One of the things that most new athletes want to know about is how to build muscle mass. Gaining strength helps to prevent injuries and improves your sporting performance too. The aesthetic benefits are just a nice bonus!
There are no shortcuts to gaining muscle mass, and unfortunately the answer to the question of how to build muscle mass is not glamorous. It all comes down to hard work and good nutrition.
The first part of the equation is lifting heavy weights. For beginners, there’s no need to worry about complicated lifting programs or fancy isolation exercises. Simply spending time in the gym doing the squat, bench press and deadlift, as well as perhaps pull-ups, rows and overhead press, will stimulate the core muscle groups, and trigger those muscles to repair and build themselves.
Feeding Muscle Growth
Lifting heavy weights will only get you so far, however. If lifting is all that you do, then you will find that you do get stronger to start with, but that strength isn’t coming from muscle growth, but rather from CNS adaptation – your brain is learning to cope with moving the extra weight by recruiting the muscles you already have.
To progress beyond that point, you need to support the growth of new muscle. This means eating more food than your body needs to maintain its current weight, and making sure that you are getting enough protein. Aim for about one gram of protein per pound of lean body mass to ensure maximum muscle growth.
Rest is Under-Rated
The final part of the equation is rest. If you are not getting enough sleep then you are leaving yourself at risk of injury. Exactly how much sleep you need is a personal thing, but if you are getting less than eight hours a night you are not giving your body time to repair itself, and you will be slowing down your muscle gains.
Make sure you take at least one rest day per week, as well. Most people lift 3-5 times per week. If you are lifting five times per week, alternate between doing heavy squats on some days and lighter assistance exercises on other days.
If you feel the need to do cardiovascular exercise, make sure that you do it sensibly. Some cardio is always a good idea, because it will help to protect your heart health. However, too much cardio will slow down your muscle growth. Low intensity, steady state cardio burns a lot of calories, and if you end up in a calorie deficit your body will start looking for energy from alternative sources – some of that energy will come from fat, but some of it may come from breaking down muscle too. You will be better off if you stick to interval training for your cardio, since this offers similar benefits while consuming less of your time and not having as much of an impact on your gains.