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"Doing more exercise with less intensity,"
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must be done . . . and quickly."
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Ellington Darden, Ph.D.

Muscle Matters:
Hard to Get and Easy to Lose

Note: This article was adapted from
chapter 11 of The Bowflex Body Plan.

 

Muscle has been our engine, our means of movement, since the beginning of our time on earth. With muscle we run, kick, jump, throw, and swim. With it we lift heavy objects or thread tiny needles. With it we operate chainsaws or manipulate keyboards.

Our muscle varies only slightly from that found throughout the animal kingdom. From ants to whales, from bats to yaks, from caterpillars to zebras — muscle ambulates, propels, and steers them all. Proportionately speaking, our muscles aren’t as strong as an ant’s, nor as enduring as a whale’s, but on both accounts they come close to nature’s best.

As a testament to our strength and endurance the Great Pyramid of Egypt and the Great Wall of China were both built primarily by human muscle. The Great Pyramid is composed of more than 2 million blocks of limestone, each weighing from 2 to 70 tons. You could build 30 Empire State buildings with its masonry. The Great Wall of China, which is from 15- to 30-feet thick and 25-feet tall, stretches 3,300 miles across the mountains of northern China. It’s one of the few things that can be seen clearly from orbiting the Earth.

The Great Pyramid was constructed 4,600 years ago and the Great Wall of China was initially finished approximately 2,208 years ago. Both these projects required hundreds of years to complete and nearly lifelong muscle power from millions of people.


THE ADVANTAGES OF STRONG MUSCLES

History abounds with extraordinary feats of muscular strength. Sometimes unappreciated, however, is the fact that strong muscles also do the following:

Protect you from injury. Strengthen your muscles and you also toughen your tendons, ligaments, and bones — which equals greater structural integrity.

Govern metabolism. More than any other organ you have voluntary control over, your working muscles must be supplied with nutrition and heat energy. Larger, stronger muscles rev up your metabolism.

Look attractive. If you are lean, muscles make up from 30 to 50 percent of your body weight. The Greeks and Romans are well known for their statues that emphasize body leanness and muscularity for their simple beauty.

Burn calories. Muscles, because they are richly supplied with blood capillaries, require calories to keep them functioning. Add a pound of muscle to your body, and your body needs an extra 37.5 calories per day to keep it alive.

Support overlying fat and skin. There are 434 skeletal muscles throughout your body. These muscles are the primary foundation and shaping ingredient for your fatty deposits and skin.

Allow you to work your cardiovascular system. Since your muscles contract and produce movement, they are the only thing that generate sustained action for working your heart in a progressive manner.


HOW MUSCLES GROW LARGER AND STRONGER

Muscular growth, very simply, is a two-step process. First, stimulate the muscle with an overload. Second, permit the stimulated muscle to grow by providing adequate rest. Remember, muscle grows during rest, not during exercise.

Underneath this two-step process, however, is the science of the muscular-growth process.

Each muscle consists of thousands of cylindrical fibers. These fibers divide into hundreds of thousands of myofibrils, which separate into millions of filaments of actin and myosin.

When a muscle grows, the actin and myosin filaments initially increase in size and/or number. This causes greater circumference in the involved myofibrils, which in turn produces expansion in the fibers. As a result, muscle fibers grow wider not longer — and they increase in size not number. This process is called hypertrophy.

Another growth process is called hyperplasia. Hyperplasia is when muscle fibers split, which creates an increase in the total number of fibers. This method of muscular growth occurs primarily in cats and other smaller mammals, but there is little evidence that it occurs in healthy humans. Hypertrophy is the way that human muscles grow.

The opposite of hypertrophy is atrophy. Atrophy is when muscle fibers shrink or waste away from lack of use. There are plenty of physical problems that are related to atrophy.


ATROPHY RESEARCH

Use it or lose it. That’s the popular concept related to muscle that is taught in most physical education courses in the United States. The concept certainly applies to strength training. If you work harder this week than last week, your involved muscles grow slightly stronger. If you don’t work as hard this week as you did the week before, then a small amount of atrophy or shrinkage occurs.

A lot of the basic research on muscle atrophy was done by Dr. Gilbert Forbes of the Rochester School of Medicine. I first met Dr. Forbes during the 1975 Nautilus West Point Study. He helped with the body-fat calculations of the cadets.

