I've seen it happen hundreds of times. Middle age guy joins a gym to get back into shape. We all know a guy like this. The one who hasn't worked out since high school, but “he used to play football” so he knows what he’s doing. First day there he loads up one of the chest machines with as much weight as he can lift and proceeds to grunt, strain and persuade the weight up as many time as he can. He then continues this process with his back, shoulders arms and maybe his legs, most guys like this refuse to workout their legs. Two things are going to happen here. First, he’s going to be so sore for the next 5 days he’d wish he was dead. Second, if he didn't strain, sprain or tear a muscle this time he certainly will at some point lifting this way. Lifting this way he obviously wants to build muscle, but he doesn't know how to do it safely or efficiently. How to build muscle and avoid injuries is actually pretty simple. You just have to follow two simple rules, progression and recovery.
Like most things in life, you don’t just jump in head first and expect to be successful building muscle without a plan. Avoiding injury usually isn't even a concern until you get injured. So, how does progression help? Progression is defined as a passing successfully from one member of a series to the next. How many times have you heard, start slow and work your way up? That’s progression at its simplest form. If I hadn't run for 10 years, would I just go out one day and try to knockout 5 miles? Absolutely not, even the most novice fitness mind would know that would be crazy. Someone that has been lifting weights consistently can still be at risk of injury. How many guys do you know that do 3 sets of 10 repetitions on every exercise, every day they workout? I know a lot! Let’s go back to that definition of progression. A passing successfully from one member of a series to the next. That doesn't sound like doing the same thing all the time does it. Doing the same thing all the time leads to over use and adaptation. When your body adapts to a workout, it longer needs to change to complete the workout. So, no more muscle building. The muscle needed to perform that workout has been built. Time to progress.
So, how will progression help build muscle and avoid injury? Again, progression is starting small and working up. On the injury front, starting small and working up will prepare your muscles for the trauma that they will be put through. Yes, lifting weights to build muscle will cause trauma. Small muscle fibers break then get repaired and you get stronger. If you break a lot of muscle fibers at once, your muscles be very sore and your muscle will not recover as fast, leaving it susceptible to further injury. So, if you traumatize only a few muscle fibers each time you workout you’ll have less chance of injury.
1. Progression will help build muscle by recruiting different muscles fibers.
Your muscles work on an all or nothing principal. Meaning, all the fibers in a motor unit fire or none of them do. Your muscles are made up of motor units. These are small clusters of muscles fibers. So, if your muscle only needs 10 of its 15 motor units to complete the motion, that’s all it uses. That leaves 5 unused motor units. Using a progressive strength training program, using different repetition, intensity, sets and rest will help recruit all of the motor units at different times in different ways. Performing higher repetitions with a lower weight and less rest will use different motor units than heavy weight with low repetitions and a longer rest. This will help build all of the muscle fibers, in all of the motor units. So to build muscle and avoid injury, progress from low weight, high repetitions and less rest to heavy weight, low repetitions and a longer rest.
2. Recovery is the next piece of the puzzle.
Over-training a muscles is almost a sure fire path to injury. Remember when you train that muscle your causing trauma. Trauma needs time to heal. If it doesn't get time to heal it’s left in a weakened state. When things are weak, things will break. After a muscle is trained it will need at least 24-48 hours of rest before it should be trained again, sometimes longer. How will you know if you muscles hasn't fully recovered yet? It will be sore. Trauma causes pain. If your muscle is still sore from the previous workout then don’t train that muscle. Wait until it’s not sore to resume training it. Rest is only half of the recovery process. When you workout your burning energy as well as causing trauma. The energy needs to be replaced and the trauma needs to heal. So, proper nutrient consumption is imperative for proper recovery. Protein is the building block of the body. Carbohydrates are the fuel. You need a 4 / 1 ration of carbohydrates to protein digested within 90 minutes of your workout. 90 minutes is the window in which muscle resynthesizing starts. Protein is used to rebuild the muscle fibers, carbohydrates do the actual building as well as replenishing the ATP or energy levels, in the muscle.
3. Start slow and work your way up.
Rest 1-2 days between working out the same muscle. Eat carbohydrates and protein after you workout. Progression and recovery are the keys to build muscle and avoid injury. Don’t just dive right into your workouts. Have plan of attack. Map out your workout progressions. Know what you’re going to eat after your workout is finished. Plan for you rest days. If you follow this rules you should build muscle and avoid injury with no problem.