Written by Sarah Loker
Did you know that there are 700 muscles in your body? That’s a lot of muscle!
Building muscle, getting toned and feeling stronger are wonderful benefits of regular exercise. But there can be a lot of confusion around how to build muscle size and strength, and the best exercises or ways to achieve this. This blog will discuss both weight-loaded (resistance) and bodyweight exercises, as powerful tools to increase muscle mass and strength throughout the entire body.
But, how does muscle actually get bigger and stronger (also known as hypertrophy)? It starts with the tiny strands of muscle fibres that make up the muscle. Muscle fibres, such as ‘fast-twitch’ or ‘slow-twitch’ fibres, are not just essential for ensuring that the muscle works properly, but it is the fibres that are responsible for building muscle and strength. In fact, when we build muscle, it is because we cause microscopic injuries or tears in the muscle fibres when we are exercising - this is why our muscles ache and feel sore after working out (known as DOMS - Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). This soreness can be annoying (especially when climbing the stairs or getting up from a chair!) but it serves an important function - it’s your body’s way of persuading you to stop using your muscles until they are fully recovered and rested. Muscle strength and size is increased when the muscle fibres repair during rest. This is because when the body heals and repairs, the muscle structure is reinforced - the body synthesizes new muscle filaments and cells, which are then fused into your muscles, making the repaired muscle a little bigger and stronger than before. It is through this repeated process of repairing and rebuilding, through exercise and rest, that brings about hypertrophy.
It’s clear that we cannot undermine the significance of rest and recovery. Muscles do not get bigger during training but instead reduce in strength and mass (ignoring the increased blood flow which can make your muscles appear more pumped); instead, the muscles recover and grow while at rest. This means that rest days are just as important as training days for building muscle. It’s vitally important to factor in days off from exercise to give your body enough time to recover and build up that strength.
Now that we know how muscles grow, we will discuss two different exercises to build muscle, one loaded workout and one body-weight exercise:
Perhaps the most popular and well-known training for building muscle size and strength is weight/resistance training. By subjecting muscles to significant tension when lifting weights, the muscle fibres are torn and damaged, meaning the muscles have to reinforce themselves during rest and recovery periods, and ultimately grow stronger and larger.
Studio: Strong is The Studio’s weight-lifting group class, where all participants work in pairs and travel through a range of different stations and exercises to target the entire body. Using free weights, kettlebells, resistance bands, and more, this puts the necessary strain on the muscle fibres, leading to an increase in size and strength over time and with correct recovery.
You’ve probably heard of the myth that you can’t build muscle in yoga - this is actually incorrect. Many people think you have to lift weights to make your muscles grow, but the truth is, your muscles can be more than challenged using just the weight of your own body. Just as with resistance training, this challenge to the muscles causes the fibres to tear, meaning your body will be forced to adapt by building more muscle and becoming stronger, leaner and more defined.
Unlike weight training, which primarily focuses on concentric muscle contraction (where muscles shorten as they contract), leading to muscle tightness and stiffness, and reducing your range of motion, yoga uses a combination of concentric, eccentric (the muscle lengthens when under tension) and isometric muscle contraction (the muscle does not change length), moving each joint through its full range of movement. This means you gain strength without shortening the muscle or compromising mobility, keeping muscles strong yet supple. (Weight lifters, do not fear! Simply ensure you stretch well before, during and after your weight lifting workout to reduce muscle tightness).
Power Yoga is our strength-building yoga class here at The Studio. Join Sarah every Wednesday evening for a powerful yoga flow - heating, stretching and toning the entire body, building strength, stamina and flexibility.
Join us for a group class at The Studio, and kick start your journey to a stronger, healthier and happier version of you. To book on to a class, head to our timetable!
The Science of Living: 219 reasons to rethink your daily routine, Dr. Stuart Farrimond (2020) - p163
The Strength Training Anatomy Workout, Frederic Delavier & Michael Gundill (2011) - p15
The Strength Training Anatomy Workout, Frederic Delavier & Michael Gundill (2011) - p16
Yoga Gym: The revolutionary 28 day bodyweight plan - for strength, flexibility and fat loss, Nicola Jane Hobbs (2016) - p22