Adding lean muscle to our bodies is something that men and women of all ages could greatly benefit from. Many people associate “muscle-building” with professional bodybuilding and competitive sports (many women, especailly, worry that weight lifting will give them “man muscles”), but unless one has taken the semi-extreme measures to make this a specific goal, following a regular exercise program to build lean mass will more likely reap the following benefits; improved posture, healthier body weight, increased metabolism, strength, energy, and endurance, lower “bad” cholesterol and higher “good” cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and a lowered risk for diseases such as diabetes, osteoperosis, and cardiovascular disease. Oh yeah, you will look better, too. Although you cannot “turn fat into muscle”, added muscle tissue burns fat and adds definition. Women will tend to become more slim and toned, while men will tend to become more “cut” and solid.
Now, in the most basic fashion that I can, I will introduce the three most important principles that make up the foundation of increasing lean mass:
1.) Resistance Training- Hitting the weights is completely necessary. Gradually pushing yourself to increase the weight you use and trying different exercises, over time, is the only way for new muscle tissue to develop. Challenging yourself with moderately heavy weights actually causes small tears in your muscle fibers (hence the term “ripped”) which are filled in by whatever protein sources are available. If gaining size is your priority, then you will want to learn to safely incorporate a few heavy sets into your routine, but the best thing to do is always listen to your body. (Feeling “the BURN” is generally a good thing, but not extreme pain.) Warming up with light weights is also reccomended.
If you are a beginner, try to get to a gym or proper workout setting 2-3 times per week so that you can target different areas of your body on each day. (ex.- Monday- chest and biceps, Wednesday- back and triceps, Friday- abs and legs). The most effective method of training is to follow a consistent program involving at least 2-3 exercises for each body part (full body exercises also are beneficial), 3-4 sets of each exercise, and 6-10 repetitions (reps) of each exercise. Some of the most basic, tried-and-true weight exercises include bench presses, squats, deadlifts, rows, and chin-ups. You can find a plethora of exercises for each body part on websites such as bodybuilding.com that will keep your workouts interesting.
It is generally a good idea to do your abs and cardio last in a workout. Even in weight loss alone is your primary goal, if you do a ton of cardio and havent built and solid muscle underneath your fat, you will look smaller, but probablyflabby, and you will be likely to gain back your weight easily.
2.) High Protein DIet- Proteins are the “building blocks” of muscle, and therefore also a needed part of the muscle-building formula. Obviously, your daily diet should include a variety of high protein foods. The healthiest sources are lean meats and seafood, low fat dairy, nuts, and some soy products. You should include a protein source in every meal or snack, and still try to keep things balanced with healthy fats and some carbs. In order to build and maintain new muscle, however, you will need to take in additional protein (about 1g for every pound of your body weight, a chicken breast has about 32g…), and especially right after a workout, you will need fast-digesting and absorbing protein. This is one of the rare times I will push a suppliment, and this is a good quality whey protein powder. Stores such as GNC, Vitamin World, and The Vitamn Shoppe can offer the best varieties and deals. Whey isolates and complexes are your best bet, but all nutrition labels vary, so be sure to check the back of the jug to see if it meets your individual needs. Aim for 2 protein shakes per day, between meals and after working out.
3.) This may come as a surprise, but if you decide to adopt the aforementioned principles as a regular part of your lifestyle, the key to seeing progress from your healthy habits is to make adequate time for REST. Rest periods between strenuous workouts is when the actual muscle growth and repair takes place. Being a little sore the day after isn’t unusual and gets better over time, it is average. I personally go to the gym no more than 2 consecutive days during the week (2 on, 1 off, 1 on, 1 off…), but since I have been training for a few years, my body tends to not feel optimal if I take more than a day or two off in between. Pushing your limits can lead to overtraining, which is just as detrimantal as no training. You can become physically and mentally worn out, and be in a “catabolic” state, where your musle tissue basically eats itself for energy. This can also lead to high cortisol, stress, and depression.
Again, always listen to your body. There is an average amount of physical stress, sometimes you do need a little bit of pain for gain, but you should never let even healthy habits become the center of your life. You can find basic training programs online and in fitness magazines, but don’t let the advertisements catch too much of your attention either. Keep it simple, and you will see success.