At that time, Dr. Forbes was in the process of analyzing longitudinal data on the body composition of men and women he had monitored for several decades. His full report was published in Human Biology in 1976. Basically, what he discovered was as follows:

Average men and women between the ages of 20 and 50, who do not strength train, lose one-half pound of muscle per year. Eight ounces per year translates into slightly more than 22 hundredths of an ounce per day, which seems insignificant. And it probably would be, if wasn’t for the cumulative effect.

Bit by bit, little by little, ounce by ounce, things add up. After a decade, it’s 5 pounds. After 30 years, it’s 15 pounds.

A loss of 15 pounds of muscle is nothing to laugh about. The next time you’re at the supermarket, spend some time in the meat department. Pick up and hold a 5-pound roast. Maybe there’s a bigger cut available. If so, grasp it — or imagine holding three 5 pounders. That’s approximately the space that 15 pounds of your muscle occupies. Of course, atrophy is not selective, it happens throughout your body, from all of your muscle-containing areas.

There are a two of pounds that shrink from each thigh, another pound from each buttocks, a couple of pounds more from your back, as well as over your chest and shoulders, and finally a half pound from each arm and each calf, and the remaining several pounds from around your lower back, midsection, and neck.

If that sernerio is not enough to make you want to go workout, then the next facts will be for sure.

Dr. Forbes also found that while average men and women are losing muscle ounce by ounce, they are gaining fat at triple the rate. That fat gain amounts to 1-1/2 pounds each year, or 15 pounds per decade. That’s a 45-pound fat gain over 30 years.

Fat tissue is approximately 20-percent less dense than muscle, so it takes up 20-percent more space. The closest size comparison to fat at the supermarket would be 40-pound sack of dog food. You should be able to get the picture!

In one way, the muscle loss and fat gain are not quite as bad as they seem. If you lose 15 pounds of muscle and gain 45 pounds of fat — then the overall increase in body weight is only 30 pounds.


THE EFFECT ON METABOLISM

Your resting metabolism is the number of calories your body requires to operate in a relaxed state. Your brain and internal organs — such as your heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys — demand a lot of energy. But it’s your skeletal muscles, which comprise from 30 to 50 percent of a lean person’s body weight, that use the most energy.

Lose a pound of muscle through disuse atrophy and your resting metabolic rate goes down approximately 37.5 calories per day. Add a pound through strength training and your rate goes up by the same number.

A pound of fat tissue inside the human body also has a metabolic rate: approximately 2 calories per day. Muscle is thus 18.75 times as metabolically active as the same amount of fat.

It’s fairly well known that as adults age they have a harder and harder time shedding their excessive fat. The reason: a decrease in metabolism.

Long-term metabolic studies reveal that an average individual experiences a 0.5 percent reduction in resting metabolic rate each year between 20 and 50 years of age. The gradual, wasting away of muscle each is primarily responsible for the metabolic slowdown.

Atrophy involves the metabolic breakdown of muscle into its constituent compounds, which are removed by the bloodstream. The involved muscle fibers actually lose their fluids and become smaller, weaker, and less supportive.

The continued loss of muscle may manifest itself in physical ailments such as lower-back pain, bothersome knees and shoulders, arthritis, or even heart disease. From there, it’s often a steady downward spiral.


THE HIT CHALLENGE

Your body doesn’t have to get caught up in this downward spiral. With the new HIT, you can put a stop to the regression and actually reverse the process. You can rebuild your atrophied muscle, and perhaps, get your muscles larger and stronger than they’ve ever been.

No, it won’t be easy, especially if you’re over 40 years of age. But it will be well worth it, as thousands and thousands of trainees will testify.

Accept the HIT challenge.

Make sure your hard-to-get muscle, is even harder, to lose.


 

Discuss this article | Text Version

rtestes

Mississippi, USA

"Specific training does not change slow-twitch fibers to fast-twitch fibers or vice versa. Whatever a person?s ratio, it?s genetically determined and cannot be altered."

So why do we care about them? I assume I am a mix in the middle plain dirt. I can't change it. I don't see why we are talking about them, when I hear someone talking about them I picture they are going to take out the big rubber balls and ask me to do crunches on them. Clue me in.

RTE
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Dan_The_man

I thought Casey Viator was predominantly slow twitch, with muscles. He was not built like a string bean.
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BF Bullpup

Massachusetts, USA

rtestes wrote:
"Specific training does not change slow-twitch fibers to fast-twitch fibers or vice versa. Whatever a person?s ratio, it?s genetically determined and cannot be altered."

So why do we care about them? I assume I am a mix in the middle plain dirt. I can't change it. I don't see why we are talking about them, when I hear someone talking about them I picture they are going to take out the big rubber balls and ask me to do crunches on them. Clue me in.

