Resistance Training is Hard Work

What are the benefits of resistance exercise?

Although weightlifting has long been associated with bodybuilding and power sports such as football and field events (shot put, discus, etc.), it is more popular with the general population than ever before. Resistance training can favorably increase the amount of muscle attached to the skeleton as well as influence the density of the skeleton. Thus, resistance training can help reduce the risk of bone-related disorders such as osteoporosis and improve energy expenditure, reduce body fat content, and improve self-image.

What are options for resistance exercise?

Resistance exercise is muscle movement against some form of resistance. There are numerous options for resistance training including free weights (e.g. barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells), Selectorized machines (e.g. weight stack machines) and resilient resistance materials such as elastic bands. Even moving body weight alone, such as pull-ups and pushups, as well as sprinting can provide enough resistance for benefit. Today, workouts can happen in many different environments then the classic gym.

How does resistance training increase muscle strength and mass?

The goal of most resistance training programs is to increase muscle strength and size. Muscle development through resistance training hinges on the “overload” principle. Significant, repetitive resistance against movement places a greater physical stress on muscle (overload), and more specifically the muscle fibers that are involved in the movement. In response, overload initiates mechanisms that direct muscle to adapt primarily by increasing strength and in an associated manner muscle size (hypertrophy).

Muscle hypertrophy means that the trained muscle cells get thicker and as a result the entire muscle (e.g., upper leg, biceps, chest, back) gets bigger gets stronger. Therefore, as a biceps muscle enlarges from doing dumbbell curls it is really a reflection of an increase in size of the overloaded muscle fibers within that muscle. Although growth may occur in both Type I and Type II fibers, as mentioned, it is believed that more of the hypertrophy is result of changes in Type II muscle fibers. Regarding strength, the degree of improvement in muscle strength is more related to the load used. Simply stated, greater loads used to perform muscle movements during a workout will lead to greater strength gains over time.

What are the most important training principles to building muscle strength and size?

The most important training principles for increasing muscle strength and size will be related to total training volume. Mathematically, training volume is the product training resistance (load) and frequency. Within a workout, training volume for a muscle group is equal to the level of resistance (e.g. weight) multiplied by the number of repetitions (reps), which is then multiplied by the number of sets of reps. So, if a man does bench press with using a 200-pounds, and performs 5 sets of 10 reps, the bench press volume would be 10,000 lb. 

Workout Volume =

Resistance Load   X   Repetitions

X Sets

Muscle development over time is the product of training volume achieved during that time. In general, increasing training volume can lead to increases in muscle size and/or strength.

For instance, if a man does the same bench press routine as above eight times during a month that would 80,000-lb of training volume for that exercise targeting the chest. If he can increase the volume within an individual workout or increase the number of workouts in a month, either would increase training volume. Thus, frequency can play a key role in increasing training volume, however, only to the extent that increases in training frequency are not counterbalanced by reductions in training volume during the workouts.

Can muscle size increase with lighter loads?

Resistance exercise with moderate and lighter loads can still build muscle mass. Said differently, you don’t have to lift heavy weights to build muscle mass. When comparing lighter, moderate and heavy loads, all three can build muscle mass to total work volume is equal, although the heavy load might hold an advantage. Meanwhile, performing resistance exercise with heavier loads will favor better gains in strength over time. This is great news for people that may not want to go to a gym, but still want to put on a little more muscle for aesthetics, not necessarily performance.

How do you know how much resistance to use to promote muscle development?

To overload muscle, three sets of six to ten repetitions is probably adequate to stimulate growth. More sets will certainly provide a greater rate of hypertrophy, within reason. To begin, you need to estimate your “one-repetition maximum” (1-RM). This will be the maximum weight you can overcome to complete one repetition. Certainly, it is not recommended that you try to determine your 1-RM by experimenting with heavy weights. You can experiment with light weights and determine the best weight for an exercise (e.g., shoulder press, bench press, curls) with which you are able to do about six to ten repetitions. This should be about 80 to 85 percent of your 1-RM. Hence, one goal for muscle development of strength and size is to do three to four sets of 8 to 12 repetitions before experiencing muscle fatigue. However, muscle size can be increased with lower resistance, but more repetitions are necessary.

Should you increase resistance over time?

As training continues, occasionally you will find it necessary to increase the level of resistance to continue to make progress. This becomes evident as the number of repetitions possible before fatigue increases. Initially, some of this adaptation is merely your muscle becoming more efficient performing the exercise. However, overall, most of the improvement in performance will be because the muscle is developing greater strength. Try increasing the amount of resistance by approximately 10% and determine if that puts you back in the muscle development repetition range desired.

How much rest do you need in between sets within the same workouts?

When you engage in resistance training you are making great demands on your muscles. Therefore, the worked muscle should be given adequate time to rest and recover after a set of repetitions (reps). Depending on the intensity of the set, muscle will need about one to three minutes to rest between sets to recover. During a set the limited stores of ATP and creatine phosphate are rapidly depleted. Giving muscle a break between sets allows for regeneration of ATP and creatine phosphate. As muscle contracts it temporarily pinches blood vessels and hinders blood flow within that muscle. This not only decreases nutrient and oxygen delivery to working muscle fibers but also decreases the removal of waste such as lactate and carbon dioxide. The period of rest between sets allows for the blood to bring more nutrients and oxygen and remove waste and at the same time also.

How much rest do you need between workouts?

If a muscle is trained hard it is generally recommended to rest a muscle for at least forty-eight hours before working the same muscle again. This allows muscle to recover and adapt. Often people will train the same muscles on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays or Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays and rest the muscle in between. If a muscle is trained very hard in a given workout by doing extra sets, that individual may train that muscle only two times a week or every five days or even once a week. Said differently, muscle can be trained more frequently to increase training volume, however frequency of training a muscle cannot be increased to a point where the quality of workouts begins to decrease.

