Healthy and strong muscles are essential for proper body functioning. Also, some people may want to achieve a physical appearance that is enhanced by muscle development.
Skeletal muscles are composed of contracting muscle fibers that make movement possible. Muscle contraction also plays a role in how a person sits and stands – in other words, their posture. Similarly, muscles affect joint stability, heat production, and maintenance of body temperature.
Interestingly, skeletal muscles are not just muscles but organs as well. They contain many components including muscle fibers, connective, nerve, and blood or vascular tissues.
Muscles vary in size from the large ones in the back and thigh to much smaller muscles in parts of the body such as the middle ear.
A common question when a person starts exercising is how long does it take to build muscle, and the answer can be a complex one.
As we age, muscle mass and strength decrease – especially in men, who are noted to lose muscle mass at a faster rate than women of the same age.
That said, the more muscle that is present when starting an exercise programme, the more changes will be seen during training.
Muscle response to resistance training is different in men and women for many reasons. Factors may include body size, composition, and different hormones.
Incorporating strength training into a person’s workout is a great way to build muscle tone, strength, and overall fitness levels.
Strength training involves using weights, although this does not have to mean dumbbells, squat racks, or machines.
Strength training can be done using a person’s own body weight or with resistance bands, for example.
Some common strength training methods include:
- body weight exercises, such as push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and lunges
- resistance band exercises
- weights that can include dumbbells, kettle balls, cans, or water jugs
- weight machines, such as those used in a gym or home gym
Typically, it is recommended that strength training is done at least 2 days a week and includes all major muscle groups of the body. These major muscle groups include those in the arms, legs, back, and chest.
An individual should be careful not to overdo it with the weights they use to avoid unnecessary injury. It is important to gradually increase the amount and type of weight used to build strength.
It is recommended that 8 to 10 strength training exercises are done 2 or more days a week. These should be completed in groups of 8 to 12 repetitions using the 2 to 3 sets principle. This means that a person repeats the movement of each exercise 8 to 12 times and then again 2 to 3 times.
As the body increases its strength, a person may find it easy to complete the 8 to 12 repetitions using the same weight.
Some in the fitness world say that an individual can progress to heavier weights once they are able to complete more than 12 repetitions using the same weight.
While exercising is great for building muscle and strength, diet is an essential factor in muscle growth and development.
Certain macronutrients and micronutrients play a critical role in muscle development and strength.
Macronutrients consist of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats and are essential for proper body function.
Protein is vital for the body to function normally. Proteins including meat, dairy, other animal products, nuts, grains, and beans are necessary for bone, skin, organ, hormone, enzyme, antibody, and neurotransmitter function. Proteins that a person consumes are broken down into vital amino acids.
Carbohydrates are the body’s energy source and are divided into simple or complex carbs.
Simple carbs break down very quickly, while complex carbs take longer to digest. Sources of carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, and grains and should account for 40 to 60 percent of a person’s daily calorie intake.
Fats should account for around 20 to 30 percent of daily calorie intake. Common dietary sources of fats include:
- butter or ghee
- coconut oil
- extra virgin olive oil
- omega-3s from fish sources
- MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) oil
- full-fat dairy and chocolate.
Vitamins and minerals make up the category known as micronutrients. These are vital for processing the above macronutrients.
Micronutrients include water-soluble B-complex vitamins and vitamin C, and fat-soluble vitamins K, A, D, and E.
Additionally, for those wanting to build muscle, minerals, such as calcium, phosphorous, iron, and zinc are necessary, as well as electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, and magnesium for all athletes.
It is important to speak with a nutritionist or doctor before starting any supplement program to be sure certain vitamins and minerals are safe to consume.
Aerobic or cardiovascular exercise is an essential part of heart health and metabolism, and this can be beneficial for muscle growth. This especially true in those who lead sedentary lifestyles.
Aerobic activities offer the most benefit for muscle growth when they are done for 30 to 45 minutes a day 4 to 5 times per week. People should speak with their doctor about the safe range for their heart rate during aerobic exercises.
After strength exercises, it is recommended that the muscle group be given a time of rest for recovery. Each muscle group should have 1 to 2 days of rest following resistance training, and it is not advised to work the same muscle group 2 days in a row.
A person should get to know their body and listen to its cues. If they are in pain, they should take a longer rest to allow the muscles to recover.
If someone is experiencing an abnormal amount or type of pain, they should speak with a trainer to be sure they are using proper form when doing their exercises, or a doctor if an injury needs assessing.
Building healthy muscles is vital for good body function and strength. Although it may take weeks or months to notice muscle growth, consistent workouts with resistance training, aerobic activity, and a healthful diet should maximize results.
A personal trainer may be able to offer insight into beneficial exercise methods and form, as well as interval and intensity of training programs tailored to individual needs.
As always, people should speak to a doctor before starting any new exercise or diet program, to make sure it is the right choice to achieve the results they want.