Why Building Muscle is Like Filling a Spaghetti Packet.
In terms of changing how you look (more muscle, less fat), the body works like this:
- Apply stress to the body; and
- The body adapts to the applied stress.
The type of adaption is dependent on the stress applied. So if you do 3 hours of cardio a day then your body will adapt to this and you will get better at performing 3 hours of cardio (which is great if that’s your goal), but not necessarily change your body shape (you can be ‘fat fit’!).
To change your body shape (and not be ‘skinny fat’), you need to do weight training, but not just any weight training where you do the same weight week in, week out. You need to work in the 12-8 repetition range and progressively overload (aka increase your weight) throughout your training cycle.
Within our muscle fibre there are contractile elements. These are the parts of the muscle that contract which enables us to lift weight. The heavier you go, you end up getting more of these. As you gain more contractile elements, the size of your muscle increases. Which over time, changes your body-shape.
Think of spaghetti as the contractile elements. The packet is the muscle fibre. If you add more spaghetti to the packet, it becomes full, which means you need a bigger bag to hold the additional spaghetti. Now group the fibres together to make an actual muscle.
Two things happen during strength training:
- The message from the brain to the muscle telling them to contract starts to happen faster; and
- An increase of contractile elements are recruited for each repetition.
Now if you are using light weights, you are not recruiting all of the contractile elements. Imagine you doing a bicep curl but only recruiting 75% of the available contractile elements. That’s 25% of the muscle you are not using. Less weight lifted = less muscle used.
In order to change your body shape you need your muscles to grow, and will need to work within the 12-8 reps range. This will increases the number of contractile elements, which will allow more muscle available to work with.
As we go heavier (4-6 reps), the rate, speed, and amount of contractile elements that can be recruited is improved. This results in faster muscle activation and more muscle being activated during training. (Working in this range however is not for faint-hearted and you need to work up to it based on how well you are performing in your 12-8 range).
Resistance training teaches the body to build bigger muscles and to use more of the available muscle. The more weight training you do consistently over months and years, the more muscle you will build and use. More muscle = more calories burnt at rest. What does this mean to you in terms of changing how you look? Fat is metabolised in the muscle, and the more muscle you have, the better your fat burning ability. Therefore it is important if you want to improve how you look (more muscle, less fat) that you base your exercise around weight training and adhere to a strength training program (2-3 times a week) that is focussed around progressive overload.
My body composition changed dramatically when I switched the majority of my training from circuits and cardio to structured weight training, aiming to lifting heavier in every program cycle.
Success leaves clues.