This week on Barbell Shrugged we drink scotch and talk muscle once again with our buddy, Dr. Andy Galpin.
Andy’s been on the show a lot, but there’s no shortage of topics to chat about. There are too many unanswered questions, and too many training myths that are still accepted as truth by coaches and athletes.
1. Do you need to break down muscle in training to increase muscle mass?
Most people would say yes, because it’s true. If you’ve induced soreness then you’ve definitely done enough to stimulate repair and adaptation. But the question is whether or not this is necessary.
There are a few things we know for certain when it comes to building muscle. First, you need a lot energy to do it – Plenty of carbohydrate and fat. That’s because it takes work and juice to assemble sourced amino acids into long proteins.
What’s more, just like little construction teams assembling beams and walls on site, the structure of new muscle depends on getting the raw materials into position. Not only must you have enough protein, you need a strong incentive that drives the construction effort.
In this sense, building muscle is a very expensive thing to do. The incentive must be intense, but does it have to be damaging? …No.
Damage is associated with muscle growth, but it’s not necessary in and of itself. You can induce damage, sure. That works well, especially if you’re doing heavy eccentric work during long squat sets, let’s say. But you have to consider the cost.
Recovery will take longer when you’re really sore, which is a problem.
If you’re looking to get stronger and build skill rapidly in the gym then you need to be training hard and often. You need to be producing a large amount of force under tension in the gym, which is really what drives your strength and size gains.
This is your potent incentive to construct new muscle. But when you’re sore you can’t train very well. It’s hard to get better.
Be careful with how often you train maximally. It’s much wiser to train optimally, saving all that wear and tear. This approach will keep you stronger and healthier for longer.
2. Is muscle dumb? Not even close.
If you ask folks to name the largest organ in the body they will likely reply, “The skin!”
A much better answer is your muscle. Somewhere along the line people came to think of muscle as dumb tissue. You shock it with nerve impulse and it contracts. But this is an incredibly shallow view.
In reality your muscle tissue serves as a giant endocrine organ. When placed under tension or metabolic stress, your muscle fires off myokines that are utilized by just about every tissue in your body.
In the liver this signaling helps regulate your blood sugar. In the brain, it helps to regulate rest patterns and sleep quality. The list is very, very long.
Here’s the critical point – for years the center of the health universe has been the heart. But perhaps this needs to change. We now understand that more high-quality, high-functioning muscle mass means a dramatically lowered work burden for the heart. It means metabolic efficiency. It means reduced fall risk and preserved quality of life with advanced age.
In short, muscle is everything. You do not want to artificially increase it with drugs and what not. But, if you can increase muscle mass through strength training and a nutrient dense, high energy diet, then you will very likely be much healthier as well.
Curious about muscle biopsies? Check this video out.
3. You can get much stronger without gaining muscle, but it’s not just nerves.
Can you get stronger without getting bigger? Sure, but there’s more going on than you think.
Again, most people would guess that nervous system adaptations are the explanation. It’s the common belief, and again it’s only partially right.
Yes, your nervous system get’s better at recruiting and coordinating muscle contraction with training. But there are plenty of adaptations that still occur within the muscle tissue itself.
In time you can get better and more efficient at transmitting force from the contracting muscle cell, the muscle bundle, the fascia and tendon to the bone. The process of assembling and constructing new tissue – your response to damaging stressors – it all improves with exercise and training. Size is only a part of it.
In a very real sense strength is a skill that emerges from every level of the body, starting muscle up. And the greatest consequence of that strength, besides performance of course, is health.