Strength training: how to increase muscle mass

Mass is important in sports where moving objects- either people or heavy implements- requires the use of momentum

by James Marshall

strength training

“How do I get big?” is a question I am often asked.  This comes from two types of parties- the first who need some mass in their sport, usually those in contact or collision sports. The second are from those who don’t need it, but want to train for aesthetics.

Guess who I choose to train?

Mass is important in some sports where moving objects- either people or heavy implements such as the shot or a rowing boat- requires the use of momentum (remember that mass x velocity = momentum). So, people in these sports often need to increase mass in order to perform better.

In other sports, such as weightlifting, it is a by product of the immense amount of training that is undertaken over the years.  Here, it is not overall mass that is important, indeed that is counterproductive in weight categories, but mass of the limbs that are doing the work.

In a lot of sports, such as running or field sports, too much mass is unproductive as it either means the athlete has to carry extra weight, or that the limbs are heavier and increase inertia and so slow the velocity of that limb down.

Athletes are bombarded by information in this area, but often it comes from anecdotal evidence or from supplement suppliers. I recently attended a lecture by Professor Mike Stone which highlighted some research in this area, and here are some of the key areas he covered.

Work to rest ratios are very important, and managing stress (training and otherwise) is essential Stress releases hormones such as cortisol which inhibits growth. If there is enough rest between training sessions, then resting testosterone levels increase.
Training + testosterone= less fat, greater mass, greater strength, greater power.

Immediately after training there is a decrease in insulin. Insulin is important because it helps synthesis protein which helps grow muscle tissue. Having a meal with carbohydrates and protein in it after training will stimulate insulin release and this will help grow muscle.

The total amount of work done in training may be more important than how that work is divided into sets, reps and load. For example if you are squatting 120kg for 5 reps for 5 sets with 3 minutes rest in between sets, that is a total load of 3000kg.You could also lift 6 sets of 5 reps on 100kg and lift a total of 3000kg. The exception may be for beginners where they will have to lift for more reps per set. So they might lift 6 sets of 10 reps of 50kg and still lift 3000kg.

The important thing is not to train to failure, so that adequate rest can take place in the session itself, and in between sessions. You will be better off lifting a weight that you can comfortably do for 6 reps, and do more sets, rather than trying to do the same weight for 8 reps. A good night’s sleep is essential- and that is free.

When training athletes, I normally do a 3-4 week block of this type of training, followed by either an endurance block of training, or a power block, depending on their goals and the needs of their sport. The important thing is to change, and not to get stuck with one method.

Key points:

•    More rest may be necessary than previously thought- 2 -3 minutes per set.
•    Lift heavy- more weight means more adaptation.
•    That means less reps- so between 4-8 per set.
•    Training to failure is not necessary to get big.
•    Eat a meal that combines protein and carbohydrate as soon as possible after training.
•    Rest between sessions.

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