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6 of the most common questions for building muscle answered

Building muscle can be difficult, everybody responds differently to training.

In this post, we answer 6 common questions about muscle building. Including the role of genetics and training volume and intensity.

1. Should I lift heavy? Does strength equal size?

Yes and no, the problem with lifting heavy is that you don’t lift for long. Normally rep ranges of 1-6 are considered “heavier” in bodybuilding. The normal time under tension (TUT) of each rep lasts around three seconds. In other words, your muscle is under a lot of tension but that tension does not last long. Whilst this causes stimulus and “trauma” it may not be the ideal method of causing the amount of trauma needed to cause hypertrophy (muscle building) adaptations.

The benefit of lifting heavier means that the muscle must adapt to deal with heavier weights, which can then be carried over into higher rep ranges. Also, rep ranges of 1-6 and big loads will still illicit muscle growth, if you enjoy this form of intense lifting then you should definitely include it in your programme. It is recommended that you start your session with heavy compound lifts, then increase the volume with a lower weight.

2. So if muscle responds to time under tension I should just do 100’s reps per set?

NO! Muscle does respond to time under tension, however it also needs resistance and the correct muscle fibres being activated. If we say the usual rep takes 3 seconds to complete (1 second concentric, 2 seconds eccentric) you would be working between 3-5 minutes per set which will bring blood to the area and cause a “burn”. In general it won’t build muscle in the same way as a lower TUT and higher load. This is because this type of activity makes the muscle more efficient, more stamina based and recruits the slow twitch muscle fibres.

Slow twitch muscles are great, they don’t fatigue quickly and they can keep you going when your partner forces you to go for a walk, however, they are smaller than fast twitch muscle fibres. So if slow twitch muscle fibres are smaller in diameter than fast twitch they are not so fantastic when it comes to muscle size. In general if building muscle you should not go beyond 75s of TUT per set. Although not the case for the majority, some people do have genetics where higher TUTs are worthwhile.

3. So I need to be somewhere in between TUT and heavy?

For the most part, yes if your set lasts 20-60 seconds you will be working the muscle fibres needed to increase muscle mass and stimulate them for long enough. For example, 10 reps at 3 seconds per rep would take 30 seconds to complete. This is one of the reasons it is the most popular rep range, especially for beginners.

4. Surely I need to mix things up?

Yes, our bodies also respond to new stimulus! But remember we are talking about time here, not just rep ranges. Let’s say we have 20 – 60 seconds to play with during a set. That means we can do all sorts of different rep tempos to cause muscle stimulation.

When it comes to actual muscle hypertrophy we know that eccentric loading is more important than concentric loading. Eccentric loading is when the muscle is lengthening. When you see someone having no control over moving a weight, they may be lifting the weight but they are not stimulating the muscle in the most applicable way to build muscle.  You could try these times under tension per rep to stimulate the muscle in a different way: (normal = 2 seconds eccentric, 1 second concentric)

  • TUT 1 – 5 seconds Eccentric, 1 second Concentric, 1 second pause – 5 reps – Go heavier than normal.

  • TUT 2 – 3 seconds Eccentric, 2 seconds Concentric, no pause – 12 reps – Go a bit lighter than normal.

  • TUT 3 – 7 seconds Eccentric, 1 second Concentric, 1 second pause – 3 reps – Go much heavier than normal.

5. So am I ready to go out and start building muscle?

Yes, In general stimulating the body will help with building muscle. You can follow the tips above to stimulate your body correctly.  Of course there’s a multitude of other factors that will affect your results, the main ones are:

  • Nutrition

  • Genetics

  • Supplements

  • Drugs

  • Injury or Illness

It’s rare that everything falls perfectly in place for a person, but as long as you have a solid training platform, good disciplined nutrition and a bearing of how your body responds to training you will be well on your way.

6. What role do my genes play?

We all know people that can easily pile on muscle, or in some cases eat like a horse and put on no body fat. Genetic variants will determine our muscle building limit, our response to certain foods and the speed at which we respond to muscle building stimuli.

Remember that genetics also play roles in our height, hair and eye colour and disease risk. If you can go to the gym you are more fortunate than some with certain genetic disorders.

Thanks to advances in DNA technology it is possible to test your genetics and apply what you have learned to training.

Most professional athletes utilise this testing for injury risk and control. The main issue is that there are a few companies that offer this type of testing with little or no personal contact or aftercare, therefore you must pick wisely when spending your money.