Bodybuilding science is fascinating. When you begin a workout knowing how what you do impacts muscle growth, you’ll enjoy the experience better – and feel motivated to continue exercising.
When should you start learning bodybuilding science? It’s helpful before you even start a program to gain muscle. But even if you’re an experienced bodybuilder, you’ll benefit from studying bodybuilding science as it will guide you to make modifications to your workouts for maximizing the results.
Knowing the science of bodybuilding will help you understand
- principles behind weight training
- mechanisms of gaining muscle mass
- rationale for resistance training
- why you’re doing what you’re doing
- why some things work better than others
Bodybuilding Science Lesson #1: How Does Muscle Grow?
Muscle cells are spindly fibers encased in a fibrous tissue shell. They do not increase in number beyond childhood, but grow by ‘hypertrophy’ – a change that makes individual muscle cells larger through the accumulation of more muscle protein within them.
Muscle fibers are made up of aminoacids, which are the building blocks of protein. Fibers are arranged in layers, with the ‘sliding’ movement of one set of fibers over the other causing contraction or shortening, which enables movements.
When you exercise, your muscles are stressed and accumulate more protein which makes them bulkier and stronger. Bodybuilding science has taught us that when many such fibers grow bigger, the entire muscle group enlarges and becomes more powerful.
What generates the best muscle hypertrophy effect?
There are 3 factors:
1. Mechanical tension, such as the kind that develops when you lift heavy weights
2. Muscle damage, which is a consequence of lifting weights over multiple reps
3. Metabolic stress, created by biochemical reactions taking place in muscle to generate energy for your workouts
Bodybuilding Science Lesson #2: What Happens When You Exercise Hard?
Weight lifting and resistance training place mechanical stress on muscle groups. Which muscles are under stress will depend on the kind of exercise you do. Until you reach a load of 65% or more of your current capacity to lift weights, nothing much happens. That’s why bodybuilding science suggests that lifting any weight that you can comfortably move for 12 reps isn’t helpful in bulking up!
But when you lift heavier weights, the exercise causes some muscle fibers to tear slightly, a phenomenon called ‘microtears’. This, along with the inflammation it creates, is what leads to muscle soreness following a workout. This is actually a good thing for muscle growth and hypertrophy because of the way your body repairs the damage.
Wherever there are microtears, smaller satellite cells that surround muscle fibers jump into action. They draw aminoacids from the blood (derived from proteins in the food that you eat) and use it to repair the damaged muscle – and make them a little bigger, tougher and stronger.
Bodybuilding science indicates that not only is this how muscle gain happens, but how critical rest periods are for growing muscle mass. Without rest, this repair process cannot happen. The damaged muscle will grow weaker and you’ll actually end up losing muscle tissue which is replaced by scar!
Bodybuilding Science Lesson #3: What Is Metabolic Stress & How Does It Help?
Your muscle cells require energy during a workout. Extra energy is required to repair fibers with microtears. This energy comes from a source called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) which is produced in mitochondria. Each molecule of ATP contains energy stored in the form of high-energy chemical bonds, 3 per molecule.
Muscle cells break down these bonds to release energy for contraction (and repair). The stored ATP in your body can provide enough energy for 3 seconds of muscle action before it needs to be replenished.
How does ATP get regenerated? When the high-energy phosphate bond is broken down in ATP, it results in smaller molecules of ADP and AMP. Under the effect of creatine phosphate, your muscle cells can combine ADP and AMP back together into ATP, permitting fresh energy to be drawn from it for muscle action. The creatine stores in muscles are enough to power your muscles for another 8 to 10 seconds. That’s just about enough time to sprint for 100 meters.
Beyond this point, bodybuilding science reveals us that your muscles will run out of stored energy and must look elsewhere for fresh supplies. Metabolism of glycogen that is also stored in muscles, as well as fat reserves from other parts of your body, can provide extra supplies of energy.
The breakdown of these materials, through a process called ‘anaerobic glycolysis’, causes the build up of lactic acid in muscles – which is what causes the burning sensation in muscles when you push yourself hard to exercise. Nevertheless, it delivers enough energy to keep your muscles going for a further minute or two. Beyond that, accumulated lactic acid will cause muscle cramps, a severely painful condition that prevents further muscle activity.
Bodybuilding exercises help build up reserves of energy producing substrates inside your muscles which makes them better equipped to withstand higher levels of stress for longer durations.
So, your knowledge of bodybuilding science helps you better understand how your muscles process dietary macronutrients like glucose, protein and fat to derive energy for actions, repair micro-tears to grow bigger and stronger, and gradually develop more tolerance and resistance against damage so that you can lift progressively heavier weights and gain muscle mass.
This basic understanding of the science of bodybuilding should help you tailor a workout to optimize your muscle gains and choose the right kind of muscle building supplements and exercise programs to take you closer to your goals quickly.