If you are like most bodybuilders whose goal is to get bigger muscles and if you are constantly looking for information from anyone who will mentor you to get even more muscular or will tell you the secret to get the physiques like pro bodybuilders, let me help you today with the three simple, science-based fundamentals on how to build lean muscle fast.
I promise to deliver the most effective muscle-building principles below that any beginner or advanced bodybuilder can follow to get the most bang for your buck results.
These fundamentals may sound a bit complex if you’re learning them for the first time but trust me once you know how simple the muscle-building physiology is, you will greatly benefit from applying them into your training to get the results you’re after.
The journey to achieve the body of your dreams gets easier if you know these paramount principles which can be applied to your current training game plan for gaining lean muscle mass. So, without further ado, let’s get right to it.
Three Paramount Mechanisms for Muscle Growth
The desire to increase lean muscle mass is widely pursued by those who lift weights. Based on numerous scientific studies, there are 3 primary factors that are responsible for initiating exercise-induced muscular growth:
1. Mechanical Tension or Progressive Overload (Lifting Progressively Heavier Weights)
Mechanical tension can be defined as the amount of overloading force produced in muscle fibers when you lift weights. Mechanical Tension is a key factor for muscle growth.
Mechanical tension caused by progressive overload is the primary driver of muscular growth.
Progressive Overload is a method of strength training that advocates for the gradual increase of the stress placed upon the muscle fibers. As you continue to place your muscles under heavier and heavier loads, they continue to stimulate muscle growth and strength gain.
Heavy, lower-rep weightlifting primarily increases muscle strength and results in higher amounts of mechanical tension and muscle damage. This style of training is more effective for gaining muscle over time as your primary goal as a weightlifter is to get stronger and especially on key whole-body exercises like the squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bench press.
Mechanical tension can be created in your muscles in a few different ways:
- Using heavy weights and performing exercises through a full range of motion.
- Lowering the weight under tension while the muscles are stretching (also known as passive tension or eccentric phase).
- Lifting up the weight while the muscles are contracting (also known as active tension or concentric phase).
- Increased the total time under tension by slowing down the repetitions in the eccentric phase.
- Pausing for a moment and really squeezing the muscles on each repetition in the concentric phase.
According to research, repetitive mechanical tension associated with bodybuilding can trigger injury to muscle cells which then sets out a chain of chemical reactions that ultimately results in muscular growth.
2. Muscle Damage – The Power of Eccentric/Negative Training
Muscle damage refers to the micro-tears in the muscle that are caused by high levels of tension associated with heavy weightlifting particularly through eccentric overload training through a full range of motion. The greatest damage to muscle tissue is seen with eccentric exercise or slowing down the repetitions on the negative part of the lift where muscles are forcibly lengthened.
This damage then requires repair and if the body is provided with proper rest and nutrition while recovering, it will make the muscle fibers stronger and larger to better adapt to high tension levels in the future.
It is important for you to optimize your recovery period in order to manage muscle damage and reduce muscle inflammation and fatigue, thereby allowing you to feel less fatigued and decrease the risk of injury.
It also helps to understand that muscle damage is not the primary factor responsible for muscle growth and is typically a by-product of tension overload.
Muscle damage is naturally going to occur when you train hard in the gym using full ranges of motion. Experienced lifters typically undergo less muscle damage than new lifters as they’re not performing new exercises as often and have built adaptation to a heavy training volume.
3. Metabolic Stress – Pump and Burn
Metabolic stress, also known as ‘pump training’ refers to specific training programs where you repeat the same movement over and over again (high repetition work) to the point of near failure in order to increase the blood flow to your cells resulting in higher amounts of metabolic stress or cellular fatigue.
Changes in exercise routine variables, such as intensity, volume, recovery interval, and type of training, influence the extent of metabolic stress.
Training with moderate to light weights for higher repetitions primarily increases muscle endurance and metabolic stress, according to research.
This is one of the primary mechanisms that makes resistance training increase muscle mass where you experience a ‘pump’ or ‘burn’ in the muscles when training with higher repetitions (10-12 rep range) followed by shorter rest periods. This causes the muscle to perform a ton of work with very little relaxation time, leading to cell swelling around the muscle or what you know as the pump.
Blood flow restriction training has been considered a tool to maximize metabolic stress. Studies have reported the great effects of this training method on muscle hypertrophy. However, blood flow restriction training is more suitable for advanced weightlifters with many years of training experience and not for beginners.
Other types of training techniques to increase metabolic stress that can be done are increasing the time under tension with supersets and drop sets.
However, these techniques are slightly effective for adding muscle mass to your frame because of which they should only be a small part of your workouts and should be included towards the end or as a finisher for that extra pump in your muscles.
Getting massive pumps and that burning feeling is fun which can be included in a weightlifting routine, but high-rep, “burnout” sets should never be the focus. Such training does cause significant amounts of metabolic stress, that contribute to muscle growth but not nearly as powerfully as a progressive overload (as discussed above).
Muscles Grow Outside The Gym
All that damage and stress that you put your muscles through when training for building lean muscle mass needs to be repaired by the body which happens in your recovery phase outside the gym. Weight training alone doesn’t make your muscles bigger and stronger.
