I get it. Muscles seem like a boring topic. Everyone talks about them. (Some) people put them through a beating. Everyone’s got their theory about how to make them grow.
5-10 minutes of your time here and I promise you’ll never have to read another MuscleMania, HulkHealth or VaricoseVein article ever again.
Why do muscles look so damn weird?
Well, think of a muscle fibre as a very long strand – kind of like a thin piece of string. By being cylindrical, you can pack many thousands of thousands of pieces of string together without occupying such a large volume – their packing density is large. Clearly this is ideal when it comes to tissue needed to help you shift things from A to B, as more fibres = more power output.
You’ll need to look at that f**king weird picture above now.
Technically speaking, skeletal muscle is made up of thin myofibrils, containing myofilaments. The filaments are formed of thin (actin) and thick (myosin) proteins, thin strands that repeat within the sarcomere layers you see in the picture. Collectively, multiple bundles make up a fibre.
This is a long-winded answer that explains why digging your finger into your chest muscle feels like you’re stroking the upper right backhand of a T-Rex.
Ok, getting it. But why do some people look ‘Thick’ and some people lean? Are their muscles the same?
Good thinking. The short answer is no. See below the 3 main types of muscle fibre:
|Type I||Slow twitch, Aerobic|
|Type II||Mixture of slow and fast twitch. Anaerobic + aerobic|
|Type IIx||Fast twitch. Anaerobic.|
Type I and II fibres are what most of us associate with pop eye and Arnold Schwartzneger. They are developed through persistent strength training and muscle hypertrophy, building crucial actin and myosin filaments that build the size and output of the muscle fibre. However, its important to note that despite their similarities, Type I fibres are slow twitch, whereas Type II are net fast twitch, meaning they are designed to deliver high throughput in shorter periods of time, and so will tire faster.
Type IIx fibres are their own distinct creature. Whilst responsible for extremely high intensity, low duration work (these guys tire after about 30s) – they can also help to recruit more Type I and II fibre growths. Consequently, HIIT training is not the worst idea for multiple reasons. Not only do you get all the fat-burning wanders of keeping short rest periods, you can also boost all 3 types of muscle growth if done right.
So, you know what’s coming now. Drumroll please… how do I build them? Do I need to train all of them?!
I could give you an extremely platonic answer here, like: ‘No, make sure to maintain a balanced diet of carbohydrate, protein and fat whilst focussing in compound lifts 3 times a week to build your muscle’ – but that would be fucking boring, and (I hope) is the exact reason you’re reading this and not the next article.
⚠️ WARNING ⚠️
Building any kind of muscle takes work. But it’s crucial you understand your genetics before approaching a Rambo-esque lifestyle. If you’ve got a wide set frame and came out the womb 6ft, go all out if this is what you want. Cater your workouts to your strengths and you will flourish. Just wait to see what 6 months of hard work will do for your physique.
For Type I, its about volume. Training free weights at 50-60% of your 1 rep max, with the aim to hit sets of 12 reps, is certainly ideal. Now is an apt time to plug the infamous german volume training, gruelling exercises that see you through 10 sets of 10 reps and specifically crafted to grow these types of fibers.
Oh, and getting a sufficient amount of high-quality protein would be a good place to start, unless you want ‘Typo Uno’ to be the ‘Uno Typo’ of muscle you’ll ever get the chance to enjoy. Check out our article here on how to approach selecting your animal or plant-based muscle magic source.
For Type II, its best to remember that these (II and IIx) are both fast twitch and are merely more exaggerated versions of one another. Whilst Type II tire fast, Type IIx tire faster (literally within a few seconds). Type II can support some degree of volume training, whereas IIx should be thought of as strictly for delivering maximal power – i.e., colossal levels of force in the shortest possible amount of time.
With this in mind, exercises like olympic lifting that involve short(ish) stints of large amounts of force to lift, push and pull a large weight – think deadlifts, power cleans and jerks – are all the Type II muscle fibers’ best friends. Recruiting the many different muscle groups that these exercises do only leads to more testosterone release, and hence more fat burn and extraordinary muscular hypertrophy.
I love working the type IIs mostly because they allow for getting the heart rate up and a heavy sweat on without breaking down significant amounts of muscle that can result from an unbalanced cardio/weights combination. This is ideal for anyone who doesn’t quite feel like they’ve worked sufficiently without moving themselves from A to B. From experience, having a concoction of the exercises mentioned above with some intense HIIT routines like boxing/martial arts or regular studio-style classes is your best bet for feeling animalistically fit and looking like a young Stallone.
All In All
If you’ve read anything I’ve posted so far, like my personal account of how I’ve maintained sub 8% body fat, consistently, even through the multiple lockdowns we’ve all faced – you’ll know I’m the biggest advocate for variety. Surprise your body. When you feel too used to something, change it. Review your weekly regimes rigorously. Every 3 to 4 weeks, I’d encourage you to think back over the last month at what you’ve done, at what sort of times, and for what reasons. Then, consider swapping things out. Swap running for swimming. Add 50 press ups to your wake-up routine. Get a skipping rope and give it a whirl for a bit on some evenings. The more confusion you throw at your body, the more it will be forced to adapt and the more functionally effective you’ll become as an individual.
So, sorry if you were expecting a more decisive conclusion on which exercise to hammer relentless for the next 5 years. Thats not the way I work, and I wouldn’t suggest you do either. The key is to take the bits from here that make the most sense for your body type, genes, nutritional tendencies, sensitivities, schedule… and then working them as hard as possible until you get what you want. Trying to do everything will get you nowhere.
All the Best! Now the rest is up to you. Remember, finding you a qualified, vetted fitness professional who can get you more of what you want is literally what we do for a living. It wouldn’t be much use giving you all of this advice and then letting you pick up the pieces – why not get on-board the community and get a free referral to one of our trainers?
More at this place, right here
Have a great weekend,