Healthy Byte: Gaining Muscle Easier than Previously Thought

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Women's Health

You Can Actually Put On Muscle Way Faster Than You Think

Julia Sullivan, CPTAugust 16, 2021·6 min read

If you’re looking to see how much muscle you can gain in a month, you’d be wise to focus on strength training first and foremost. When it comes to exercise modalities that produce quick results, it doesn’t get much more instantly gratifying than lifting heavy. On top of walking out of the gym with a major mood boost, there’s a fairly solid chance whatever muscle you just trained will look stronger and larger as you leave, too.

And no—that enlargement isn’t just a product of improved confidence; it’s a physiological phenomenon called transient hypertrophy. Of course, those aren’t actually gains per say. Rather, the “pump” you see is just a temporary flush of fluids to whatever muscle was being worked.

But how long does it really take to start building lasting muscle from a weight training program? And more importantly, how do you get there? All the info you need is ahead.

How Muscle Growth Works

First, it helps to know how muscles, and their growth process, work, according to Jacque Crockford, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “Muscle mass is increased through training and nutritional programming which, over a given period of time, can increase the size of the muscle fibers,” she explains.

Start a strength training routine with this dumbbell workout:

Quick science lesson: Myofibrils are bundles of proteins within muscle fibers that help your muscles to contract and relax. “[They] become thicker and stronger with increased strength training,” Crockford explains. Meanwhile, she notes, the sarcoplasm (which is the fluid around those muscle fibers) boosts the size of the muscle itself.

Basically, this means that when you do a single biceps curl, for example, the muscle sustains damage, or breaks down. The body then delegates microscopic repairmen (a.k.a. the myofibrils and sarcoplasm) to fill in those damages. When this process is repeated, the muscle grows bigger and stronger over time. (You also might have also heard this referred to as hypertrophy.)

Why Some People Build Muscle Faster Than Others

Despite the fact that our muscles break down, repair, and grow with the same biochemical reactions, according to Crockford, that process is streamlined for certain people. “Those exercisers who are genetically male may experience faster, seemingly easier increases in muscle growth when compared to females,” she says. “This is mainly due to [genetically male] people having more of the hormone testosterone, which is primarily responsible for assisting in muscle growth.”

There are a few caveats to the gender divide, though. Crockford says that all people, regardless of their gender, have varying levels of testosterone. (So it’s entirely possible for one woman to be carrying more testosterone than another, so she packs on muscle more quickly.)

Moreover, most studies analyzing testosterone levels in comparison to muscle growth and size pretty much only feature male participants, says Crockford. “More scientific research is needed to understand potential hormonal differences in women and men [as it relates to strength training].”

However, Crockford says that human growth hormone, as well as insulin, also play a role in a person’s ability to build muscle. Again, though, the extent to how much of each hormone a person has is largely genetic.

Another major factor in the muscle-building puzzle? Age. “Sarcopenia, or a loss of muscle mass, has been shown to increase with age,” Crockford says, noting that this phenomenon is two-fold: While muscle loss, like bone loss, is a natural part of aging, it’s often accelerated with an inactive lifestyle.

In other words, regular resistance training can help offset that muscle loss. Studies have shown that this deterioration can begin to occur in a person’s early forties, although it becomes more prevalent as the decades go on, with a 50 percent reduction in muscle mass common among folks in their eighties.

How Much Muscle You Can Gain In A Short Period

Back to the question at hand! If you’re brand-new to resistance training, expect to see tangible shifts in your muscle mass after three to six months of regular training (with proper nutrition!), says Crockford. “Although strength and body weight changes may be measurable within a few days or weeks after beginning a hypertrophy program, these changes are often due to neural adaptations and fluid fluctuations.”

That being said, Crockford says that seeing real, long-term muscle growth is possible after a month of training in some people (keyword: some). “With high genetic potential, it may be possible for someone to gain up to two pounds of muscle mass in a month,” she says. “But that rate is pretty unpredictable per person.”

The Four Driving Factors Behind Muscle Growth

1. Resistance Training Regularly

The most important action you can take in building muscle mass, according to Crockford, is regular resistance training (heavy resistance training, to be exact). “Exercise programming for hypertrophy requires heavy weights, or 65 to 85 percent of your one-rep-max (1RM),” she says.

