You may be wondering how do muscles grow? This article explains the science behind building muscle and how your efforts in the gym actually bring about new muscle growth.
Knowing how to grow muscle is the easy part, but actually gaining a significant amount of muscle mass is no walk in the park as it requires a lot of hard work in the gym, and most importantly, in the kitchen. But anyway, let's begin to learn how muscles work!
The Muscle Growth Process Explained
Is it possible to build a house without knowing anything about carpentry? Of course not.
Knowledge is more powerful than any weapon you could ever have, and to accomplish anything satisfactorily, you need to have at least some basic know-how of the task at hand.
Your new mantra should be "Work smart, not hard".
Yet, even as thousands of weight training devotees flock to gyms all over the country everyday, trying to gain muscle and burn fat, they all ignore this simple mantra.
For example, just ask any of them the question: "How do muscles grow?" and I guarantee that their response will be a blank stare or a confused reaction of the sort.
Bodybuilding, like medicine, is a science.
You don’t need to complete a Ph.D. in biology to build large, powerful muscles, but a basic idea of the muscle building process will help you to efficiently meet your goals a lot faster.
The process of actual muscle growth is a complex one and involves a large number of biological steps. The good thing is, you don't need to know it all to build some serious muscle. All you need to understand is the basic steps behind it all.
So, how do muscles grow? Let’s take a look at the science behind the art. Let us find out.
As you train in the gym, you must understand that every single action and process within your body has a single purpose: to keep you alive and healthy.
When it comes to Mother Nature we humans have just one purpose: to pass on our DNA and procreate. We are the result of millions of years of evolution, and the human body has evolved to create natural alarm systems that sound in response to stress, to be able to ensure our survival.
For instance, you feel hungry if you don’t eat, thirsty if you don’t drink, feel pain when something hurts you, and you tan when you’re exposed to the sun.
The muscle building process is the same in nature. In scientific terms, the muscle building process is called "hypertrophy".
When you visit the gym, you put your muscles under stress by lifting weights. Your muscles come closer to failure with every repetition that you do, which means at one point, they will "give out" and you will not be able to do any more reps, no matter how hard you push yourself.
As they come towards failure, these reps create deeper and deeper inroads through the muscle fiber, resulting in what we call "micro-tears".
Basically, what you are doing is breaking down your muscle fibers by causing actual damage to the muscle. Your body reacts to this damage by repairing the muscles.
The muscle repair process is the key part in building muscle. Your body begins repairing muscle tissue when you stop putting stress on your muscles, in other words after stopping your workout.
The thing is, your body sees the damage to your muscles as a threat to its survival, so it will rebuild the damaged muscle tissue bigger and stronger than before to protect against future threats.
So this increased muscle size and strength is a natural evolutionary response to the micro-tears that your muscles have suffered due to the heavy weight training you performed. It's as simple as that.
How Do Muscles Grow? Hard Work!
To build large amounts of muscle onto your frame you must understand this basic concept of how muscles work. Since your body must perceive the weights you lift in the gym as a threat to its survival, you must realize that you need to train hard and with heavy weights for the most muscle building to occur.
Now you understand the basics of muscle growth, you can continue to pack on pounds and pounds of muscle mass. The moral of the story is, go hard or go home!
Hopefully this article helped, but always remember to never get stuck in research land. Information is great, but what's infinitely more important and the only thing that actually matters to get results and change your life is to be hitting the gym week in week out, with a properly-structured, intelligently-crafted and well-balanced strength training and nutrition plan that's based on actual scientific principles of building muscle mass (not bro science like you'll see practically everywhere you look online).
But here's the thing:
You don't just randomly stumble upon a highly-effective program that's designed specifically for hardgainers by simply browsing a popular mainstream bodybuilding/fitness magazine, site, or forum (or asking your average run of the mill trainer at a local gym who is highly likely to be just repeating the same old ineffective, incomplete mainstream advice they learned in a classroom).
To truly build that strong, ripped, lean muscular body that you want - and to not just leave it to chance and hope/pray that you'll get results - your training and eating program needs to be solid. Otherwise, you'll be wasting a ton of time in the gym for little return, which is unfortunately what happens to most guys who start hitting the gym as they eventually start spinning their wheels and getting nowhere due to a lack of knowledge and awareness of what actually works most effectively.
So the question remains, how do you ensure you're implementing an effective bulking program that will 100% get you the results you seek? You basically have three paths to take here, so choose whichever fits your situation best.
Path A: Design Your Own Effective Bulking Program (Recommended for Some Beginners & Intermediates)
If you're the patient type who also likes to know how every little detail works, and are willing to spend the time and effort necessary to study the most effective muscle building training and nutrition strategies out there right now to strategically piece together the best information that you find from credible sources to sculpt your own custom bulking program, consider the DIY path of creating your own program from scratch.
However, if you're a beginner, or intermediate lifter who hasn't been getting the results you want, you'll want to make sure that you get your advice from sources and people who understand what it's like to gain muscle starting out as a skinny hardgainer, which is a different beast compared to building muscle as a more naturally bigger guy with more favourable genetics. You also ideally want someone more experienced to look over your program just in case, because there are various things you could miss or do wrong, such as creating an imbalanced program that will lead to posture issues, muscular imbalances, or worse (injuries).
Up for the challenge? To get started planning your own muscle building program from scratch check out our full introduction to building muscle mass as a hardgainer which covers some important basic principles, strategies, and tips.
Path B: Follow A Proven Time-Tested Bulking Program (Recommended for Most Beginners)
If instead of creating your own program from scratch you'd rather follow an already-made complete program that has been proven to work for others in your shoes (ie skinny hardgainers) this is the path for you. Spending the few bucks to get your hands on a well-crafted, respected program that's specifically been designed with hardgainers in mind can really save you time and effort having to design your own program, and it ensures you don't miss out on the various important details that makes a good program.
This is what I'd recommend if you're just starting out or quite inexperienced in the gym, as you'll get off on the right foot to kick-start great results. Although this is also a smart path for intermediates, because if you've been training for a while and not getting great results, getting your hands on a fresh new program created by a natural bodybuilding expert could be the game-changer you need to spark the best results of your life. Sean Nal's Body Transformation Blueprint Program is currently the most comprehensive, polished bulking program for beginners on the market, and is the program that actually helped me the most when I first started out as a newbie so I can't recommend it highly enough if you're new and wanting to all but guarantee great results over the next few months and beyond.
There are other good premade mass gain programs out there that were created specifically (and scientifically) for hardgainers, but there's also a lot of overpriced, overly-marketed and low-quality programs that you should avoid out there so be on your toes when looking for the right program to follow to avoid wasting your money. I've personally used a ton of different programs and I compiled the best, highest-quality ones that I can comfortably recommend in my list of the best comprehensive bulking programs for hardgainers here.
Path C: Find a (Good) In-Person Trainer
This isn't going to be for everyone as a quality trainer who knows what they're doing, and most importantly has got great results themselves (ideally starting out in similar shoes to you) can be quite costly. This is the path you should probably consider if you have any type of injury or health problem, or obviously if you have the money to burn and want someone to carefully monitor what you're doing in the gym and be able to give you specific feedback.
Whichever path you choose, never forget the single most important thing: never give up, and your success in transforming your body, strength, health, posture, and self-confidence will simply be a matter of when, not if. I'd say good luck, but if you really understand that last sentence, you're not gonna need it, friend. I wish you nothing but success.
Mad-Scientist of Hardgainer-to-Hero Transformations for 12+ Years
Last and Definitely Least: Certified Fitness Instructor (real-world experience > school)