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Fit Franco Personal Training Services serving Bucks and Montgomery county and surrounding areas

Building Muscle FAQ: Myths and Reality

There sure are a lot of misconceptions about weight training. Many people have no idea what changes to expect when they begin lifting weights, so they ask some not-so-dumb questions, like the ones that follow.

How long does it take to get stronger?

You may be able to lift more weight after just one weight-lifting workout. This isn't because you've built up more muscle; it's mainly because your weight training skills have improved. The first time you try the bench press, you waste a lot of energy trying to balance the bar, keep it steady, and move it in a straight line. But once you get the hang of the process - typically after one weight lifting session - you're able to put all your energy into lifting the weight.

Another reason you develop strength after just one workout is that, in a sense, your muscles have memory. Your nerves, the pathways that link your brain and muscles, learn how to carry information more quickly - much like the speed dial feature on your telephone. So after learning an exercise, your brain tells your muscles. "You know what this is. Go for it."

During the first six to eight weeks you lift weight, most of the strength you gain is due to skill and muscle memory. After that time, your muscles begin to grow. In other words, the sizes of your muscle fibers increase - you don't actually grow more muscle cells. Realize that some muscles gain strength faster than others do. In general, large muscles, like your chest and back muscles, grow faster than smaller ones, like your arms and shoulder muscles. Most people can increase their strength between 7 and 40 percent after about ten weeks of training each muscle group twice a week.

Do some people have greater strength potential than others?

How much muscle power you develop depends on many things, including your age, sex, and body type (and, of course, you diligence). Seniors generally can't develop as much strength as young people, but it's not clear whether this is due to the normal aging process or years of inactivity. However, look at Jack La Lanne, who has worked out all his life. For his 80th birthday, he towed a rowboat across a river with his teeth. Men typically have the capacity for greater overall strength than women do because their bodies have a higher proportion of muscle and more of the strength hormone testosterone.

Also, every body type has a different capacity for building strength and muscle. All the training in the world won't change your body type. If you start out short and narrow, weight training won't miraculously make you tall and broad. Weight training may. however, make you a more fit, muscular version of a short and narrow. There are hundreds of different body types, but most people fall into one of three broad categories: mesomorph, ectomorph, and endomorph.

Mesomorph: This is the most square of all the body types. Mesomorphs tend to have fairly large bones and shoulders that are a little wider than their hips. Mesomorphs are neither fat nor skinny; they tend to be muscular. People with this body type typically gain more strength and size from weight training than do people with other body types.

Ectomorph: This is the beanpole type - skinny, wiry, and small boned. An ectomorph's shoulders and hips are about the same width. Weight training tends to increase an ectomorphs definition and shape, but ectomorphs don't have the same capacity for size as the other two body types.

Endomorphs: This is the roundest type. Female endomorphs tend to be curvy, both men and women in this category tend to store more body fat and have larger bones than the other two body types. Female endomorphs typically have hips that are wider than their shoulders.

Strength is one thing, but how long will it take before my body looks better?

Most people start to see changes after six weeks of weight lifting, but we can't give you an exact answer. Results depend on your body type, your starting point, and the amount of time and effort you devote to lifting weight. In general, those who have the furthest to go, make the most dramatic changes.

Everyone notices the biggest improvements in the muscles that they use the least. The triceps (the muscles as the rear of your upper arm) are a classic example. You don't use them much in everyday life, so when you start targeting them with weight they become firmer fast. The same goes for the shoulders, so shoulder shape and tone relatively quickly.

If I stop lifting weight, won't my muscle turn to fat?

Only if silver can be transformed into gold. Fat and muscle are two distinctly different substances. When you look at them under the microscope, fat looks like chicken coop wire, and muscle looks like frayed electrical wiring. If you stop lifting weights, your muscles simply atrophy, a fancy word for shrink.

Should I lose weight before I start lifting weights?

Actually, no. Weight training can speed up your metabolism and give you more muscle tone, better posture, and better body proportions. In addition, lifting weight enhances your aerobic efforts. With stronger muscles, you have more staying power on the stair climber, and you're less apt to have a setback due to injury from your aerobic workouts. For example, you may be working out like gangbusters when, suddenly, you feel a little twinge in your knee. You lay off for a couple days, which turns into a couple of years. You may be able to prevent this whole incident by strengthening the muscles in your knee. Plus, adding weight training to your new exercise program gives you more variety and helps keep you motivated.

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