it stronger and larger.
That’s not accurate and not how it works.
Let’s say you’re doing a biceps curl. Your bicep is the muscle that lies on your upper arm between your elbow and shoulder. Sometimes referred to as “your guns.” “Look at the guns on him. Wow!” With your arm extending downward and keeping your upper arm stationary, you bend at your elbow and curl or lift the weight upward until your bicep is fully contracted and the barbell, or dumbbell, or resistance band, or whatever you’re lifting is just past 90 degrees or close to your shoulder.
What’s happening while you do this is you’re causing microscopic tears to the muscle cells and fibers. I know, it sounds painful and who’d want to do that to themselves, but trust me, it’s really okay. It’s just part of how our bodies work.
When this happens, the microscopic tears to the muscle cells and fibers, your body begins to repair itself, rebuilding the muscle cells and making them larger and stronger than they were before, because your body “assumes” that this will be the new “load” it’ll be required to carry. (I know, our bodies don’t really assume, but they are very adaptable).
The 3 “R’s”
Now, and this is very important- the rebuilding and strengthening of your muscle cells does NOT happen while you are lifting the weight. It happens when you are resting between workouts.
This is a mistake a lot of people make with resistance training. They’ll figure “the more the better.” It’s how we think about a lotta things. They’ll exercise the same body part day after day and see very little or no growth at all, because they’re not giving their body enough time to rest, repair, and rebuild.
And you thought the “3 R’s” stood for reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, didn’t you?
How Often Should You Work Out?
It’s pretty accepted that our body needs about 36-48 hours between workouts to repair itself. That doesn’t mean you can’t lift weights two days in a row. It just means that you have to hit different body parts on successive days. Like arms one day, legs another day, back another, chest and shoulder another, and so on.
I used to do what’s known as a 5-day split where each day I’d do a different body part so that by the end of the 5 days, I’ve exercised my entire body. What’s comfortable for me right now is lifting weights 3 days a week (every other day, 48 hours-rest in between) but hitting my entire body during each workout.
Why Resistance Training?
Resistance training is incredibly important. As we age, if we remain sedentary, we lose muscle size and strength with each passing year. It just happens naturally. If you combine that with a sedentary lifestyle (no exercise) we gain weight and become fat.
Resistance training allows us to continue to develop strength, gain muscle size, increase bone density (protecting us from osteoporosis), protect our joints from injury, allows us to move our muscles and body in a full range of natural motion, and increases our flexibility, all of which adds up to a more active life as we get older.
In the old days, we used to get our “resistance training” and build our muscles from hunting, gathering, building shelter, and other manual labor. But today, we have “labor-saving devices-” dishwashers, washing machines, robotic vacuum cleaners, automobiles, elevators, escalators, and on and on. Heck, we don’t even have to go to the store anymore to buy groceries or clothing- we can do it from home. And on the flip side, we have more ways to spend the time we just saved without hardly moving at all- TV, video games, streaming movies, iPads, iPhones, etc.
As I’ve mentioned before, the more muscle or lean mass you have, the more energy or calories your body uses to maintain that lean mass, even at rest, which increases your metabolism. The end result is that with more muscle you burn more calories on a daily basis even if you spend the day sitting on the couch.
Photo Credit: Sonia Henkin Thanks for taking my picture.
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