For those aiming to lose weight, the equation is relatively simple: calories in < calories out. Going the other direction — that is, gaining mass and building muscle — presents a comparatively more intricate set of steps. Muscle growth depends on a number of factors, not just how much weight you can throw on a barbell (though that is part of it). Whether you’re trying to build your arms up, or get a Channing Tatum-esque core, fostering proper muscle growth requires specific and deliberate attention to several key factors.
While most of these factors seemingly fall under the ‘common sense’ category, their relative importance to overall muscle growth may surprise even the most seasoned lifter. For example, you may be familiar with the 80/20 rule, which can be applied to many aspects of life. The rule dictates that 20% of the effort directed at a given task or goal will have the most impact, while the remaining 80% has less. Well, within the world of fitness, it applies as well — just not in the way you might think.
We’ll cover that more in the following pages, along with some of the other surprising (or not surprising) factors that may be hindering your journey to muscle growth. Read on, take stock of your daily routines, and make the appropriate changes, if need be.
Most Essential Factors for Muscle Growth
You know the adage, or at least some form of it. And the 80/20 rule clearly applies here: A lot of the work when getting fit takes place in the kitchen, not in the gym. That means that what you’re putting in your body to use as fuel, is just as if not more important, than what you’re actually doing at the gym.
You need to focus on lean, protein-rich foods that will nourish your body and help facilitate muscle growth. Some of the dietary staples to consider are chicken breasts, lean beef, and salmon — all of which provide significant doses of protein with fewer calories and less fat than other meats. For veggies, stick to nuts and beans, which also have protein, albeit in lesser quantities.
Rest and sleep is incredibly important to muscle growth, yet most of us would gladly give up an hour or two if it means we get to stay out at the bar later, or pack in some more time with the Xbox. When you sleep, your body is hard at work repairing your muscle tissue, replacing old and damaged cells, and getting to work on the good stuff. You’ll also recharge your brain and attain more mental alertness, and it gets you ready for the next round in the gym.
For those serious about putting on muscle, 10 hours of sleep is often recommended, but at least seven to nine per night.
You don’t have much control over how old you are, and unfortunately, it can be a real factor when trying to redefine your body. Your age brings along with it many elements — past injuries, fatigue, family obligations, etc. — all of which can hinder your workouts, both in terms of what you’re physically capable of, and the amount of time you can put in at the gym. What it really means is that the older you are, the more planning you may need to put into your routine, and the more care you have to take to avoid injury.
You’re probably familiar with the term ‘muscle memory.’ Muscle memory is basically your body’s way of adapting. That is, if you continuously do the same exercises over and over, working the same muscles and body parts, you’re going to plateau faster — because your body is adapting. That’s why variety is so important. Make sure you get in your basic lifts and exercises, but be sure to mix it up a bit. Do lifts that use different muscles, to keep your body continuously surprised. This will not only help build up peripheral muscles, but take the load off of the muscles you’re typically depending on.
We keep harping on this one: Establish goals, and track your progress! You want to know if you’re lifting more than you were last week, and by how much. That way, you can aim for personal records, which will ultimately lead to bigger and stronger muscles. Keep pushing yourself, aiming to add weight every session, or at least every cycle. If you’re able to beat personal bests from previous weeks, you’ll know you’re getting stronger. So keep track, write down some goals, and lift like a madman.