Tired of seeing no change in muscle development, though you think you’ve tried everything at the gym? The most effective ways to increase lean muscle mass include more than just pumping iron. Read on to learn what else goes into muscle development in order to make the most of your efforts to achieve your body composition goals.
There are necessary tissues for a general healthy functioning body, like veins, arteries, and nerves, and there are necessary tissues for a healthy body composition: most notably, lean muscle mass. There are three different types of muscles in the body: skeletal, cardiac and smooth. Cardiac and smooth muscles are located in the heart and organs, respectively, while skeletal muscles power movement in the body, and are what biceps, triceps and quads are made of. The proportion of lean muscle mass to body fat determines body composition, as well as other health indicators, for better or for worse. In most cases, a lower percentage of body fat and a higher percentage of lean muscle mass is an indicator of better overall health. More lean muscle mass can also increase resting metabolic rate, as muscle burns more calories at rest than fat.
Lean muscle mass development is a common goal for most. However, a lot goes into building – and maintaining – muscle mass. Typically, muscle growth is thought to happen in the gym lifting heavy weights. While not entirely untrue, there are more factors that contribute to lean mass development.
Weight training, and…
Weight training is the primary activity associated with muscle growth, as muscles need resistance in order for fibers to tear and regrow stronger (and bigger). However, other activities like balance work, cross training, stretching and recovery are necessary to grow and maintain a healthy muscular system. Balance work can help strengthen and stabilize joints and may help reduce future imbalances that can lead to injuries. Maintaining healthy joints can allow for building up to higher weights and more repetitions without pain. Cross training is also an important element to include in a fitness regimen. Using different muscles -and using muscles differently – creates variety and can aid in definition. Stretching is essential to muscle health, as a part of the recovery process. Muscle fibers actually repair and grow during rest. Leaving 24-48 hours between training sessions per muscle group provides enough time for muscles to repair and get stronger.
Protein, but also…
Nutrition is just as important, if not more important, than a solid fitness plan. The body needs a balanced supply of macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs) to operate and maintain metabolic health. It is a common belief that protein is the main “growth factor” for muscles. While this is true, muscle fibers also need carbohydrates to replenish and repair. Carbs are also essential to keeping energy levels high and can be beneficial when included in a pre-workout meal to prepare for strenuous activity.
Sleep. A lot.
As mentioned, recovery is incredibly important to muscle synthesis (fibers rebuild when they rest). Much of this takes place during sleeping hours, experts have found. Getting high quality and a high quantity of sleep is crucial to growing muscle fibers and maintaining growth over time. Sleep also has a significant effect on metabolism, as lack of sleep is associated with more fat storage. Consistently getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night can help support your work in the gym, but don’t sacrifice sleep for early morning workouts, as this can be counterintuitive to muscle growth.
For some, muscle synthesis comes easily. For others, broadening the scope of habits to support muscle development is necessary to see any changes. Like any aspect of health, it’s important to consider how other habits contribute (or don’t contribute) to your goals. Working hard in the gym with no results? Check your sleep patterns. Dialed into a nutrition plan but nothing is budging? Add some variety to your gym routine. If you are confused, frustrated or feel “stuck,” consult an expert who can help determine a path forward. It can take time to understand what changes work best in moving you closer to a goal, but a well-rounded approach that supports whole body health can bring even more benefits than beefing up your biceps.