How do muscles grow?

Posted by on September 10, 2021 . .

Today's material will be entirely devoted to the topic of muscle growth: why, how, by what principles and so on. It is important to assimilate this information and understand by what principles muscles begin to grow and only then, master the various techniques and methods, memorize exercises and take notes for yourself regarding different training programs.

Let's start at the beginning: The central nervous system and muscle growth links

Among athletes (especially beginners), the most popular question is the process of muscle growth. In terms of popularity, it is second only to questions related to the methods of pumping up certain muscle groups. The question, as they say, is a favorite which everyone's heard, which means that the answers to it should be detailed and explicit. Yes, in theory everything is exactly like this and only common truths work for everyone in different ways. The reason for this is a banal unwillingness to delve into the technological essence of the issue (by what mechanisms does muscle growth occur). We will now try to understand all of this in detail.

As the basic principles state, muscles begin to grow when:

  • Work with basic exercises takes place (that is, the training process includes multi-joint exercises, for example, squats with a barbell, deadlifts, bench press, etc.);
  • A rational diet is provided (in order for muscles to grow, it is necessary to consume a lot of protein and eat often (up to 6 times a day), include water, minerals and vitamins in the diet);
  • The necessary rest (sleep) is provided in sufficient quantity, which starts all the restorative processes inside the body.

It would seem that everyone knows these common truths and there is nothing fundamentally new about them. Then why is there such a variety in the gym as in, someone looks very impressive, and others, to put it mildly, are “slender”. Is genetics to blame? To some extent, yes. But besides this factor, there is another important detail that will help make a skinny ectomorph (which, at the genetic level, has practically no predisposition to gain muscle mass), become a real powerful athlete.

The name of this part is neurophysiology. There are, in fact, no other mechanisms, because we eat approximately the same, we sleep the required number of hours and we also lift weights with approximately the same weight. So it turns out that the potential for growth is determined by genetics, but the human brain can awaken these abilities. Well, let's see how this does it.

All processes that are associated with the synthesis of proteins in muscles are triggered by the central nervous system. If a person is determined to change, then this decision mostly depends on the central nervous system and not on external conditions (although they also have an impact). It is the central nervous system that is the trigger for all processes of neuro-stimulation of the brain, which instructs the body to respond to certain influences in a certain way.

Now it has become clear that in order to start the process of muscle growth, it is necessary to influence the central nervous system. And one of the most important criteria here is a person's ability to adapt, without which it would be very difficult to achieve anything. The body can easily adapt to changing conditions. If you transfer this postulate to the field of bodybuilding, you get the following: no matter how much you train in the gym, the muscles will adapt to any load, so for maximum effect they need to be periodically shocked in different ways. Moreover, the "shock blow" should fall on the central nervous system, which will trigger the mechanisms of muscle growth. The most popular methods of exposure are the following:

  • Increasing the intensity of your workout;
  • Changing exercise patterns;
  • Increasing the duration of your workout;
  • The use of protein supplements;
  • Increase in the used working weight.

But even here, after some time, the rate of muscle growth will decrease as the body becomes used to this change.

We will analyze the topics of progressive load, central nervous system excitability, but for now we will have enough to remember how important the central nervous system is in the process of muscle mass growth. First you need to deal with the issues of muscle anabolism at the angle of the processes occurring in its cell.

For enhanced muscle growth, people often turn to the help of supplements for this to occur. As we have just leaned, genetics play a huge part in muscle growth and for the smaller guy who trains just as hard and eats just as clean, but in return, he does not receive even half of the same results as the big guy with good genetics. Here is where the use of supplementation comes in!

With the use of supplements from the stronger testosterone or Dianabol, to the weaker Anavar, these lack in genetics can be overcome, by these supplements allowing for enhanced protein synthesis and the increased speed of muscle growth. Gone are the days when the small guy cannot gain big muscles like the six-foot rugby player. Now thanks to the advancement in science, a person can achieve the same results in growth, by adding a few oral tablets or other methods within their supplementation alongside their training.

What affects muscle volume: Factors that promote growth

In one of the previous materials, we examined in detail the issue of catabolism and anabolism. So now you know in detail the mechanism of the process of muscle growth, when after intense loads during the recovery process, they increase (in the process of super compensation).

Let's now take a closer look at each factor that affects muscle growth and its volume.

