Fitness, Sports, Resistance Training we all do these things to stay fit and healthy. Better looks are a nice byproduct of this struggle. But putting looks aside we also want to bring our body to its limits and make progress from there. May it be building more muscle, loosing weight, building strength or tone your muscles. If you are more interested in building strength, we have a detailed article regarding this topic right here.
To achieve muscle growth when it comes to resistance training we need to take advantage of protein synthesis. This is the process in our body which is responsible for hypertrophy. Hypertrophy is simply another term for “building muscle”. “But how do I trigger that hypertrophy and start building muscle?” you might ask. This is exactly what we will cover in this article.
To answer that question we need to look at tree factors which are responsible for hypertrophy.
The 3 Factors Which Drive Hypertrophy
#1. Mechanical Tension
What exactly is mechanical tension? To put it simply it is a force that pulls or stretches material. In the case of resistance training we use tools like weights, bands or other ways of resistance to apply force on our muscles. Our muscles have to work against that force and by that metabolic stress and muscle damage occur. These two factors we will cover below. The stress to the body through mechanical tension makes the body create more muscles.
Mechanical tension can be further differentiated into active and passive tension. Active tension is happening when you go through a movement, so basically, if we take a biceps curl as an example, while going from bottom position into the top position active tension occurs. Passive tension on the other hand is happening while you hold a position under force in other words you’re doing an isometric hold. For example while holding the biceps curl in the top position, your biceps experiences passive tension.
But mechanical tension alone won’t make your muscles grow. A key factor is time, or better said Time Under Tension (T.U.T.). One quick rep is not enough to make hypertrophy happening. An ideal range is 30-70 seconds of time under tension per set to trigger hypertrophy. So don’t simply look at reps. 10 reps in 10 seconds are not the same as 10 reps in 30 or 70 seconds. T.O.T. is key, so keep that in mind when training.
#2. Metabolic Stress
Metabolic stress is the second key factor to building muscles. To explain metabolic stress we first have to cover the two states our body functions in while going through movement.
Aerobic state is the usual state our body is in. Basically when we sit, walk or do exercises with light resistance. Our muscles get enough oxygen and all is good.
Anaerobic state on the other hand is the state when there is a lack of oxygen. Our body is in this state while we are working out or running at a higher pace. This state can’t be maintained for longer periods of time. Anaerobic state is basically a different way of how our body produces energy. A small explanation what is happening in this process is like this: In an anaerobic state the body uses glucose and breaks it down. Lactate and other metabolites are byproducts in this process. These byproducts start to build up during a given set and the result is cell swelling, which is also known as “the Pump”. To lower the high levels of lactate, blood is directed to these areas, which also contributes to the pump.
Toward the end of a set you might feel a burn in your muscles. A common misconception regarding this burn is that it is caused by lactic acid. It is actually a combination of higher lactate and increased acid levels in your muscle which in combination result in a burning sensation. No lactic acid to be found here.
This mechanism is also like the first point we covered – mechanical tension – a trigger for hypertrophy. Arnie said it in the 80s that the burn is key, and he was right!
Key is reaching the right level or enough metabolic stress to trigger hypertrophy. And this we will achieve by having the right volume in our training to cumulate enough fatigue. Basically you need to do enough total sets in your workout.
#3. Muscle Damage
Muscle damage is the third factor. All of us experienced at some point in our fitness journey DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). This happens due to muscle damage you inflict on your body during a workout. Damage sounds so evil but in case of building muscle we actually want it to happen. Pablo Picasso said:
“Every act of creation begins with an act of destruction”
Muscle damage is triggering protein synthesis – the process of building muscle. But because we attributed some damage to our body not all protein synthesis goes into building new muscles, some has to be invested into repairing the damage done. What is left is used for building new muscles. Due to this fact it also very important to get enough energy in form of food after a workout.
Bringing It All Together
So what do we take away from the tree factor to building muscles?
- Right Resistance: 75%-80% of 1RM is ideal
- The right reps per set: 8-12 Reps/Set
- Proper amount of Time Under Tension: 30-70 Sec
- The right amount of Volume: 40-70 reps per workout per muscle group
These point we have to combine to get a great workout for proper protein synthesis and building muscle. We already created some great workout routines you can get into straightway. Check them out here.
Using Band For Building Muscles
We covered mechanical tension in the beginning which is basically resistance you work against. This resistance is usually generated by weights. But weights are not the only way to create resistance, bands are a great alternative. We won’t cover all the benefits of bands in this article. If you want a more in depth read into this topic, make sure to check out our article about “Benefits of Bands”.
In a nutshell bands are great for building muscle due to their resistance curve. The more you stretch a band the more resistance it generates. This fact helps us to get the right amount of resistance in every position throughout the movement of a given exercise.
Take a biceps curl for instance. In the starting position (bottom position) our body is weaker, but the band also has less stretch and generates less resistance. The more we go through the movement of a biceps curl (towards the finish position – top position) the more the band will stretch and the more resistance it generates. Due to this fact bands follow the natural strength curve of our body much better than weights. With this we can archive peak contractions which contributes to metabolic stress to great extent.
We have very in depth description of a great variety of exercises, where we cover the right way of using bands to perform the exercise correctly. To get more insight visit our exercise area.
Pros vs. Cons Of Resistance Bands For Building Muscles
- You don’t need a gym and a lot of weights. You basically can perform the exercises anywhere.
- You don’t need a lot of equipment compared to weights.
- With bands, you can make adjustments mid-set and hit your ideal reps at the end of a set every time.
- Bands follow your natural strength curve better than free weights (relative constant resistance through ROM)
- Bands are way cheaper than a gym membership or a home gym.
- Band are very versatile. With one band you can simulate a variety of resistances depending on the stretch.
- Bands enforce better form and less cheating
- Bands are very humbling and will force you to work on your form.
- Free-range of movement
- Bands prevent you from using momentum.
- Superior to weight when it comes to metabolic stress.
- Harder to find a band (or set of bands) which provides the right resistance.
- Depending on your level of strength you will need several bands to get the right amount of resistance for muscle building.
- In starting positions the resistance might be relatively low and sometimes it is hard to get the right amount of pre-stretch needed.
- Using gloves is highly recommended, since the stretching of the band will stress your hands.
Combining Bands And Weights
So far we discussed bands as an alternative tool to weights for providing resistance. But bands don’t have to be an alternative, weights and bands can also be used together. This will combine the pros and eliminate the cons of both training options. To get a better idea of how to use bands and weights together, check out our section which covers exactly that right here.
The right resistance, the right volume and the right time under tension you have to keep in mind to have a great workout and build muscles. Bands are great tool as an alternative to using weight to achieve that goal. The next step would be getting a set of bands an applying these principles to actual training. Enough reading done! Now starts the Workout!