Why Build Muscle?
What Are The Benefits Of Building Muscle?
Many men want to build up their muscles. They want to bulk up and get bigger muscles, especially if they are of a smaller build. Most women want to tone up. Just as there is pressure on women to be slim, there is pressure on men to be 'buff'. I firmly believe in exercising for health and enjoyment, rather than appearance, however luckily enough increasing muscle mass is healthy, provided it is not taken to the extreme.
So why is building muscle an important thing to do?
Well it makes you stronger for one thing, which will make everyday tasks (such as carrying the shopping home) much easier. In the same vein when you have stronger muscles you reduce your risk of injury through straining a muscle, by lifting something that is too heavy for you. In other words it is easy to strain a muscle when we ask it to do more than it is capable of doing, however if we train our muscles to be strong, then they are more likely to be able to cope with heavy loads. You will feel stronger too, and this in turn can help with self confidence.
When you train your muscles your body will shape up. That means that you will look more toned. This will be the case whether you are training for tone or bulk, and there are two very different ways of training for each, which are described in detail below.
However one of the main benefits of building muscle is that muscle is an active tissue, whereas fat is not. This means that muscle tissue uses calories, EVEN AT REST, whereas fat does not. In short muscle tissue is burning calories even when you are doing nothing at all! So that means that if we can change the percentage of muscle to fat within our body, increasing the percentage of muscle, and decreasing the percentage of fat, we actually increase our metabolism! And an increased metabolism means increased fat burning capabilities and ultimately FAT LOSS! So by increasing the muscle mass within our body, we also improve our chances at burning fat and managing our weight!
So Exactly What Type Of Exercise Should I Be Doing To Build Muscle?
To increase your muscle mass you need to be doing resistance work or weight training. This means anything that puts additional strain on the muscles. Exercise to build muscles is characterised by low repetition, hard resistance type of movements. Think weight training (using free weight, machines or your own bodyweight), squats, press ups and so on. However activities like Pilates, Circuits, Kick-boxing and Pole fitness will also train your muscles. Cardiovascular types of exercises, such as running and aerobics are not so good for building muscle. Whilst they will give you stronger muscles, they are more focused on cardiovascular fitness and less on muscle building. This type of fitness is also important for health, and training using these methods alone will give you muscles that are good for endurance types of activity (such as running), however it will not increase the size and strength of your muscles much.
So ideally you will be lifting weights in a gym, or, if you don't have access to a gym, you can easily train your muscles at home using your own bodyweight. Here is a list of exercises that can be done at home using just your own bodyweight, no equipment necessary!
Squats; lunges; back extensions, ab curls, press ups, tricep dips, leg lifts.
You can also do bicep curls and tricep extensions using ordinary household items such as large bottles of water or logs.
For those of you who feel totally put off at the idea of weight training, why not try an activity such as Pole Fitness or Pilates. These types of activity still train your muscles for strength and endurance, without the focus on specific muscle building exercises, or the use of weights. Just make sure to pick an activity that puts suitable strain on your muscles, WALKING will not do it! Classes like 'Bodypump' and 'Body Combat' are great.
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Exercises To Build Muscle
Tricep dips & Tricep extensions
* This is not an exhaustive list but gives you some ideas. Most of these exercises can be done without equipment, using bodyweight alone, however some require gym machines or free weights.
TIP - if you don't know how to do the exercises, type the names of the exercises into google and look for pictures, instructions and safety tips about how to do them. If you are a member at a gym then ask one of the qualified gym staff to show you. They will be pleased to help and may even offer you a personalised plan. Be sure to tell them you wish to build muscle!
Training For Strength Versus Training For Endurance
When we talk about building muscles it is quite a vague term, but did you know that there are two very specific and different ways to train depending on whether you want to get big, strong, bulky muscles, or whether you want to get long, shapely, toned muscles? Both ways will bring you the benefits we talked about at the beginning, and for health you should be taking a balanced approach which incorporates using some of both methods, however you will likely lean towards one way of training or the other, depending on what you are trying to achieve. Typically men tend to want big, strong muscles, and women tend to want toned, shapely muscles, however it is not always the case.
If you are training for bigger, really strong muscles, then you need to focus on heavy weights or hard resistance, and low repetitions (reps) of the exercises, specifically between 6 and 10 reps of each exercises. One lot of 6-10 reps is called a set. When training for strength most people do 2 or 3 sets, with breaks in between. You need to be lifting weights, or doing your exercises at a level where it's REALLY challenging on the muscles, so much so that by the last few reps in the set you should be struggling, in fact you may even fail (that is what it's known as when you can't quite do the last couple of reps). This is fine when training for strength, although ALWAYS BE CAREFUL AND DON'T TAKE YOUR BODY BEYOND IT'S SAFE LIMITS! If you can easily do 10 reps you need to use a heavier weight or choose a harder progression of your exercise.
If you are training for toning you need to be choosing slightly lighter weights, although still heavy enough to feel very challenging, and you need to reach failure by 12 - 15 reps. This means you should not be able to do anymore reps once you reach 15. If you can do 15 easily you need to increase the weight or choose a harder progression of the exercise. Again do about 2 or 3 sets.
If you are training for strength and endurance use a mixture of these two approaches, or aim for somewhere in the middle of the two. This is best for health.
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How Often Should I Train To Build Muscle?
Ideally between 3 and 5 times per week. 3 is the minimum if you want to see results quickly, however any increase above and beyond what you are already doing will be beneficial. Train using the specific methods outlined above.
I Am A Woman, Should I Still Build Muscle?
YES! Yes and yes again. Just because you are a woman please don't think that you can exclude this type of activity from your exercise regime! You will still get the benefits we spoke about at the beginning from training to build muscle, and remember that including this type of training, and working on your muscles helps you to manage your weight.
A lot of women avoid weight and resistance training because they worry about getting big muscles. DON'T WORRY ABOUT THIS! It takes A LOT for women to get big muscles. We would have to train harder than men as we don't have the same levels of testosterone in our bodies, meaning it is harder for us to bulk up. Add that to the fact that you would also have to train specifically for strength to get bigger muscles and it is really not something to stress about. Most women who train their muscles will simply tone up, become more shapely and burn fat! So get stuck in!
Remember there are group exercise classes on offer that are targeted at training your muscles. Some examples include Body Combat, Bodypump, Pilates and Pole Fitness.
A Great Pilates Workout That You Can Do At Home!
What Should I Eat When Training To Build Muscle?
I will write a separate InfoBarrel article on this. However for now just let me say a couple of words. You have probably heard a lot about eating protein to build muscle. Protein IS important to help muscles with growth and repair, however contrary to popular belief we already get enough protein in our diets in westernized cultures to accommodate this. In fact most westerner's diets are TOO HIGH in protein already.
The myth that you need to consume loads of protein is one that is passed around amongst bodybuilders and muscle men at the gym. However too much protein can put strain on the liver, kidneys and heart, and excess protein only gets excreted out of the body anyway. Our body's can store protein, unlike carbs, so just make sure you have some lean protein (such as turkey, lean beef, chicken, fish, eggs or beans) each day and that will be enough.
Also eat plenty of complex carbs (such as brown rice, vegetables, wholemeal pasta, potatoes) when you are training. You will need it for the energy.
Eat a diet high in fresh fruit and veg for good health, energy and vitality, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. This will actually help you and support your body in your training.
Fruit, nuts and foods like ryvita with peanut butter are better snacks when you are training than sweets and high sugar drinks. Isotonic drinks are not necessary for most people when training, they are just another way for the fitness industry to make money.
Eat a healthy balanced diet to get the best results.