The number of muscle fibers and their cross-section

You already know that muscles are made up of 2 types of fibers:

  • Which have quick traction;
  • Which have slow traction.

There are many differences between them, the main of which is that the latter will never reach the volume of the former. The total volume of muscles depends on how much sarcoplasm fills the volume between the myofibrils (structural elements of muscles).

Important: the composition of sarcoplasm includes:

  • Globular proteins;
  • Salt;
  • Glycogen.

100 grams of muscle contains 3 to 5 grams of glycogen, while 1g of glycogen can hold 2.5g of fluid (water). So the ability of the muscle fibers to store glycogen lends itself well to training.

This is another important nuance that determines the speed and possibilities of muscle growth. All muscle fibers, or rather their bundles, are located in the fascia (comparable to muscle fiber sheaths). The entire potential for growth depends on their rigidity. For example, hard fasciae inhibit growth. Stiffness indicators directly depend on what is the cross-section of the capillaries and also how many of them there are.

Muscles, on the other hand, respond to all physical activity by increasing their weight, as well as their cross-section. Also, do not forget that during exercise, the amount of blood in the muscles also increases sharply (almost 16 times compared to the state at rest). All this contributes to an increase in the rate of metabolic processes in muscles, which leads to their growth. Fascia stiffness and muscle blood filling can be easily adjusted within strength training.

So, let's summarize the interim results. Remember, muscle size and growth potential are influenced by factors such as:

  • Thickness of muscle fibers (transverse);
  • Fiber type (slow or fast);
  • The number of muscle fibers;
  • The level of stiffness of the fascia, which contains the muscle fibers;
  • Available amount of sarcoplasm;
  • The number of blood vessels in muscle fibers.

And in order for the efforts to become as effective as possible, you must also remember about:

  • Central nervous system;
  • Neuromuscular innervation;
  • Metabolism;
  • Hormones;
  • Strength of the ligaments, joints and tendons.

In order to have a comprehensive effect on all of the above parameters, one cannot use only one particular type of training. It is important to combine different types of training with each other and periodically even radically change the training system. Towards the end of the material, we will consider the features of building the training processes from the angle of those factors that affect muscle growth and learn to take them into account. For now, let's continue.

Who wins: Powerlifter vs bodybuilder

You probably know that basic bodybuilding exercises came from another discipline called powerlifting. And yet the names and essence of the exercises remain the same, only the approaches to their implementation differ significantly. As a result, the volume and quality of the muscles, as well as their proportions, vary greatly.

Exclusively "bodybuilding" training can be called those which:

  • Require 8-12 reps;
  • Is performed with loads, the weight of which is about 70% of the one-time maximum;
  • They require rest between sets (about 1-2 minutes).

You've probably heard of such a technique as pumping, when the muscles are filled with blood as much as possible. So this is an exclusively "bodybuilding" characteristic of the training process. Weight at this training pace decreases to 50% of the one-time maximum and the number of repetitions increases (15-25 reps), the pause between sets is 30-40 seconds. Powerlifters have a different technique which is, a rep range of 3-6, while lifting weights can be 80-100% of a one-time maximum, rest time 5-7 minutes.

Such differences lead to the fact that the body readily responds and gives feedback in the form of a hormonal surge (precisely from the training style in bodybuilding). Tight and intense training, which shortens the rest time, helps to increase testosterone levels as well as the release of growth hormone. Training techniques, like supersets or tri-sets, promote the release of growth hormones into the bloodstream.

In the powerlifters environment, completely different processes take place. During training, their testosterone level does not only rise, but even falls, and the destructive hormone cortisol enters the arena (promotes the accumulation of fat and destroys proteins in the muscles). Naturally, all these processes do not last too long and then they return to normal. The plus is that this type of training contributes to the accelerated synthesis of protein in the body. The main advantage of the "bodybuilding" approach is that you can train more often and more effectively without fatigue from the central nervous system. As a result, muscles grow faster and more noticeably. But in powerlifting, the central nervous system undergoes very strong loads and does not have time to fully recover, because this may take about 7 days.

The conclusion suggests itself that supposedly the "Suum cuique" technique ("each to their own"), is not entirely true.

It is useful for the body to sometimes shake things up, that is, to switch from one type of training to another. This approach acts as a shock to the central nervous system and encourages more muscle fibers to work.

