Monday, December 5, 2016

You May Be Leaving 60% of Your Gains On The Table

You May Be Leaving 60% of Your Gains On The Table

Many people go to the gym, pick up heavy stuff, put it down and never wonder how this works or why it works. It’s like trying to become an auto mechanic without knowing how an engine works.

 But then they wonder why they’re not gaining muscle or losing fat or getting stronger. So they blame their lack of progress on their genetics or their metabolism or El NiƱo or global warming or whatever other excuse they can come up with to quit.

You don’t need to be a professional coach or trainer or have a degree in Physiology. But you should at least have grasp of what makes the engine go.

There are a number of different mechanisms at work when it comes to building skeletal muscle. And if you want to maximize the effectiveness of your workout program and your time in the gym you need to have a basic grasp of those mechanisms.

The Mechanisms that Force Muscle to Grow

Think about these mechanisms in terms of evolution. If you can’t out run a saber tooth tiger, you’d better find a way to get faster or stronger.

1.     Muscle Tension (or Mechanical Tension)

This is where you have that "Holy crap this is heavy" moment.

In order to produce muscle growth, you have to apply a load or stress greater than what your muscles had previously adapted to. Most people understand this mechanism as simple Progressive Overload (Lifting progressively heavier weights). Stop increasing the load and your muscles stop growing. It’s that simple. And the body adapts very quickly.

It’s a chemical and hormonal process that not only affects the muscles at a cellular level but also affects the motor units (nerves) that control the muscles. The muscle cells not only get larger, they also increase in number to insure you can kick the tiger’s butt next time.

2.     Muscle Damage

This is where you say "I think I'll take the elevator.

This is the one (and sometimes the only one) that most people are familiar with. Muscle damage is micro-tears in the muscle fibers that cause muscle soreness called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).

This microscopic muscle damage causes the body to repair itself by releasing a flood or inflammatory molecules and immune system cells (and nutrients) to the site of the damage. The body not only repairs the damage but tries to build up the area so damage doesn’t occur again.

Think about this way: If you hang a picture on a nail that’s too small for the weight and the nail bends, what do you do? You use a bigger nail.

But remember, you don’t have to have soreness to have progress. Over time, the body fixes that too. So that, over time, the amount of soreness you experience will diminish because of other mechanisms more related to your nervous system.

3.     Metabolic Stress

How your muscles feel after metabolic stress..
(Not really. This idiot injected his muscles with Synthol-a mixture of oil and alcohol)

If you have ever felt the burning sensation in the muscle during an exercise (if you haven’t then you’re doing it wrong) or had the “pump” where your muscles seems to expand and puff up and become temporarily larger, then you’ve felt the effects of metabolic stress.

The “burn” is not caused by the buildup of lactic acid (though there is some) but by the buildup of nitrogen molecules. Both are a result of chemical processes within the cell. Just like burning gasoline in your car produces water and carbon monoxide, burning glycogen in your cells produces nitrogen, lactic acid and other by-products. While you have the muscle fibers under stress or flexed, those by products are temporally trapped in the tissue.

As the muscle relaxes the by-products rush out and additional fuel (glycogen) rushes in causing the muscle and connective tissue to swell causing the “pump”.

Again, it’s a cellular process. The by-products trapped in the muscle also initiate other chemical processes. It’s called sarcoplasmic hypertrophy which simply means the muscle get larger in order to adapt.

You should note that sarcoplasmic hypertrophy increases the size of the muscle but doesn’t necessarily increase strength. 

There is a forth mechanism more related to increasing strength than hypertrophy. But, keep in mind, that as you get stronger you can move more weight. Moving more weight means you can continue progressive overload and build more muscle.

Neurological Adaptation

You can train your central nervous system (CNS) just like you can train your muscles or your heart or your respiratory system.

The human body has limits when it comes to muscular strength. A power lifter will probably reach his or her maximum muscular strength within a few years. Past that point, strength gains are primarily due to adaptation of the CNS. More motor units are added to make the muscles more efficient and to recruit more muscle fibers faster. And the body becomes more adept at activating those motor units more efficiently.

Why should you care about all this scientific stuff?

Because you want to speed up progress and waste less of your valuable time in the gym, avoid plateaus (or be able to break through them) and meet your goals easier and faster.

The thing is, each of the the mechanisms mentioned above need different types of stimulus to work. 

The correct way to train and take advantage of all 3 mechanisms is called "Periodization". And I'll teach you how and why in tomorrow's article

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