What does it take for muscle to recover after a workout?

Muscle recovery includes those processes those that prepare muscle to perform efficiently again. These includes resetting the muscle environment (e.g. pH, ATP, creatine phosphate, etc.) as well as progressively recovering muscle carbohydrate (glycogen) stores. Moreover, processes that help repair muscle cell damage resulting from a challenging workout. Moreover, exercise promotes increases in muscle protein production designed to allow the muscle to be better prepared to perform similar resistance exercise again. This mostly includes an increase in the production of muscle proteins that will support contraction and the generation of force to support strength in ensuing workouts. Connective tissue providing integrity and support to the overloaded muscle will be enhanced as well.

Does our energy expenditure increase due to weight training?

The increased energy demand of weight training depends on the intensity level and duration of a workout coupled with the energy needed for recovery and adaptation. The energy needed for a workout may be along the order of five to ten calories per minute while recovery and adaptation may demand 100 to 300 calories over the next 24 hours or so. By and large, the incremental caloric expenditure over the next 24 hours or so is related to enhanced protein production in muscle. This additional energy expended should be calculated into your total energy expenditure.

What are the principal fuels during exercise recovery?

During resistance training, the primary fuel used will be carbohydrate, most of which coming from glycogen stores. Epinephrine, released from the adrenal glands will promote the breakdown of glycogen and fat stores, making those energy sources available to working muscle. During recovery, metabolism remains elevated as the muscle engages in replenishment, repair and adaptation processes. Here what fuels muscle recovery will be influenced more by the nutrition state. Carbohydrate containing meals will allow for more carbohydrate to be used. Meanwhile, longer periods between meals, recovery can be fueled by more fat. So, both fat and carbohydrate fuel adaptive processes over the next day or so in trained muscle. The most important factors dictating fuel preference will be meals and corresponding fluctuations in insulin and glucagon levels.

How much energy should be eaten to make the body leaner and more muscular?

To become more muscular and leaner, people should combine resistance training with caloric management. In addition, integrating aerobic exercise can certainly be beneficial, especially by elevating calories expenditure. Calories should not be less than 10 to 20 percent below predicted for weight maintenance. Furthermore, it’s not important not to restrict energy intake drastically. Excessive caloric restriction places an extra demand on skeletal muscle to provide amino acids from protein for energy. This scenario would counteract the benefits of resistance training to some degree.

In addition, protein requirements are elevated when calorie level is consistently below a weight maintenance level as well as when resistance training. According to the International Protein Board, the combination of weight loss and resistance exercise for muscle building or retention, increases protein needs over 1.6 grams per kilogram, but not to exceed 35 percent of a logical calorie target.

For a person that is If you are at a fairly comfortable body size but you want to increase muscularity and leanness, you will be best served by eating enough energy to meet your expenditure. That would include the energy expended due to exercise training while also elevating protein intake to at least 1.75 to 2 grams per kilogram of a short-term target weight. The major thrust of your efforts should focus on the change in body composition, not necessarily body weight. In fact, as you add skeletal muscle, it is possible that you will gain weight.

How much protein is needed during weight training?

Protein is the major non-water component of skeletal muscle accounting for more than 20% of its total weight and more than 80percent of water-free weight. Logic¬ally, if you want to build more muscle, you need to eat more protein beyond the needs for normal maintenance. People who engage in resistance exercise to slowly build muscle over time would benefit from a protein intake of at least 1.4 to 1.8 g per kilogram body weight. Meanwhile, serious resistance training and athletes would require at least 1.8 to 2.2 grams per kilogram body weight.

Is the timing of protein consumption important to developing muscle size and strength?

The importance of protein to muscle development has been known for decades. More recently “protein timing” has become of greater interest. Research has allowed for an understanding of the importance of consuming protein around a workout to maximize gains in muscle development. Resistance training sessions results in a simultaneous increase in protein synthesis and breakdown. Consuming protein either just before or after a workout helps maximize muscle protein synthesis and along with carbohydrate to minimize muscle protein breakdown, which combined will lead to better results. Furthermore, protein is needed throughout the day to support on-going repair and adaptation, which can last a day or even two.

The bottom line is that people who train hard require a lot more protein to build muscle strength and size, or to maintain what they have already gained. For instance, the International Protein Board recommends at least 1.8 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram body weight for advanced training. Furthermore, protein intake is recommended to be distributed throughout several meals beginning early and ending later in the day. With this strategy, pre and post workout periods are covered within the meal distribution strategy. Said differently, as long as higher levels of protein intake are achieved, protein total will be more important than protein timing.

Are certain proteins better than others for building muscle size and strength?

rotein from animal foods are more concentrated in essential amino acids (EAA) and more so branched chained amino acids (BCAA). This includes red meat, poultry (meat and eggs), fish and milk (dairy). Any or combinations of these protein sources consumed before or after a workout as well as throughout the day will support muscle development.

In addition, protein supplements target single protein ingredients such as whey protein isolate (WPI) or a blend of protein ingredients to create a more strategic muscle development food. Furthermore, protein fractions from milk namely, whey (whey protein isolate or concentrate (WPC)) and casein can be used strategically as whey is rapidly digested and absorbed than casein. This has led to the idea of fast and slow protein which is like a time released system.

This content is copyrighted and provided in partnership with with excerpts from The Nutritionist: Food Nutrition & Optimal Health. Click on the icon to learn more and/or buy The Nutritionist.