Six Proven Facts to Boost Your Muscle Gains

The Science of Building Muscle

Six Proven Facts to Boost Your Muscle Gains
Six Proven Facts to Boost Your Muscle Gains Admin: Gamze Ç.

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1) Train Explosively for Maximum Gains in Strength, Power and Size

High-intensity, explosive training (HIET) is the key to rapid gains in aerobic capacity, muscle mass, strength, power and fat loss that will take your fitness to the next level. HIET turns on biochemical pathways that build strength and power, trigger muscle hypertrophy and mobilize fat-burning hormones that give you that lean, athletic look. Jim Steele from Southampton Solent University in the UK and co-workers found that recreational weight trainers practicing HIET (two times per week for 10 weeks) gained more strength, power and muscle size than a group practicing high-volume training at slower speeds. These results might not apply to experienced bodybuilders or power athletes, but they are consistent with those of other recent studies. This type of training is not for the faint of heart. Combine high-intensity training with protein and amino acid loading and you will make faster progress than you thought possible. (Biology of Sport, 33: 241-249, 2016)

2) Lactic Acid: Old Myths and New Realities

Lactic acid is blamed for everything from sore muscles and cramping to fatigue and injury. Most athletes and coaches look at it as a waste product that should be avoided at all costs. The truth is that lactic acid— or lactate— is a major player in the way the body generates energy during exercise. Far from being the bad boy of metabolism, lactic acid provides energy, helps use dietary carbohydrates and serves as a fuel for liver production of blood sugar and glycogen (stored carbohydrate). In fact, producing lactic acid is nature's way of making sure you survive stressful situations.

An essay by Robert Fitts from Marquette University explained the dark side of lactic acid and other metabolic changes occurring during intense exercise. When your body makes lactic acid, it immediately splits it into lactate ion (lactate) and hydrogen ion. Hydrogen ion is the acid in lactic acid. It interferes with electrical signals in muscles and nerves, slows energy reactions and weakens muscle contractions. The burn you feel during intense exercise is partially caused by hydrogen ion buildup. Other factors contributing to numbing fatigue include interference with cell pumps (i.e., sodium-potassium and calcium pumps), reduced calcium release and excess inorganic phosphate. Don't blame fatigue on lactic acid. Rather, place the blame where it belongs— on hydrogen ions and internal disruptions occurring in the cells. (Medicine Science Sports Exercise, 48: 2335-2338, 2016)

3) Kaatsu Training: Best Pressure and Cuff Size

Blood flow restriction during weight training, called Kaatsu training, increases muscle strength and size using relatively light weights. A pressure cuff is wrapped around the top of a limb and pumped up high enough to restrict the flow of venous blood (blood returning to the heart from the tissues) while maintaining arterial blood flow (blood going to the tissues from the heart). While restricted blood flow training is less effective than traditional weight training for athletes, it may be valuable during rehabilitation or as a change of pace to vary the training response. Jeremy Loenneke from the University of Oklahoma and colleagues, in a review of literature, concluded that cuff width, material and pressure, and the size of the athlete could influence the results and effectiveness of the technique. Bigger athletes should use larger cuffs and greater cuff pressure. More research on factors involved in blood flow restriction would provide more standardized methods for Kaatsu training. (Frontiers and Physiology, 4: 249, 2013)

4) Brain Fatigue Could Be Slowing You Down

Most fatigue studies during the last 125 years have emphasized muscle changes. While muscle fatigue is certainly important, scientists have often overlooked the body’s control center— the brain and nerves. During exercise, the central nervous system selects which motor units to activate (nerve plus muscle fibers) and the time they are activated. Decisions by higher brain centers occur through conscious and unconscious assessment of load and speed and of the metabolic status in the muscles. Central nervous system decision-making considers the task at hand as well as the metabolic health of the body. A literature review led by Janet Taylor from Neuroscience Research Australia and colleagues concluded that central nervous system fatigue contributes to deteriorating performance during intense exercise. Communication between the brain and peripheral nervous system slows down. Spillover from the neurotransmitter serotonin inhibits motor neuron communication. Repetitive motor unit activation alters brain-muscle communication. Progressively increasing feedback from peripheral sensors in the muscles, tendons and blood vessels (i.e., afferents) alters cardiovascular function and breathing. The nervous system is more difficult to study than blood or muscle tissue, which explains the relative lack of research on central nervous system fatigue. (Medicine Science Sports Exercise, 11:2294-2306, 2016)

5) HIIT: It Works But We Have A Lot to Learn

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) involves repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise lasting 10 seconds to four minutes followed by rest. HIIT increases maximal oxygen consumption, mitochondrial density, maximal cardiac output and maximal stroke volume faster than moderate intensity continuous training (i.e., traditional endurance training). A review of literature by Martin MacInnis and Martin Gibala from McMaster University in Canada concluded that the ideal intensity, duration and frequency of HIIT have not been identified. The intensity component of interval training is critical for promoting the rapid changes that occur in maximal oxygen consumption and mitochondria. Intervals as short as 15 seconds are effective— provided you work at near maximum effort. (Journal of Applied Physiology, published online October 17, 2016)

6) Music Makes HIIT More Fun

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) builds fitness quickly, but many people are put off by its difficulty. Athletes often train to music because they believe it gets them psyched up and helps them work harder. A study by Matthew Stork and Kathleen Martin Ginis from McMaster University in Canada showed that they are right. College students did a HIIT workout with or without music. The students enjoyed the intense workouts a lot more listening to music. Music didn’t change the perception of effort; it made people want to work out harder. Listen to your tunes for a better workout! (Journal of Sports Sciences, published online October 15, 2016)

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