Important: beginners need to remember that the first time after the start of training, their channel for transmitting nerve impulses between the brain and muscles is very poorly developed. Therefore, it is highly discouraged to overestimate yourself, hang a huge weight on the barbell and hope for the best.

The average visitor to the gym, of which the majority are (who have been practicing for 2-3 years) reaches a level when about 35% of the muscles are involved and for those who have been going to the gym for more than 3-5 years, this figure can reach 45-50%.

The conclusion here is obvious: if you are engaged in bodybuilding, this is not a reason not to look closely at the training programs of your "fellow iron lifters", aka powerlifters. This approach will help to recruit more muscle fibers to work, which will lead to pulling forces and an increase in muscle mass. You can safely apply in practice the classic training scheme (5 by 5 or 6 by 6). There is also an option to use a technique called "drop sets", which are very effective for hitting muscle fatigue.


A few words about hypertrophy and hyperplasia

Most people know that the more muscle fibers are exposed to micro traumas, the more will be the return in the form of new muscles that the body will build over time. But the problem-free process of initial growth is mostly for those who are just learning the basics of bodybuilding. But those who have been visiting the gym for more than a year need to know a little about the structural and biochemical transformations that take place in the muscle cell. Each of these processes is indirectly or directly related to phenomena such as hyperplasia and hypertrophy.

The process, which is characterized by an increase in the size of a specific muscle cell, is called hypertrophy ("inflation" of any one specific cell), and hyperplasia is characterized by an increase in the total number of muscle fibers. These are their main differences. The best result can always be obtained when several cells are involved, rather than if one (albeit very large) was used. So it turns out that one of the main conditions for gaining muscle mass is the body's ability to increase the number of muscle fibers.

Important: The muscles of strength athletes (powerlifters and weightlifters) contain fewer muscle cells compared to a bodybuilder. But their cell size is much larger, and this only indicates that the body responds differently to different types of training.

So it turns out that each training process is inextricably linked with the hormonal background, which is why it is believed that the growth hormone plays a leading role in the reproduction of muscle cells. As a result, if you alternate or combine different types of training (from bodybuilding and powerlifting), then you can ensure yourself not only a qualitative increase in muscle cells, but also achieve an increase in their size. There is one more nuance that should not be forgotten, that the muscles are able to reach their maximum size in an average of 2 years. But this is not a reason to extremely quickly increase the number of muscle fibers and then engage in thickening them for 2 years.

It will be much easier and more effective to combine different types of training (from bodybuilding and powerlifting), alternating them in turn. For example, for the first 2 weeks of the month we train as a bodybuilder, for the next two weeks we train as a powerlifter.

In principle, all of the above applies only to white (fast) muscle fibers, as the red (slow) ones have their own limitations regarding their growth potential. But they can also be "stirred up" if you train them with exercises with a large number of repetitions in a short period of time.

Summing up the intermediate results, you need to remember that if you work with a lot of weight, then you will work and develop slow muscle fibers, and with a smaller weight load, you will affect fast muscle fibers. Fast muscle fibers are divided into two types (IIb and IIa).

When new muscle fibers are created during hyperplasia, they are type IIb. If you exert a constant influence on them (give a load), then they will begin to transform and turn into type IIa.

Important: the process described above usually takes 5-6 weeks for these effects to take place and the process to hit its peak.

It is becoming apparent that it is best to target your workouts to Type IIb fibers. Training that uses elements of plyometrics (a special type of training that aims to increase the explosive strength of the athlete) is best suited for this. Examples of such exercises:

  • Push-ups from the floor with burst or on balls;
  • "Exit by force" on the crossbar;
  • Jumping up with a barbell that is on the shoulders.

You can also add other exercises to plyometrics such as:

  • Barbell rows;
  • "Explosive" pull-ups;
  • "Explosive" presses.

The main feature of each of these exercises is the need to maintain a high pace of performance. 

Muscles: Their density and grooves

If we talk about muscle density, then everything is simple: the better the fascia is filled, the denser the muscles will be. As a result of hyperplasia, the fascia gains the ability to stretch, leaving space that can be filled with new muscle fibers. All this creates a kind of impression of "loose" muscles filled with air. And following processes help to increase their density:

  • Hypertrophy of new fibers;
  • Filling the fascia with new capillaries;
  • Increasing the cross-section of existing vessels.

