Lactic Acid & CO2
This is an area where science is not too sure about the mechanism but there are enough evidence to show that the lactic burn (i.e. “feel the burn”) does eventually results in small contributions to muscle mass. The same is true for other metabolites such as Carbon Dioxide. This is not a proven correlation and could be due to the fact that lactic acids often build up along-side the pump, as we exhaust the oxygen in the muscle. It would be hard to say if the pump alone is enough to contribute to muscle growth or whether lactic acid is a needed factor.
The only thing we can say for sure is that the build up of lactic acid will result in fatigue. If you can work longer before feeling the burn, you would be able to enjoy the mechanical stress for longer. If your endurance however is impacted to a great degree by the presence of lactic acid in your muscle, you might have to cut your workout short. We think, “better safe than sorry”. Better introduce lactic burn into the process but only towards the end to avoid premature fatigue and early termination of the workout.
Recovery and Nutrition
There are of course, non-training related factors that will influence your results.
Protein Intake & Calorie Intake
It’s quite simple. Protein breaks down into amino acids which can then be utilized by the body to synthesize new protein in the muscles. Your body still needs the reason to synthesize that protein in the first place (i.e. mechanical stress and muscle breakdown). It’s hard to say exactly how much protein your diet should include as there are many different factors. From genetics to your gut health (and how much of it you can actually absorb). Telling you exactly how much protein you should take is impossible as it’s an inaccurate science with many factors to consider, very much like the faulty science of counting calories.
What we can say for sure is that high amount of protein does in fact correlate greatly with stimulating further protein synthesis. If you want to get an idea of how much protein you should aim for, you could look here (set your parameters and you’ll see an orange square floating at the bottom of the screen with how much protein you should aim for).
While we do know high protein intake helps, be aware that you could build muscle with medium intake of protein, with high fat, low fat, high carbs or low carbs. There’s just a great deal of variety in there. A good thing to aim for is a healthy balanced diet, with medium to low carbs, high protein in medium levels of fatty acids from different sources. Low carb, keto, paleo… there’s no one strict answer that would be good for everyone. This is also true on low calories vs high calories, you could build muscle on both if you make sure there’s high enough protein and balanced level of nutrients as long as correct exercise stimulus is there to facilitate protein synthesis.
Gut Health & Overall Hormonal Balance
One of the reason we stress gut-health protocols in all of our programs is that it’s still key to everything that happens in our body. If your gut is playing friendly, you will absorb protein better, enjoy higher levels of crucial hormones (such as testosterone and growth hormone) and you will be free to do the task at hand. If you gut health is poor, you will suffer immunity responses to training, increased inflammation, less of the beneficial hormones, less sleep, more cortisol and less absorption of the protein you take in.
Improving your gut health is key to do everything better, and you can start doing it today by reading our guide probiotics guide here.
When we say deep sleep, we don’t just mean “tuck yourself in bed for 6 hours”. We mean actually getting enough uninterrupted sleep in the deep state of brain activity called “delta waves”. You could get semi-reliable sleep tracking information from most fitness trackers out there (fit bit etc…) and we would encourage you to look into it.
We know a few things for sure:
- There’s a lot of muscle building happening when we sleep and if you don’t take the time to get a proper recovery, you will not be able to build muscle. It’s great that you’re demanding new muscle from your body (via training and nutrition) but you also have to allow your body to do what you ask of it.
- Your perception of how hard you train is directly influenced by how well you sleep. Your definition of “hard training” will be different if you recovery well and you would be able to squeeze more juice out of your workouts.
DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
You all know that soreness feeling that sometimes follows training. When you get it, you instinctively know you’ve dome somethings good. But it’s not necessarily accurate and here’s why:
- Generally, most people think that soreness correlates to muscle damage, even though many times you can do good work (that kind that drive results) and not be sore.
- If you haven’t trained a certain body part for a long time, you could get some insane DOMS without actually doing good work.
Our take from this is that while muscle soreness can indicate heavy work to a certain extent, it shouldn’t be relied on to indicate progress or quality of work. In-fact, most people find that the presence of DOMS prevents them from training hard so there is a point in taking measure to reduce soreness after workout.
So far the best ways we can recommend here to reduce muscle soreness and allow you to feel in full strength for your workouts are:
- Protein, Glutamine, BCAA and HMB supplements all help. Other supplements like cherry extracts, fish-oils and numerous others have some evidence behind them for reducing muscle soreness. This basically falls under the category good nutrition (with a few tweaks here or there) and you can experiment with that.
