the joy of strength training


November 28th, 2010 at 8:06 pm

Why muscle building should be your top priority, whoever you are

Learning the bench press

When you mention muscle building or muscular hypertrophy to someone – male or female – they generally picture big, bodybuilder-type muscles. So for anyone who doesn’t want to be ‘big’ (and that’s most people, to be honest), they will claim not to want muscle building or muscular hypertrophy.

But that’s a mistake – understandable but nevertheless, a mistake. Everyone, from Johnny Teenager down the road to your old mum, needs muscular hypertrophy. And here’s why.

Peak muscle

We need our musculoskeletal system in order to do, well, anything. Sit down, stand up, take the stairs, carry things.

When we are young, our bodies build muscle well, without us having to do much about it. By adulthood, about 40 per cent of our total body mass is muscle.

Without any particular training or dietary strategy, muscle mass peaks at around 16-20 years old in women, and 18-25 years old in men. Muscle strength peaks a bit later, around age 20 in untrained women and around 30 in untrained men.

Muscle decline

After the age of 25, muscle loss is around 10 per cent per decade!

In fact both bone and muscle mass decrease with age. Bones become less dense and therefore frailer (osteopenia) and muscle mass decreases (sarcopenia).

But weight tends to increase with age – which can only mean that the extra weight is fat!

Well I don’t know about you guys but I’m in my mid thirties and I am not happy about the idea of it being downhill all the way after age 20! We are surviving longer than ever before – do we really want to ‘peak’ having run only 20-30 per cent of our lifespan? Do we want to spend most of our adult lives fat and weak?

Muscle building

So the truth is that after our early twenties, muscle building is what we have to do to stop the otherwise inevitable decline of strength and ability, and the increase in fat and weight. Muscular hypertrophy needs to be at the top of everyone’s fitness agenda.

Here’s an illustration of what I mean. This diagram shows what muscular hypertrophy really means for the normal person who just wants to stay in good shape for as long as possible.

Diagram showing muscle building scenarios

The red arrow is the ‘do nothing’ scenario: no weight training and bad diet results in steady loss of muscle and bone mass and increase in body fat and frailty.

The blue arrow is the ‘regular resistance training and decent diet’ scenario, staving off the decline of muscle and bone mass for as long as possible.

Now I usually try to avoid giving personal examples since they don’t necessarily apply to everyone. But I think my own example does illustrate this process well.

I’m 35 years old and I’m stronger, slimmer, with less body fat and more muscle than 10 years ago. In other words, I’ve been able to reverse that trend by taking action.

I’ve not done it through ‘cardio’ or by starving myself. I’ve done it through regular weight training and a good diet.

This is not about how great I am or what sacrifices I made. I’m not a professional athlete or bodybuilder, just a regular person who has committed to being in good shape for as long as possible.

So this is about how blimmin’ easy it is once you’ve figured out how to do it. Muscular hypertrophy along with fat loss is the strategy that will get you and keep you in shape.

By the way, I have Dan John to thank for putting this strategy in such simple terms, making it so easy to communicate (read more of his wisdom here as he answers readers’ questions).

The way forward

It is taking a while to get this message across. It is not just women who are not getting the message; I hear plenty of men in the gym who are reluctant to do any weight training for fear of getting too big and bulky.

As my friend Allyson Goble from Bodytribe Fitness puts it, people “deserve to have strong muscles and bones and ligaments and tendons, etc. AND look good in their undies too!”

Rest assured there are many different techniques in resistance training, to meet many different goals (just have a browse around this website!). But if you don’t build it in order to maintain it, you’ll lose it.

More from gubernatrix

Photo by Helen Armstrong

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  • 1

    hey gubes, good post!

    i am one of the ‘older’ people who train at 42, and i managed to persuade my wife to start training with my kickboxing coach, keri, for fitness originally, now she does the kickboxing as well and literally just passed her 3rd belt (yellow) at the ripe old age of 48!
    We both get mistaken for being younger than we are often by ten years or so.
    I put this soley down to the fact we train and we train hard, no sitting on recline bikes reading magazines for us, it is kickboxing training, kettlebells and weights.
    one of the revalation moments for her was on holiday when she pulled herself out of the pool easily without using the steps, does not sound like much but her she was like’wow, i have never been able to do that!!!”
    Our diet is healthy but by no means restrictive, after all we both like a glass or two of wine.
    I intend to keep it going for as literally as long as i can and so does my wife now she is ‘in’ to it.

    tentigers on November 28th, 2010
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