The Simple Science Behind Muscle Growth
Although building muscle is a fairly simple concept, it helps to understand the basic science behind it. With a little bit of knowledge of the principles of gaining muscle, you’ll be better able to stimulate your own muscles into growth.
The first thing that you need to remember is that your body doesn’t want to gain muscle. Essentially, everything inside you is working against your muscle building goals. More muscle means that your body needs to consume more energy to maintain these muscles (naturally, that means you need to eat more!).
However, even though your body doesn’t want to build muscle, it’s obviously still possible to do so. And the key to building muscle is something called progressive overload. The principle of progressive overload is that you need to stimulate your muscles with “overload” (stress them to a new, highly challenging task) and do this progressively (with more and more weight each workout).
Think of your body as a brick building. Each time there is an earthquake, the building crumbles and is therefore rebuilt stronger than the previous time. In order to cause the building to crumble again, each successive earthquake will need to be larger than the last.
Your body will adapt the same way. Under stress, muscle fibers will break down and rebuild thicker and stronger than before. Each workout, you are causing your muscles to break and tear (hence the soreness) and rebuild themselves stronger and more efficient than before. Naturally, this requires an ever-increasing load to be applied on the muscles. The act of muscles breaking down and rebuilding is called hypertrophy.
When you’re in the gym, it may sometimes help to think of why your body is able to adapt and make itself stronger. Only a few hundred thousand years ago, when humans lived and survived in a more primitive state, adaptation was critical. Each time a wooly mammoth or saber tooth tiger was bearing down on a human, it was necessary for the human body to adapt and better itself to survive in the future. By building muscle and making itself stronger and more able, the body improves its chances to reproduce, which is the ultimate goal of any species.
For a more in-depth discussion of these basic principles in a simple, easy-to-understand format, I recommend Sean Nalewanyj’s “Muscle Gain Truth No-Fail System”. Sean’s book has a large section dedicated to this topic and he does a much better job of explaining it than I ever could.