Gaining muscle mass: it's a primary training goal for many athletes. By spending time in the weight room, you will gradually increase the size of your muscles; however, there are a few things you can do to speed up the process.
When gaining muscle mass, you are actually enhancing the muscles you already have. In other words, resistance training doesn't increase the number of muscle fibers, it just causes each fiber to enlarge. This process is called hypertrophy.
In a progression model, the hypertrophy stage typically precedes the strength and power phases. In contrast to them, it's characterized by higher volume [reps, sets] and lower intensity [weight load]. The general guidelines for hypertrophy training are as follows:
- Load: 50 – 75 percent of one rep max
- Sets: 3 – 6
- Reps: 10 – 15
- Rest: 30 – 90 seconds
Although you're not lifting at a high percentage of your max, you are challenging your muscles to fatigue with high volume and short rest between sets. Studies have shown that this method of training leads to the largest increases in muscle mass.
To optimize muscle mass development, it's also recommended that athletes perform three or more different exercises for the same muscle group. This fatigues the entire muscle by engaging it from different angles and with different loads, ensuring that fibers left idle during some exercises are activated by others, and leading to even further exhaustion.
Athletes can also boost their muscle mass growth outside of the weight room. Eating a proper pre-game meal provides muscles with the energy they need to complete a workout with quality reps every set. After a workout, protein consumption provides muscles with the amino acids they need to rebuild and increase their size.
Sleep also affects muscle mass development. Approximately 50 percent of human growth hormone—a powerful hormone that stimulates muscle development—is released during deep sleep. Athletes should strive for at least eight hours of sleep each night so their bodies can naturally promote muscle growth.
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