Pro tip: If you’re not sure what your 1RM is for a particular exercise, Crockford says that choosing a weight that allows for six to 12 reps and roughly three to six sets is ideal (your final rep should feel pretty challenging).

And while sticking to the hypertrophy-focused regimen above for roughly three to six months (focusing on a twice- or three-times-per-week schedule) will contribute to muscle growth just about anywhere, focusing on large muscle groups, like your chest, back, and legs, to really build muscle, per Crockford. “And try to increase the time-under-tension for each exercise.” (Essentially, this just means slowing down each rep into stretched-out counts of two or three.)

2. Eating Enough Calories

While Crockford says that calorie abundance in general reigns supreme when it comes to muscle gain, studies have shown that ample protein specifically can contribute to muscle growth. In one study published in Nutrients, scientists noted the optimal amount for gains was 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day.

3. Prioritizing Sleep

“Rest, particularly sleep, is where muscle recovery takes place,” Crockford says, adding that those hormones responsible for muscle growth and recovery (namely, testosterone, human growth hormone, and insulin) are streamlined to repair microtears in muscle fibers during periods of rest. And if the muscles can’t repair quickly, they won’t grow as fast. “Everyone needs a different amount of sleep to function, however, try to aim for six to nine hours each night,” Crockford recommends.

4. Staying Hydrated

Here’s another reason to drink up: “A properly hydrated body functions better in all areas, and that includes facilitating the healing of muscle fibers after resistance training sessions,” Crockford explains. While she says that, again, your level of hydration is highly dependent on your activity level and body size, as long as your urine is a light yellow, that probably means you’re on track.

Healthy Byte: Fitness Secrets From the World’s Best Trainers

Get fitness secrets from the experts. (Photo: iStock/pixdeluxe)

In fitness (and in life) arming yourself with the best information available can help you conquer any goal – often in less time and with even better results than you imagined. And there’s no better resource for that advice than the health and fitness pros whose careers depend on getting people results. To help you reach your potential, we asked top experts to share the very best tips, mantras and motivation secrets they’ve learned along the way.

1. Forget About the “Fat-Burning Zone.”
“Stop worrying about the exact percentage of fat you burn during exercise (i.e. staying in the ‘fat burning’ zone), and instead focus on the total calories burned from fat (which include the calories you burn after an intense strength session). To burn more fat over a 24-hour period (and not to mention, get in great shape), go as hard as you can, as long as you can.” – JC Santana, owner of the Institute of Human Performance (IHP) in Boca Raton, Florida.

(Photo: iStock/MilosJokic)

2. Exercise in the Morning.
“Has your busy schedule taken over your workout routine? Fit in fitness first thing. Research shows that people who work out first thing in the morning work out more often. Why? Because you’re less likely to make excuses when you get it done before something else can get in your way.” – Elizabeth Burwell Hendrix, co-owner of High Performance NYC training facility in Manhattan.

(Photo: iStock/Eva Katalin Kondoros)

3. Set a Hard Deadline.
“Parkinson’s Law states that the perceived complexity of a task expands to fill the time you allot it. So if you don’t set hard deadlines and timelines, you’re not going to be as focused or productive as you could be. Instead of wasting time at the gym, create hard deadlines for your workouts: Estimate how long your session should take and enforce that you finish in that amount of time or less. Create a negative consequence for not sticking to it. Once you begin to create and enforce deadlines, the BS gets toned down and the results increase dramatically.” – John Romaniello, a New York City based coach, writer, and owner of Roman Fitness System.

(Photo: iStock/AzmanL)

4. Begin With the End in Mind.
“Start with the end point of your specific goal in mind, and then work backwards to plan out your training program. That way, you’ll know exactly what you need to do to reach your goal, keeping you motivated and moving forward. For example, if you want to be able to run a marathon in 16 weeks, then in eight weeks your training program should build up to doing a half marathon, and in four weeks you should be able to do a 10K.” – Rachel Cosgrove, author of “The Female Body Breakthrough” and co-owner of Results Fitness.