RTE


It's for the people who aren't aware that how we will look when our muscles are trained is mostly genetically determined. I don't know about you, but I get plenty of people who:

a) Tell me that they would like to weight train, but don't want to get "too big",

and

b) Ask me how I could work out consistently for several years now and not be "HUGE" already.
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bill1

California, USA

There is now a medical term for the phenomena of age related muscle atrophy ; ie. sarcopenia.
I have also found research that indicates that the actuall loss or "death" of nerves that connect and/or fire fast twitch fiber does occur with "disuse" atrophy. Once a nerve dies, thats it ,it is gone. All the more reason to pursue at the very least maintenance of accquired strength/size.
There is also evidence that not only can resistance training prevent/suspend osteoporosis but that by strengthing the muscles needed for balance and support, it also greatly reduces the likelyhood of falling. This is very significant for the elderly as it adresses two very important risk factors that often lead to death. When taken along with so many other benefits of resistance training such as increased cardiovascular health, increased insulin sensitivity, etc. those over 40 have far more to gain from resistance training than those under 40. In fact I am convinced that the older you become the more important it is to maintaning quality of life.

Bill1
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matt16

I have the new HIT book i have adapted my routine which was a 2 day split with no rest days to one that is a much more low volume HIT routine.

I have a few questions that i cant find the answers to in the book..

On the creatine cycle, when i am on the 5g maintenance do i ever stop and have rest/ or start the loading phase over, or just carry on 5g infinitum..

Also after reading the rib cage development article i was wondering, does having a bigger ribcage mean you will have bigger pectorials, or is ribcage development just for posing.

My final question is do you ever plan to be doing any seminars or HIT lessons soon in the UK. I dont know any1 who knows a great deal about HIT over here.

Its great that you reply to peoples messages, if you are ever doing any HIT programs in the UK i volunteer.

Thanks, Matt
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simon-hecubus

Texas, USA

RTE,

We care about FT and ST make-up so that it can help us with sets and frequency for our workouts. Typically FT muscles need less sets and lower frequencies.

A lot of people do A and B (and maybe even C) workouts. You might want to hit the FT muscles in only the A or the B workout, while hitting the ST muscles in both.

ST muscles will respond better to pre-fatigue supersets or drop sets. FT muscles should be hit hard with single sets.

In addition, you might want to limit the TUL for FT muscles to 40-50 seconds, while ST muscles may be able to handle TULs of 60-80 seconds on a regular basis. Mixed groups might react well to TUL of 50-60 seconds. These are all approximations and any fiber type may respond to infrequent changes in these numbers.

No you cannot change the fiber make-up of your muscles, but you can sure do whatever you can to make the most of those ratios.

Scott

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marktb

One of my goals is to do 100 consecutive pushups and who better to ask than the British Pushup champion, Andy. Can anyone give me his email address or ask to post his reply?

thanks!!!

Mark
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newyork4078

New York, USA

Dr. Darden-
I am not a bodybuilder, but I am a female who would like to become toned and defined. I just bought The New High Intensity Training, but I see that it is geared toward men. I am wondering if HIT works for women who do not want to become bodybuilders, or should I buy one of your other books? I have done the beginners workout, but it seems like the heavy weight is hard to lift in good form, and lowering the weight would allow me to do 20 reps or more. Should I go with the higher reps and better form?

Also, I live in New York City and would like to find a trainer who can help me with your system..are there any you can recommend?

Thanks for your time,
Erika
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sinan

Are there any personal trainers in houston, texas using HIT protocols that you would reccommend, i would like to train properly and under supervision.
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Ellington Darden

Erika & sinan,

Why don't both of you ask your questions on the Forum section?

Surely someone will have some leads for you in New York and Houston.

Ellington
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2142437670

i want to send a message to Dr Darden
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metto81

I read the section on the Muscle Atrophy part, but one thing I still have not been able to find out.

When do your muscles start to atrophize (sp), begin to lose strength/size?

I have read in one BB book that your muscle atrophize after 10 days. I don't know if that is true or not?

Also, would that be immediatly after the work out or when your muscles finally heal a couple of days after the workout?
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Ellington Darden

Muscle atrophy depends many factors, such as age, sex, genetics, medical problems, existing level of muscular size and strength, and how long you've been training. Generally, however, inactivity would cause atrophy to occur within two days to three weeks, at least at some level.

