There’s no question that strong is the new skinny, but putting on muscle can be easier said than done. And while figuring out the formula for size and strength isn’t exactly rocket science, there is some science involved.
The Science of Strength
Thankfully we don’t need a periodic table or fancy equations to figure out how to get fit. However, it is helpful to know what makes muscles grow. It might seem counterintuitive, but in order to grow, a muscle must first be broken down. And that’s what happens when we lift weights. We’re applying stress to our muscle fibers to create the best possible kind of injury, triggering satellite cells to rush to the scene of the “trauma” in order to repair our muscles. These cells fuse muscle fibers together and create new muscle protein, known as myofibrils.The result: bigger, stronger muscles.
When it comes to strength training, we can use this process in our favor. Because the body adapts quickly to challenging tasks, if it can’t do something, it will try and change to make it easier the next time. According to Nick Tumminello, the owner of Performance University, the key is creating a training plan that provides stimulus to the muscles and elicits growth. Tumminello says that if we want our muscles to grow, we must subject them to “metabolic stress, muscle damage and tension.” It’s also important to increase and vary the amount and types of stimulus over time. This concept is known as progressive overload. Putting the method into practice could be as simple as upping the weight on the bar, mixing in new exercises, or focusing on eccentric lowering of the weight.
So what are the best methods for building muscle from diet to training techniques? We called in elite powerlifter Casey Williams, World Record holder for the squat (700 pounds) and the combined total of bench, squat and deadlift (1,770 pounds) in the 220-pound weight class. Williams also coaches other athletes looking to get bigger and stronger. Here is his advice for anyone looking to build muscle safely and effectively.
1. Get moving.
For gaining size and lean muscle, Williams recommends focusing on four main exercises — squat, bench press, deadlift and overhead press — which aren’t just for powerlifters, he says. “Big moves are an invaluable way to increase strength and lean muscle.” And there’s science to back that up. Research shows that compound moves, such as the squat, recruit multiple muscle groups and elicit a larger hormonal response, making them more effective for building strength and muscle than isolated movements, like the leg extension. As for rep range, Williams recommends five or fewer repetitions for strength and six to 12 repetitions for gaining size.