(Photo: iStock/RyanJLane)

5. Kick Up the Intensity.
“A lot of people put the time into their workouts but completely fail when it comes to their intensity. Bottom line: If it doesn’t feel hard, it isn’t. Learning this drastically changed my fitness level and my ability to coach my students to new levels.” – Amy Dixon, an exercise physiologist in Los Angeles and star of “Breathless Body 2: The Edge” DVD.

(Photo: iStock/pixdeluxe)

6. Stick With the “Two-Day Rule.”
“Since I travel so much for work, I am sympathetic to how hotels and crazy schedules can foil your workouts. That’s why I stick to the two day rule: Never go more than two days in a row without a workout. It’s a game I play with myself, and I can’t lose. I have to do something, whether it’s getting outside for a run, using the hotel gym (no matter how gross), or doing a bodyweight workout in my hotel room – I just do it. And I haven’t broken the rule in as long as I can remember.” – Chris Freytag, a health and fitness expert for Prevention magazine, author, and national speaker.

(Photo: iStock/Ferrantraite)

7. Aim High But Stay Realistic.
“One thing my Olympic track coach used to say to me whenever I would hit a plateau was, ‘Rome was not built in a day.’ I find that even the most competitive and knowledgeable athletes set expectations that are often too high, and it’s natural to get disappointed when you set an expectation and fail. It’s good to have goals, just make sure those goals are smart, achievable ones.” – Samantha Clayton, former Olympic athlete, personal trainer, and corporate fitness consultant in Malibu, California.

(Photo: iStock/Photolyric)

8. Make an Emotional Connection.
“Most people don’t truly enjoy exercise, but studies show that when you connect with something you like – whether it’s a personal trainer, group exercise instructor, fitness video, or piece of equipment- you make a positive emotional connection and are significantly more inclined to stick with that exercise routine. Find a way to create a positive emotional connection [to your workouts] to stay engaged and wanting to come back again and again.” – Linda LaRue, RN MEd, ATC, creator of the Core Transformer workout program.

(Photo: iStock/Photolyric)

9. Pump More Iron.
“One of the best tips I can give to anyone who wants to change the shape of their body is to lift weights. Specifically, lift heavy weights and perform multi-joint exercises such as deadlifts, squats, and push presses. If your goal is to look toned and lose belly fat, combine 20 minutes of high-intensity cardio and 20 minutes of strength training for your workout – you’ll be finished in just 40 minutes and be in the best shape of your life.” – Marta Montenegro, an exercise physiologist and adjunct professor of exercise and sports sciences at Florida International University.

(Photo: iStock/Pixdeluxe)

10. Make Time to Meditate.
“Learn how to incorporate meditation into your daily routine, no matter how brief. So much of our suffering, pain, insecurities, and struggles are caused by a disconnection with ourselves and our source. Meditation costs nothing, requires nothing, and can be done anywhere. In order to change your body, you need to change your mind and the way it is hardwired.” – Jennifer Galardi, owner of LivWhole in New York City.

(Photo: iStock/Joachim Leroy)

11. Do What You Love.
“If you try something and it doesn’t work, try something else. If you’re injured, switch gears and focus on another aspect of your fitness until you heal. Never stop searching for the right workout and schedule until you create exactly what works for you. When you find it, don’t be swayed by fads, the opinion of others or even the experts. Doing what you love is the surest way to ensure you will be fit for life.” – Liz Neporent, a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise and author of Fitness for Dummies, 4th edition.

(Photo: iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund)

12. Work More Muscles in Less Time.
“When it comes to exercise selection, focus on compound moves, not isolation exercises. A compound movement is something that engages every muscle in your body – such as pull-ups, pushups, or planks- whereas isolation exercises focus only on one muscle group. Compound movements will make you stronger, more explosive, and more toned than anything else.” – Tamal Dodge, an international yoga instructor and star of the “Element Yoga” DVD.

(iStock/monkeybusinessimages)

13. You Can’t Out-Train a Poor Diet.
“I am always amazed at how people sabotage all their incredible efforts in the gym by overeating junk and under-eating nutrient-rich foods. If you commit to a diet of clean food -mainly all colors of plants, lean quality proteins, good healthy fats, and grains like quinoa and amaranth – and limit processed food, fast food, sugar, super starchy grains, and trans fats, you can see tremendous results in your body.” – Suzanne Bowen, owner of Barre Amped in Nashville, TN.

