Staying active is vital for overall health, and it is also the best way to build skeletal muscle. Skeletal muscle is one of the three major muscle types. Tendons attach these muscles, which contract and cause movement, to bones.
People are best able to improve their muscle mass by performing the right exercises and eating particular foods.
How does muscle grow in the body?
Muscle size increases when a person continually challenges the muscles to deal with higher levels of resistance or weight. This process is known as muscle hypertrophy.
Muscle hypertrophy occurs when the fibers of the muscles sustain damage or injury. The body repairs damaged fibers by fusing them, which increases the mass and size of the muscles.
Certain hormones, including testosterone, human growth hormone, and insulin growth factor, also play a role in muscle growth and repair.
These hormones work by:
- improving how the body processes proteins
- inhibiting the breakdown of protein
- activating satellite cells, which are a type of stem cell that plays a role in muscle development
- stimulating anabolic hormones, which promote muscle growth and protein synthesis
- enhancing tissue growth
Strength and resistance training can help the body:
- release growth hormone from the pituitary gland
- stimulate testosterone release
- improve the sensitivity of the muscles to testosterone
Do males and females grow muscle differently?
A variety of factors — including genetics and the levels of estrogen and testosterone in the body — can affect how rapidly a person can develop muscle.
Regardless of biological sex, muscle grows at different rates for people with different body types.
Both males and females can have the following body shapes, and each requires a different approach to muscle building:
- Mesomorphic: People with this body type tend to be muscular and generally build muscle mass far more quickly than people with other body types.
- Ectomorphic: This term describes a slim or straight frame. Ectomorphs have a lower chance of building muscle mass but can increase their strength through resistance training.
- Endomorphic: This body type is more rounded or curvy. People with an endomorphic body can build muscle most effectively through strength training.
Building muscle through exercise
People build muscle at different rates depending on their age, sex, and genetics, but muscle development significantly increases if exercise is:
People also achieve the best results when they follow exercise with enough rest.
The best type of exercise to build muscle is strength training, although cardiovascular activity can also provide benefits.
It takes several weeks or months of consistent activity and exercise before muscle changes become visible.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020Trusted Source, adults should engage in muscle-strengthening exercises that involve all major muscle groups at least twice weekly.
Examples of strength training activities include:
- lifting free weights
- using stationary weight machines
- resistance band activities
- body weight exercises, such as pushups and squats
- strength training classes that incorporate some or all of the above activities
A 2019 reviewTrusted Source looked at the effects of resistance training on the conditioning of crew members preparing for spaceflight. Its findings suggest that resistance training with three weight sets was generally more effective than performing one set.
Strength training and aging
As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of limited mobility and other skeletal and muscular problems, such as osteoporosis or osteoarthritis.
However, older adults should try to meet adult exercise guidelines if they can. If they are unable to do this, they should remain as physically active as their physical limitations allow.
Strength training is also beneficial for older adults to prevent injury and aid recovery.
Also known as aerobic activity or simply “cardio,” cardiovascular exercise benefits a person’s heart and respiratory system.
Cardio is vital for overall health. Current guidelines recommend that adults participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity each week.
While some people believe that aerobic exercise does not help build muscle, recent research disagrees. Regular cardio can support muscle growth and function. It also increases overall fitness levels, which may help reduce the riskTrusted Source of injury.
For optimal muscle building, the authors of a 2014 reviewTrusted Source suggest that people carry out aerobic exercise:
- at 70–80% of their heart rate reserve, which a person can calculate by subtracting their resting heart rate from their maximum heart rate
- for 30–45 minutes at a time
- on 4–5 days per week
Rest and muscle growth
Rest plays an integral part in building muscle. By not letting each of the muscle groups rest, a person will reduce their ability to repair. Insufficient rest also slows fitness progression and increases the risk of injury.
Getting enough sleep is also important for the process of muscle growth. The researchers behind a 2011 studyTrusted Source hypothesize that sleep debt decreases protein synthesis, contributes to the loss of muscle mass, and inhibits muscle recovery. However, many further studies are necessary to confirm the link.
A 2019 studyTrusted Source found no direct correlation between sleep and muscle gain. However, the study authors do suggest that sleep deprivation can increase the amount of cortisol that circulates the body after exercise. Cortisol is a stress hormone.
Reducing stress may help a person build muscleTrusted Source, as the hormones that the body releases during periods of stress have a negative effect on muscle development.
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Read our blog post about why The Best Time To Workout Is Actually In The Morning here