- Far Infra-Red. This has been a relatively good experience and something that will be new to most people. You can get special clothing that reflects far-infrared (FIR) into the body, you can get bed sheets that do the same or even special far-infrared heating panels. This has been around for a long time and the idea is that it promotes blood circulation (as well as numerous other health benefits). In turn, that seems to really help with soreness and stiffness, just by wearing this type of garments. They are often expensive but well worth it.
Trigger Points and Foam Rolling
As surprising as it may be, smashing objects into your muscles when they are over-engaged is not only painful, it’s very ineffective. You are not changing anything in the muscles or the fascia by foam rolling them. What is however happening is the tricking of the nervous system to release neural tone. Only problem is, there are better – far more efficient ways to do it.
- A better way to achieve a temporary reduction in “stiffness” is to contact the muscles into the object for a few seconds, and roll around as you relax. Going from sympathetic to para-sympathetic in the process. Muscles don’t have brains and the “stiffness” you describe is controlled by your nervous system sending an increased impulse to a certain muscle to contract and not let go. This is explained in far more details in some of the skills. If we are going to “cheat” our nervous system into releasing some of that impulse, we might as well do it efficiently.
- Simply smashing (rolling) an object into the tissue will eventually trick the nervous system to release tension but that’s a poor way to do it, it’s inefficient, time-consuming and won’t change anything in the tissue for the long-term. This is a huge subject on its own and I recommend you look google “Spina Foam Rolling” if you want to learn accurate information about it.
- You can’t break “scar tissue” (fibrosis) by rolling on a surface and smashing the tissue with force. This is an old way of thinking which has been proven impossible a long time ago. You can however stimulate the fibroblasts to create new tissue by applying directional stimuli passively over a great length of time. This is all about regenerative processes and stem cells, directing the body how we want it to build tissues instead of letting it “patch” things over with scar tissue. We actively use this information in our training but we’ll not explore it within this article as this is a huge and massive subject on it own.
Enhancing the Look of Muscles
To enhance the look of muscle, you could focus your efforts in a few different ways.
Angular vs Round Muscles
While this would be inaccurate to say you can control this fully, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say you have a way to influence it. If you want more round (puffy) muscles, you could simply focus more on metabolic stress (which will increase the volume of plasma). If you wanted more “dense” angular muscles, you could shift your focus more towards the mechanical stress to make for denser muscle fibers (more protein synthesis). At the end of the day, you will need both type of stresses (metabolic and mechanical) and it’s possible to maximize both if you have the time to workout like we recommend. You can’t separate them completely but you can focus on one or the other to a certain extent.
Body Fat Levels
While this doesn’t change the muscles themselves, the level of body fat you’re holding will obscure or reveal more muscles. This is fairly straight forward (check our the body visualizer here, set it to muscular and see how the 3D shape changes with the different levels of body fat).
Of course, losing fat is essential to looking good, feeling good and being healthy. And isn’t that part of the reason you are building muscle? If you want to learn how to lose fat better, and especially stubborn fat (such as the one on your belly and love handles) then check out fat loss program, for an in-depth solution.
Muscle Firmness (TONE)
Many people confuse tone (how firm the muscle is) with pump (temporary filling of the muscle with blood, which makes it hard to the touch). True tone is a function of strength. Even the word Tone implies the same as tone=tonus=tension.
The best way to increase tone is to increase strength and especially angle-specific strength:
- Eccentrics results in big strength gains and motor control gains. In this respect, eccentric training will help you increase your strength and your muscle tone greatly. Concentric however won’t do the same.
- Isometrics training is the best way to increase muscle tone. There are a few types of isometrics and all of them are non-moving contractions (iso=equal, metrics=in length). That means there’s no lengthening or shortening of the muscles. If you were pushing a wall, it wouldn’t move, but you can still work hard in “isometric”. The same is true if you tried to hold a tough position, say hanging from a bar – there wouldn’t be any movement but everything will be contracting hard. By holding a high level contraction, your body will ultimately increase the amount of fibers it recruits at rest (which is what we call neutral tone). If your muscles at their resting state, are always slightly contracted, that will result in them being “firm” and hard to the touch. No flabby bits.
Isometrics that are done at lengthened position have greater effects on strength in both lengthen and shorten position but the greatest strength increase will be at the angle the isometric is performed (with minor increases in strength at around 15 degrees each way from the worked angle).
Because this is a very effective way to build high level of strength at specific angles, this is the most widely used techniques when learning how to control your body in various body movements that looks impressive and hard to do (the word calisthenics means “beautiful strength”). This is why we can hold many “seemingly impossible” positions while looking relaxed, because we turn them into positions of strength via isometrics. The transitioning in and out becomes the workouts, those specific positions almost serve as a bit of a rest.