Ellington
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Lukashenko

I have been using system of high intensity training for 2 weeks and succeeded a bit. My weight is 90 kg & my height 180 cm. I want, first of all, to mould vivid musculature & put on weight trough increasing muscular mass up to about 100 kg. Achieving that is enough for me & during next trainings I am going to maintain my musculature & improve some of its parts.

That is why I would like to ask you, if there is an application system adapted to my demands, training system for amateurs like me? And the other question is if there is use in my case to continue trainings according to your system, if I do not pursue high achievements in bodybuilding. Thanks.

Russia, Moscow
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Ellington Darden

Russia,

You need to see my book, "The New HIT," as well as my latest one, "The New Bodybuilding for Old-School Results." They will supply you with most of what you need.

Start with "The New HIT," which you can get through Amazon.com.

Ellington
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BRUCELEEWANNABE

Florida, USA

Ellington Darden wrote:
Russia,

You need to see my book, "The New HIT," as well as my latest one, "The New Bodybuilding for Old-School Results." They will supply you with most of what you need.

Start with "The New HIT," which you can get through Amazon.com.

Ellington



Ellington!

When's the new book coming out?? I can't wait! The cover is awesome!
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applexpanther

Missouri, USA

Dr. Darden,

Do you still think that once 12-16 additional lbs of muscle for men is acheived that he has reached his genetic potential??

The reason I ask is because 12-16 lbs on me, i would still not look very muscular.

Thanks,
David
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Ellington Darden

applexpanther wrote:
Dr. Darden,

Do you still think that once 12-16 additional lbs of muscle for men is acheived that he has reached his genetic potential??

The reason I ask is because 12-16 lbs on me, i would still not look very muscular.

Thanks,
David


This applies if you are in the average category. If you are above average, then you could gain more.

Ellington

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Tom71

applexpanther wrote:
Dr. Darden,

Do you still think that once 12-16 additional lbs of muscle for men is acheived that he has reached his genetic potential??

The reason I ask is because 12-16 lbs on me, i would still not look very muscular.

Thanks,
David



Those are some very interesting numbers and when you compare them to the fat gain potential of the average man it really shows where the things stand with respect to the body's priorities.

12-16 pounds is still a heck-of-a-lot of muscle though. Try going to the grocery store and check out the mass of a pound of lean meat, then multiply by 12 to 16, then imagine that on an average, reasonably lean frame. You'll see it for sure.

I'd like to read more about it, can you tell me what book you read that in?

Tom
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applexpanther

Missouri, USA

The bowflex body plan book by Dr Darden. I cant tell you for sure which page, the book is not handy. However 16 lbs of lean meat in one spot may seem like a lot...but when its evenly distributed throughout our bodies I dont think it would amount to much. Perhaps i need a visual of someone who actually gained 12-16 lbs of real lean tissue.
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applexpanther

Missouri, USA

Dr. Darden.
its beginning of my 4th week on the Leanness Program. I've had some good fat loss success. Nothing like the subjects in the Bowflex Body Plan book, but still acceptable.
My question is concerning increase of muscle size. Though I am progressing in strength and increase my weights usually every workout or every other, sometimes every 3. But regardless I am not seeing gains in muscle size whatsoever. Seems like I am just withering away rather than building muscle and burning fat. ...Ive checked and rechecked my routine, from water, to sleep and consistency...reviewed my workout form and intensity. Can you help me understand why I am seeing zero increase in muscle size?

Also, I just purchased your HIT book, which is very similar to Bowflex Body plan in several ways... how likely is it to actually gain 18lbs of muscle in 2 weeks? Whats a more realistic gain for the average person coming off the leanness program?


Thanks again!
Dave Hansen
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Ellington Darden

Dave,

You have to have above-average genetic potential for building muscle to gain in a similar fashion to Hudlow. An average person can expect 1/2 pound of muscle per week . . . for a while.

Ellington
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mykayl

dr. darden:

the issue of whether or not the ribcage can be expanded with exercise has come up in forum threads in T-Nation. can you provide us with some links to studies which document such expansion with x-rays? from personal experience i know it's possible, but some people on the site claiming medical expertise say that it's impossible. can you help?
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Ellington Darden

mykayl wrote:
dr. darden:

the issue of whether or not the ribcage can be expanded with exercise has come up in forum threads in T-Nation. can you provide us with some links to studies which document such expansion with x-rays? from personal experience i know it's possible, but some people on the site claiming medical expertise say that it's impossible. can you help?


Sorry, but I've never seen any studies that document what you're asking. It's strictly through personal experience.

Ellington

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