Building skeletal muscle also known as hypertrophy takes intense training, proper recovery practices, and proper nutrition. The muscular system is responsible for creating motion, and is your body’s natural heat source as well as fat and carbohydrate burner. Having more muscle tissue increases metabolism, and can increase overall health with improved body composition. It also makes you stronger which makes it easier to perform physical work. Most people would agree that having good muscle definition is aesthetically pleasing. Some people want more muscle simply to look and feel better.
Gaining muscle is sometimes not as straight forward as just hitting the gym and lifting weights. There are proven methods of training and nutrition that will yield the results you are looking for most effectively. Remember the SAID principle, which explains that there is a specific adaptation for an imposed demand. So pick exercises that will work each muscle, or muscle group. Hypertrophy training is usually a hybrid of training for muscular endurance and muscular strength. An effective training program is high in volume. This means that the amount of sets and reps per muscle group is high. Start with a minimum of 3 sets. More sets can be added based on individual level of fitness. A fitness evaluation or working with a personal trainer can take the guess work out of where to start. The ideal rest period between sets is between 30-90 seconds. This short rest will enhance the blood flow to the muscle, often described as vasodilation, swollen, or pumped. The ideal rep range can be anywhere between 8-20 reps of moderate to high weight. Weight should be approx. 70-90% of one rep max. The higher the weight the lower the reps. A good program will have a mixture of heavy sets and lighter high rep sets.
It is recommended that you begin a basic resistance-training program to build up to a hypertrophy program, as it is very high intensity. Additional sets can be added as time goes on and progress is made. Splitting up your workouts by muscle groups that work together will allow you to train harder each day while getting at least 48 hours of recovery time before working the same muscles again. An example of a common split: Day 1 Chest, Shoulders, Triceps; Day 2 Back and Biceps; Day 3 Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes, Adductors, and Calves.
Some other common muscle building techniques are:
Super Sets: Doing an exercise of one muscle group followed immediately by one or more exercises working the same muscle group.
Drop Sets: Start the exercise with a heavy load and work until exhaustion or one rep before exhaustion. Then lower the weight and repeat multiple times until fatigue sets in.
Time under Tension: Controlling the concentric and eccentric rates of contraction helps to engage more muscle fibers. Try an explosive 1-2 second count on the way up, and a 4-5 second count on the way down.
Be aware that high volume training can cause delayed onset muscle soreness which can be debilitating for a few days post training. Resistance training is purely the stimulus that creates a metabolic demand. The rebuilding and addition of muscle tissue happens while you rest. It is important to get a good night’s sleep each night to make the most of your body’s natural recovery processes and growth hormone spikes. Soft tissue care such as foam rolling and stretching will help manage the aches and pains, and will help maintain flexibility. It is recommended that you consume a protein rich diet to make optimal gains. Each training and nutrition regiment is completely individualized. Even with proper training and nutrition some people will still have a hard time gaining hypertrophy. As any intense form of training, gaining lean mass takes discipline, focus, and a lot of hard work.