Building Muscle – Truth and Fiction

DB pressScientific research is constantly ongoing. This perpetual machine churns out new information, ideas and theories by the thousands every day. In the context of building muscle, we get some re-evaluations of preconceived ideas every so often – and that’s a good thing. The only problem is, the old idea seems to keep its momentum for a long time after it should have been buried.

Sometimes, the old idea sticks around and overshadows the new one entirely, giving it no room to flourish into the wider populace. The weight lifting and gym community as a whole is particularly susceptible to retention of the ‘old ways’. There’s probably several reasons, but the one out in front is probably the old adage ‘nobody likes change.’ Big boys have been doing the same thing for years and it’s been working, so what’s the problem? Right!

Well, maybe they’ve taken a longer route to where they have gotten, because of belligerently hammering away at the less efficient methods. Maybe they got injured more. Perhaps they actually sneaked in the newer ideas along the way without knowing, and it helped them.

The other reason is ‘bro-science’ – the pseudo-scientific half-knowledge that comes from the experienced, but not necessarily well informed, gym rats. It’s easy to listen to people who look the part, but they don’t always know the best ways.

…and neither do I, by the way. The only thing I can vouch for is that this business is ever-changing, and I try to adapt with it. The articles I write are testament to that. So, I’ll launch right into the first point of discussion, and that is:

Lifting Big Weights = Bigger Muscle

Swole bodybuilderFor the longest time it’s been understood that the way to build big muscle is to lift heavy weights. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (size) is predicated on the 10-12 rep sets to ‘almost’ failure – i.e. you really couldn’t lift one god rep at the end. That means choosing weights that give you that amount of reps exactly before almost failing. It’s roughly about 60% or more of your one rep max weight (1RM).


Lately, research is supporting the theory that lower weights – even as low as 30% of your 1RM – can elicit equal growth response from your muscles. Of course, you’d have to do higher-rep sets, and work to failure the same way every so often but it’s intriguing.

it’s not to say, forget the bigger weight, lower-rep-count sets, but you can definitely include more of those sets and still get the results. There’s some advantages too, like injury prevention and working without a spotter – because you can control smaller weight better.

It’s more about the total work done and the total load shifted. Interesting, no?

Protein Window – Hit it or Forget Building Muscle

Protein shakeAh, the anabolic window. I’ve lived by this myself in the past. In the 30 minutes (arbitrary) after a workout, you must ingest some protein…but it might not be that important.

Research shows the more important thing is to keep a steady influx of protein coming from your diet over the course of the day, not necessarily when you take it. And here’s the interesting part: there is a plateau of how much you can actually utilize before you’re just adding pointless calories and wasting money.

The first takeaway point is this: the whole day intake is more important that the ‘anabolic window’ intake.

The second point is this: cramming a lot of protein in one meal doesn’t make that much difference considering you might match your needs for that moment in time with half of that amount. It’s better to spread it out over the day, thereby using more of it as your body catches up with processing it and putting it to muscle building – which is the whole point anyway!

Fasting Cardio Burns More Fat

cardioOkay, if you’re just trying to lose weight, then working out first thing in the morning without eating first might work…sometimes. I definitely would not recommend doing this more than once or twice a week. And, for people trying to pack on muscle, I wouldn’t recommend it at all.

Your body is already likely to be in a state of catabolism (muscle breakdown) because you haven’t eaten anything for hours and it likes to use protein from muscle to keep the energy levels up when you wake. This is a situation in which people who are trying to build muscle do not want to be. Eating carbs in the morning is how we stop catabolism as it releases one of the principal anabolic activator hormones – insulin.

In fact, first thing in the morning is one of the only times of day I would recommend some fast carbs (high GI, or Glycemic Index), like cantaloupe melon or a white bread bagel. This example highlights the importance of knowing what your goal is, and going after it. If you are on a muscle drive, don’t mess it up by listening to the bro-scientists at the gym or online and running 5 miles before eating in the morning.


In my humble opinion; a little common sense goes a long way. Before all the science started messing with peoples’ minds, there was some simple truths – diet and exercise produce results. That’s as true today as it was 10,000 years ago, except these days there are quicker ways and slower ways to reach the objective.

At the core of any body composition/physique transformation, there must be 3 things to succeed: Healthy diet, Exercise, and Adequate Rest. Get those 3 things right and the rest is easier.

Further Reading

  1. Training for Size, Strength or Endurance
  2. Core Training – for increases in overall strength

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