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Healthy Byte: Man Boobs

All Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Man boobs can creep up on anyone. Although usually a direct result of carrying excess body fat, they can also happen when your testosterone levels dip too low and your estrogen levels get too high, a medical condition called gynecomastia. That’s why even lean guys can get big breasts. In most cases, though, these two causes aren’t mutually exclusive. “Excess adipose fat produces aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to the female hormone estradiol, which can cause man boobs to form,” says Pete McCall, a personal trainer and spokesman for the American Council on Exercise.

Regardless of why you have man boobs, the best way to get rid of them is through exercise and other lifestyle changes — not with Low-T drugs. “One reason we see so many ads for testosterone-replacement gels and creams is it’s much easier to use one of these products than to do the work,” says McCall. But given all of the negative health effects linked to Low T drugs — namely increased risk of blood clots, heart attack, and stroke — try these eight natural solutions instead.

Get moving.

If you’re not currently getting intense cardiovascular exercise at least three days a week, that’s the very first thing you must change. Once you’ve committed to regular running, cycling, or any other type of cardio, McCall says you should start losing flab all over, which will also help shrink your doughy chest.

Ramp up your workouts.

If you’re already hitting the gym yet you’re still sporting boobs, crank up the intensity of your workouts. “So many guys get too busy and only go to the gym just a few days a week, doing the same routine every time without really pushing themselves,” McCall says. “You need to go hard — to the point of fatigue, to where you’re out of breath. That will signal to your body that it needs to produce more testosterone to help repair muscles.” Generating more testosterone, in turn, will get your hormonal balance back where it should be to help zap those man boobs. McCall recommends interval training such as alternating sprinting and jogging on the treadmill or taking a challenging cycling class.

Hit the pool.

Any kind of intense cardio can help, but swimming can be particularly good for guys with man boobs because it’s more of a total-body workout than, say, using the StairMaster. “Any time you can get all of your muscle mass involved with an exercise, the total amount of energy you burn goes way up,” McCall explains. He says the breast stroke and freestyle can be especially effective.

Lift more, lift longer.

McCall says strength training also generates testosterone to help with your boob situation. If you already lift, chances are you’re not hoisting heavy enough weights or going until you can’t possibly do one more rep. “Break out of your normal routine by increasing the amount of weight you lift each time and not stopping until you’re fatigued,” McCall says. “This will cause more damage to your muscles and tell your body it needs more testosterone to help with repair.”

Get off the bench.

Rather than bench presses or other lifting exercises for which you lay or sit down, McCall recommends standing workouts with heavier weights, such as barbell squats, deadlifts, and bent-over barbell rows. When you stand, you recruit more muscles throughout your body to help hold you up, which will produce more testosterone. McCall says this is the main reason why CrossFit devotees are so ripped.

Do pushups.

McCall also suggests push-ups for whittling away man boobs because they too involve many muscles and require you to support your own body weight. He says using a TRX or other suspension device to do these will engage even more chest muscles than doing push-ups on the floor. Change up your grip pattern — a wider grip will target more of your chest fibers while a narrower grip will hit the triceps and shoulders.

Try a standing cable fly.

This exercise targets the pectoral muscles specifically. Stretch out your arms to either side, grab the stirrups or handles on a cable, bend forward slightly, and squeeze your hands together toward the middle of your chest. You can also try an alternate-arm cable fly. “Hold your right arm straight out in front of you and slowly draw your left arm out to the side and back to the middle, then switch arms,” says McCall. “Be sure to go slow with each movement because that’ll keep the muscle under tension for longer and signal more repair to that site.”

Get more sleep.

“We produce testosterone when we sleep, so if you’re consistently stressed out and getting only five hours, like many men do, your body won’t make enough testosterone,” McCall says. Make sure you’re taking time to de-stress in the evenings, minding your booze intake, and laying off the caffeine after noon so you can get ample good-quality slumber.

Originally Posted HERE

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