How to Build Muscle Naturally Using Scientifically Proven Principles
So you just determined that you want to build some muscle. That is an excellent choice.
Not only do muscles look good, they are necessary for your health and for your survival.
Fortunately, we live in a world where information is abundant. In theory, we should have easy access to the best sources of fitness information at our fingertips. Sadly, most of what you read online or in fitness magazines are either wrong or simply misleading.
It is so difficult to know what sources are credible, and which ones are not.
Welcome to the WCT Muscle Building Series. The goal of this series is to give you the foundation to build one of the most important organ systems in your body.
There will be no fluff.
These are scientifically proven methods of muscle development.
This post is going to cover
The Benefits of Muscles: Why You Need More Muscle Mass
The Basic Principles Behind Muscle Development
The Role of Nutrition and Sleep in Muscle Growth
The Benefits of Lean Muscle Mass
Many would argue that the percentage of lean muscle mass that you possess is an excellent marker for measuring health. As humans age and become sick, our bodies begin to get rid of muscle mass in order to preserve energy for the most vital functions.
You can automatically tell someone is very ill from how little muscle mass they possess.
More lean muscle mass means increased metabolic activity
Increased metabolic activity means less fat storage
More muscle mass means more strength
More muscle mass decreases the risk of preventable injuries
The Basic Principle of Building Muscles Naturally
In order to build muscle, your body has to go through three stages:
We first described this concept in 3 Essential Principles of Exercise Routines
We will briefly go over each one...
What Stimulates Muscles to Grow?
The stimulus for muscle growth is resistance training. This could be in the form of calisthenics, weight lifting or any other intense physical activity. Regardless of the resistance method used, it must be something that your muscles are not used to doing on a regular basis.
If you have never exercised in your life, performing 15 push-ups is a stimulus that your body has never encountered before.
These pushups will cause a disturbance in the homeostasis of your muscles, causing them to react and use up metabolic resources.
Depending on your baseline, 15 push-ups may or may not be a sufficient stimulus to disrupt your muscular balance.
The Role of Recovery for Muscle Growth
After the stimulus has been introduced, your muscles now have to recover. This usually means resting, hydrating and replenishing nutrients into your body.
We have written about nutrition at length, starting with 5 Common SuperFoods You Should Consume Every Day.
It’s also a good idea to give the muscles you just trained anywhere from 24-48 hours of rest in order for them to recover back to their baseline.
If you exercise without recovering appropriately, you are spiraling down a process of non-stop catabolism.
Once your muscles have properly recovered from the stimulus, they will undergo adaptation. This means that your muscles will change in a way that’ll make them better prepared to handle the stimulus again, should it happen once more in the near future.
I.e, 15 push-ups shouldn’t cause as much a disruption to your system the second time around.
This is how your body builds muscle. The key is to continue driving NEW adaptations over time.
You aren’t the same person every year. Your experiences shape you and change you into a stronger version of yourself. We want to do the same to our muscles.
This leads us to the next point...
Training Principles: Progression
You must have a progressive stimulus.
Let’s say you wanted to get a suntan. You decide that you are going to expose yourself to the sun every single day during the summer months for x amount of time.
If you were to sit in the sun for 30 minutes a day, your skin would begin adapting to the sunlight (stimulus) by getting darker (adaptation). After the first few sessions, your skin would probably achieve a significant tan.
But what would happen If you went on to sit in the sun for 30 minutes every single day for the rest of summer? How much darker would you get?
The answer is, not much. Your skin has adequately adapted to 30 minutes of sun time, and it will no longer drive any more changes.
The same holds true for muscle growth. You can’t expect to Bench Press 135 lbs for 10 reps for an entire month and think that you will get stronger or build more muscles.
The stimulus has to be progressive.
Your muscles have to be shocked, again and again, forcing them to adapt further.
There are many different ways to increase the stimulus, with the most common being overload.
Training Principles: Overload
Overload refers to the amount of the weight on the bar. The most common way to increase the stimulus to your muscle is to add more weight.
If you lifted 100 lbs for 3 sets of 10 reps, it doesn’t make sense to repeat this same scheme over and over. A reasonable approach is to do 105 lbs for 3 sets of 10 reps and so on.
Obviously, there will come a point where you will plateau as you cannot add weight indefinitely.
This is where you can utilize other methods to keep presenting a new progressive stimulus to your body.
1) You can continue to add weight while decreasing the total volume of work
- Instead of 3 sets of 10 reps, now you perform 3 sets of 8
2) You can continue to add weight, keeping the volume constant and changing the rep scheme
- Instead of 3 sets of 10 reps, now you perform 5 sets of 6 reps
3) You can lower the weight and add more volume
- Perform 3 sets of 12 reps at 80% of the weight you plateaued at
4) You can change the variation of the exercise
- Instead of continuing to perform the Bench Press, you switch to an Incline Bench Press and restart 3 sets of 10 reps with a lighter weight
As you can see, there are many different paths you can take reach your destination.
The whole point is to perform more and more volume (overload) over time.
This is the most important principle of muscle building.
This is why training is so much fun. You have the ability to learn new and different modalities to challenge your body and keep seeing progress as time goes on.
Nutrition for Muscle Gain
The last two pieces of the puzzle are nutrition and sleep.
In the Stimulus-Recovery-Adaptation model described above, it is important for your muscles to recover from the stimulus.
We need to give your muscles the building blocks to repair themselves and drive the adaptations that we are after.
You cannot exercise hard for a month, eat Cheetos and Twizzlers and then expect your body to recover appropriately.
You must consume real, high-quality food on a daily basis
You must consume a wide array of colorful vegetables
You must consume high-quality fats including nuts, seeds, avocados healthy oils such as olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil
and most importantly
You must consume high-quality protein: wild caught fish, pasture-raised beef and poultry, and colorful legumes such as split peas and lentils.
We cover everything nutrition-related in our free E-book which you can get by subscribing to our community!
Sleep and Muscle Growth
The final piece of the equation is sleep. We have written an entire series on how to improve your sleep quality which can be found at The Amazing Benefits Of Deep Sleep [3 Tips To Help You Fall Asleep]
It’s important to remember that sleep quality is just as important as sleep quantity.
Without sleep, your body will not be able to restore itself to drive the necessary adaptation to build muscle.
The Holy Trinity of Health and Fitness requires Exercise, Nutrition, and Sleep. Exercise only accounts for about 1/3rd of the pie.
Without sleep and nutrition, you are simply wasting your time.
Okay, now that you understand that sleep and nutrition are important, we can go into more details regarding the exercise component.
In Part 2, Harness The Power Of Your Body Type [Ectomorph, Mesomorph, Endomorph] we discuss how to determine your body type and therefore, your own muscle building potential.
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