With gyms in Singapore opening up again after almost 2 months of closure, you must be thinking that you have to hit the weights hard to get back your gains and make up for lost time. But there’s no need to rush at all — if you’ve been consistent with home workouts and eating well, you’re probably all good. Even if you weren’t, don’t worry — this article will teach you how to build muscle effectively so you make the most out of your workouts.
Showing up at the gym is one thing, but working out smartly to maximise muscle growth is another.
Ready to see some gains? Let’s get into it.
Muscle growth takes place under two conditions: protein synthesis (the process of cells building new muscle) and stress on muscle tissue. We achieve this in three ways:
Mechanical tension simply means loading the muscle with appropriate resistance to create tension, causing molecular and cellular responses that induce muscle growth. This is where progressive overload comes into play — with clients, we aim for this either by upping the weights each session, or increasing total volume (number of reps and/or sets). If you’re a beginner, we encourage you to increase the poundage you’re lifting each week, and it shouldn’t be difficult at all. Once you hit a plateau or find that the rate in which you are able to increase the weights is slowing down, try increasing the amount of reps or sets you do to still achieve mechanical tension.
To further increase tension, you can also slow down the eccentric or downward action of a move. So instead of just dropping down into a squat, go down in a controlled manner and explode back up.
Remember that burning sensation you felt during those last few reps of crunches or bicep curls? That’s metabolic stress, which occurs when metabolites such as lactic acid build up in the muscle tissue. Metabolic stress also induces the release of growth hormones like testosterone, which stimulate protein synthesis, cell swelling —which explains the sick pump you get!— and an increase in growth factor proteins that promote tissue growth.
People often think volume is the main driver for hypertrophy. Yes, volume is important, but mechanical tension and stress is what initiates the process of muscle growth. Without stress, all the volume in the world will not produce meaningful hypertrophy. Pick a weight that you find moderately challenging but are still able to execute with good form, and do not stop till you reach failure or at least left with less than 5 reps in the tank. If you cannot lift weights due to whatever reasons —say injury— bodyweight exercises work too. One study which compared two groups doing a series of elbow flexion movements (such as bicep curls) found that the group which did pure bodyweight exercises had a comparable increase in muscle size with the group that did the same exercises with load, so long as tension and full range of motion were maintained throughout.
You may have heard gym bros preach at least once that in order for muscles to grow, they must go through some form of damage. They’re not exactly wrong; this process is called microtrauma. Microtrauma occurs when muscle tissue gets small tears due to exercising. As our body works to repair that damage, muscle growth is stimulated. Microtrauma can happen with any form of exercise and does not necessarily take place under mechanical tension. For example, activities like dance and running have been shown to cause microtrauma.
As long as you apply these three principles into your workouts, you’ll find that the exercises you’ve been doing are actually way more challenging, and you’ll realise why those guys who lift with poor form don’t actually get bigger.
There are a few ways you can maximise your workouts for effective muscle growth. In no particular order, here are some tips we give clients:
You can increase total volume either by increasing the number of reps or sets, or both. Try to also limit your rest time in between sets without compromising on form. Both count as a form of progressive overload, which is key in getting stronger and building muscle. But if you find that your breathing is what’s holding you back rather than muscle fatigue itself, rest a little longer so the limiting factor will be your target muscle group.
Changing the angles of a movement is a brilliant way to challenge your muscles. A perfect example would be adding an incline or decline to your push ups — not only can you work different parts of the same muscle group, you also incorporate other muscles into the movement.
There are lots of free programming online, but the best workout program is one that’s individualised to your own body. How much volume do you need? Which exercises work best for you? Do you have old or existing injuries that may limit you? These are some factors a personal trainer or coach will be able to account for after knowing your body better. If you need a trainer, our PTs are more than happy to help!
We know what it’s like to be committing to a regime when you are all not that ready. That’s why we offer free trials and consultation. Talk to us and grab a trial at no cost, try us out before you jump on. We’re confident you’ll love our tailored programs simply because we understand everyone is unique and different. You’re one of a kind, your fitness got to be simply just for you! Click to try us today!