Important: some athletes use medications (chemicals and all kinds of steroids) to increase muscle density. They retain a large amount of water in the body, due to which visually the muscles look much larger and more prominent. But in fact, their density is ephemeral, consisting of water and it costs little time to gain this growth.

The terms "furrow" and "streak" are mainly applied to athletes who compete in competitions. They characterize the degree of muscle separation into individual fibers. That is, this characteristic shows how clearly all the available muscle groups can be traced on the body and how pronounced they are.

The definition manifests itself to a greater extent under the influence of hyperplasia processes (it turns out that these are "chips" of bodybuilders), because the muscle fibers should not stand out too brightly and be too large, because then the body will look like one solid lump of muscles. 


Filling with blood

For those who have recently come to the gym, pumping is a real boon. This type of training increases the number of capillaries in the muscles, promotes the release and inflow of large amounts of growth hormone into the blood. And this leads exactly to the fact that the muscles increase in volume faster and more efficiently.

Work straight on a target

As you probably already know, a human muscle corset consists of small (calves, triceps and biceps) and large (back and quadriceps) groups. This lays an imprint on the particular training for each muscle group. So, for example, large muscle groups take on the most weight. And it also happens that some athletes try to load small muscle groups to the maximum (for rapid growth), as a result, they "drag" the weight with their whole body and make strange movements.

It is not necessary to do this, because in order for small muscles to grow, there is no need to increase the weight to unreasonable levels. It is much better and more effective to work with a comfortable load on the muscle and observe the correct execution technique. Quite simply, for training small muscle groups, weight is of little importance, it is much more important to correctly direct this weight to the area that needs to be worked out. There are two training options for this:

  • Correct and comfortable weight at full range;
  • With increased (slightly) weight with reduced amplitude.

How to build the correct training algorithm?

As it should be for the conclusion, below will be described the most important information on how to determine for yourself an algorithm (even conditional), which will be worked out in such a way as to effectively affect muscle growth.

So let's go, the algorithm is as follows:

  1. For beginners and all those who have recently begun to go to the gym, this type of training, which is called pumping, is best suited. That is, put heavy weights aside and work with light weight, the main thing to take into account here, is the large number of repetitions of the exercise (15-20). This type of training will significantly accelerate muscle capillarization (the formation of new capillaries that feed the muscles), branch out the branch of blood vessels to the maximum and also determine the individually correct technique for performing certain exercises. Conclusion: work lightly, pump up your muscles with blood, determine the correct exercise technique.
  2. Do not overlook the innervation of muscle fibers (that is, the connection between the brain and muscles). You need to feel the tension throughout your body as you do the exercise. You should notice how impulses literally "run" through the body from the head to the muscles being trained. How to do it? Read the tips above.
  3. One of the main secrets of the success of the whole venture with muscle growth is hyperplasia. Alternate between basic exercises, such as pumping, and the results will be obvious.
  4. As soon as the work on increasing the number of muscle fibers is completed, it’s time to take on their "quality", that is, remember about hypertrophy. "Explosive" presses and plyometric training, "explosive" push-ups will come to the rescue.
  5. After that, you can calm down a little and move on to the athlete's usual type of strength training. Work in a range of 6-8 repetitions. It is better to start small and work to the maximum, then set a new bar, and again in a circle for 6-8 repetitions. Do not forget to monitor the frequency of training, as at each subsequent workout, you need to perform the volume from the previous one (and this is the minimum set bar), and if it does not work out, then one workout per week should be thrown off the training schedule.
  6. And then repeat everything in a circle: hyperplasia -> hypertrophy -> hyperplasia -> hypertrophy and so on. Do not be lazy to alternate and combine, in general, work persistently to get to your goal.

Now that you know the best ways in which to pump and grow the muscles, you can start to add these regimes into your training program and strive for those great performances and results! This is how the professional athletes and even the fitness models from magazine fronts gain their incredible bodies. Although, with these figure perfect individuals, it is no secret that they use supplements such as Winstrol and Clenbuterol to gain these defined bodies and also for the muscle heads, training without the use of Halotestin or testosterone supplements becomes a sin to them. Only with this supplementation and the use of these types of training programs can you achieve jaw-dropping physiques and rapid changes within the body. If you are becoming more experienced within the world of weightlifting or within your specified training, you can visit out online store and check out our catalog for these amazing substances that will take you and your body to the next level. 

Last update: October 01, 2021