In other words, if you spend an hour training hard every day for your muscle-building goals, then the rest of the 23 hours spent outside the gym determines your rate of success in achieving those goals.
You overload, damage, and fatigue your muscles in your workouts, and then feed and repair them outside the gym with good sleep hygiene and a healthy, nutritious, and well-balanced meal plan.
How do muscles grow?
Muscle growth occurs whenever the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown. This adaptation however does not happen when one is lifting weights. Instead, it occurs when one rests.
Therefore, if you want to gain muscle as effectively as possible, then you want to do everything you can to keep protein synthesis rates at or above breakdown rates by prioritizing your physical recovery. The more time your body spends in this anabolic state (where the body builds muscle), the faster you get muscular.
Muscles need rest to grow and sleep plays a vital role in this physiological process. If you do not provide your body with adequate rest or nutrition, you can actually reverse the anabolic process and put your body in a catabolic state where you are losing muscle.
Learn to prioritize your sleep. A number of studies recommend that everyone should get roughly 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to avoid the consequences and side effects of lack of sleep.
For further reading on how to get better at sleeping, Andrew Huberman (a Stanford neurobiologist and podcaster at Huberman Lab) breaks down the key things for sleeping better here.
Feeding Your Muscles to Stimulate Growth
Training hard and progressively overloading your muscles doesn’t guarantee they’ll grow, though. You have to eat enough as well. You’ve probably heard that you have to “eat big to get big,” and like many age-old bodybuilding sayings, there’s some validity to this advice.
Meeting daily needs for protein intake is a key factor for promoting an increase of lean muscle mass, which provides the raw materials needed for growing muscle tissue. You also have to eat enough calories, which ensures that protein synthesis can occur at maximal efficiency.
When your goal is to maximize muscle growth, you need to make sure you’re not in a calorie deficit. You have to “eat slightly more energy than you burn to get big.” This primes the body for muscle growth.
How much should energy/caloric intake be increased for muscle growth?
Muscle building process that occurs in your body is an energy-intensive process that requires you to eat at a slight calorie surplus of 5% to 10% from your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). To calculate your TDEE, go here. This equation works best for intermediate (1-2 years) and advanced (2-3 years plus) weightlifters and not for beginners (0-1 years).
For beginners, the best calorie intake approach to gain muscle is an increase of about 500 calories from their TDEE that will result in little to no fat gains. The reason is that in the first year of weightlifting your body is at its maximum muscle-building levels which allows you to be more aggressive with your calorie surplus to maximize gains. This advantage however fades away as you keep advancing in your training so it’s best utilized at the start of your fitness journey.
Based upon the current scientific evidence and one that works in real life, maintaining a calorie surplus within the range of 350 to 450 calories per day minimizes fat gain while stimulating muscular growth. Furthermore, it is advisable to closely monitor the response to this energy surplus, using changes in your body composition and functional capacity to further personalize or make changes to your dietary needs of building lean muscle mass.
Maintaining a conservative approach is advisable when increasing calories for muscle gain. The reason is to minimize fat gain when eating in a daily calorie surplus.
Where should this extra energy come from?
Adequate intake of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fats) is of foremost importance for maximizing muscle hypertrophy.
- Protein intake associated with the greatest gains in muscle mass is recommended at 1.6 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.
- Carbohydrate intake within the range of 4 to 7 grams per kilogram of body weight per day is recommended to help support the intense training demands necessary for muscle gain.
- Calories from Fat are effectively double that of carbohydrates and protein that makes it logical to consider increasing fat intake when aiming for a calorie surplus. That said, scientific recommendations for fat intake in active individuals is 35% of their daily caloric intake, with saturated fats not exceeding 10% of total caloric intake.
When should this extra energy be consumed?
Studies have reported a greater increase in lean body mass and strength and a more favorable response to training when more of the daily energy intake is allocated immediately before and after exercise.
The muscle growth process needs adequate energy to be available to build muscle, beyond what is burned by the body and through physical activity. Therefore, if you want to maximize muscle growth while minimizing excess fat gain, then you have to ensure you’re taking enough calories in the right way as explained above.
To Sum Up On the Best Ways To Gain Lean Muscle
To get fitter, stronger, and build lean muscle fast you need to:
- Challenge your muscles constantly by lifting heavy weights using progressive overload to cause mechanical tension.
- Train hard in the gym to failure on most exercises (not all) and using a full range of motion, focusing on the eccentric or negative portion of the lift to promote muscle damage.
- Increase the time under tension by doing drop sets or supersets and keeping the rest period in between sets short.
- Rest and recover properly to give the muscles time to repair and grow.
- Learn to prioritize sleep aiming to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night and maintain healthy habits outside of the gym.
- Consume a slight calorie surplus and keep an adequate intake of all three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) every day to build muscle.
The fundamentals of muscle growth are the most valuable to learn when your goal is to build lean muscle. If you follow the instructions in this post and consistently stick to your workout routine and meal plan, you’re more likely to make faster progress toward your goals. Let the Gains Begin!
I hope and wish that the information I shared will be helpful to you in progressing in your fitness journey. If you enjoyed this post, please leave your experiences and comments below.
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