Building muscle isn’t always easy. It’s especially challenging if you’re female and lack the higher levels of testosterone that a male has. Females have about a tenth of the available testosterone that men do. So, women have to work a little harder to hypertrophy their muscles.
Still, females can gain muscle strength and muscle size as men can, but it takes consistent training and adequate nutrition. But of course, that applies to men too! It also requires patience. It may take many weeks before you see consistent changes to the size of your muscles.
What’s the sequence for muscle growth? You make strength gains before hypertrophy gains. That’s because there’s a neurological component to building strength. Your nervous system learns to recruit more motor units for added force faster than muscles increase in size. More muscle unit recruitment means you can generate more force. The hypertrophy gains are a bit slower.
What can you do to create an environment ripe for muscle growth? Here are some tips for boosting your muscle gains when the goal is to hypertrophy your muscles.
Use Progressive Overload
To gain muscle size, you need to continuously challenge your muscles. Without continuous but controlled challenge, known as progressive overload, your muscles will not grow beyond a certain point. The most common way to use progressive overload is to increase the resistance you use on a given exercise. But this isn’t the only way to challenge your muscles more.
You can increase the number of repetitions you do, the number of sets, increase the frequency of your training, change the exercises, switch the order in which you do your current exercises, speed up or slow the tempo of your reps, alter the rest period between sets, and use more advanced training techniques. The key is not to let your workouts get stagnant. Once a particular exercise begins to feel comfortable, it’s time to increase the overload. To not do so is a recipe for stagnation.
Many people get into a rut where they keep lifting at the same intensity and wonder why they aren’t making gains. Progressive overload is a fundamental principle behind muscle gains. Ignore it, and you won’t see hypertrophy gains.
Consume More Calories
Don’t skimp too much on calories! If you’re trying to lose body fat and gain muscle simultaneously, you’re sending your body mixed messages. Muscle hypertrophy training tells your body to enter an anabolic state, while dieting to lose body fat triggers a catabolic response.
Another tip: Consume enough calories to promote muscle growth. Being in a calorie-restricted state will stymie hypertrophy gains. However, you can gain muscle strength strictly through training, as strength gains are partially neurological and aren’t completely dependent on an increase in muscle size.
You may need to consume a slight calorie excess to realize gains in muscle size. An extra 300 to 500 calories of whole foods combined with enough protein will help support muscle growth. Remember, if you’re training and eating an unprocessed diet high in protein, it’s unlikely the extra calories will turn into body fat.
Do More Compound Exercises
Compound exercises work more muscle groups with each exercise, and if you choose challenging exercises like squats and deadlifts, you’ll set yourself up for muscle gains and gains in functional strength too. Whether compound exercises are superior to single-joint exercises for building muscle is debatable.
One study found that compound, or multi-joint exercises, are equally effective at building muscle mass in untrained individuals. However, compound exercises may have a slight edge, as you can use more weight when doing these exercises. At least, you should include a variety of compound exercises in your routine, especially if you’re not making gains.
Get Enough Sleep
You probably underestimate the importance of sleep for muscle gains. This might convince you. A study conducted by the American College of Physicians assigned participants to two groups. One group slept 5.5 hours per night, and the other 8.5 hours per night for 2 weeks. Both groups ate similar calories.
The results? Both groups lost similar amounts of weight, but the group who slept only 5.5 hours per night lost 60% more muscle mass and 55% less fat. From that, it’s easy to say that sleep plays a key role in preventing muscle loss. Insufficient sleep elevates the stress hormone cortisol and triggers muscle breakdown. You can get the other components of your training right and still not reach your goals if your sleep habits are poor. It’s also during sleep, your muscles recover from training and rebuild.
You’re Training Too Hard
You might think more training is better, but there is a point of diminishing returns. Training intensely, without giving your body enough time to rest and repair, leads to the same problems that lack of sleep does, muscle breakdown. The amount of recovery you need depends on how hard you’re training. The general rule is not to work the same muscle against resistance until at least 48 hours have passed, but if you’re lifting intensely, you may need an extra day. Don’t try to max out every time you lift. Have some training days when you lift lighter or periodize your training so you’re varying the stimulus on your muscles.
Stress is Ruling Your Life
Stress is universal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to react to it. Like lack of sleep and overtraining, stress can activate cortisol and lead to muscle breakdown. Lifting intensely without doing something to control your body’s stress response merely compounds the problem. Give yourself deloading days when you lift lighter and add a relaxational form of exercise to your routine, like yoga. Meditation and deep breathing exercises also help relieve stress.
The Bottom Line
Now you have a better idea of why your muscles aren’t growing as much as you’d like. Be patient too. People gain muscle at varying rates.
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This content was originally published here.