I started bodybuilding in January of 2016 (my second year in the University) with a pair of pretty light concrete dumbbells (which I found quite heavy at the time) and all I wanted to do was lift them every time I had enough fuel in my tank. I did grow bigger arms (I mean, I went really hard!!). I developed muscles that became visible to a few of my course mates in four days. It continued this way for many weeks (me lifting and seeing drastic changes) but at some point, I noticed I wasn’t getting bigger at the same rate as I was in the first couple of weeks. I kept working out but saw little to no change. My stagnation wasn’t for lack of effort. I knew I had to figure out why, so yeah, I googled stuff to find the answers I needed and I stumbled upon what was called “beginners gain” (how people tend to gain more muscles in their first few weeks of workout and less after that). Not being a beginner doesn’t make it impossible to gain muscles but it makes it a little bit more complicated. If you’re at this point that I was and you’re wondering why this is the case and what you need to do to pack on some more muscles, you’re not alone. I’ll give a rundown of what I’ve found out from my experience.
It’s still a secret to some that to keep growing bigger muscles, you need to progressively increase the stress on the muscles you’re training. This is termed progressive overload and it directly affects a phenomenon that helps muscle growth called MUSCLE HYPERTROPHY.
Muscle hypertrophy refers to an increase in size of skeletal muscle through a growth in size of its component cells.
When you start exercising a muscle, there is first an increase in the nerve impulses that cause muscle contraction. This alone results in strength gains without any noticeable change in muscle size. As you continue to exercise, there is a complex interaction of nervous system responses that result in an increase in protein synthesis over months and the muscle cells begin to grow larger and stronger. After workouts, new muscle fibers are produced to help replace and repair the damaged ones. More fibers are produced to ensure that the muscle is not as strained whenever it experiences that kind of stress anymore. This is why muscle growth occurs – for adaption to familiar stresses.
Muscles adapt to the kind of stress it is being put through by growing bigger. In order to take advantage of this increase in size of muscle tissues due increase in stress, you need to keep increasing resistance or repetition which in turn keeps increasing the stress the muscle goes through thereby giving it a reason to keep growing bigger and this is termed Progressive Overload.
If you’ve been benching the same weight for the past four months, then you know why your muscles are no longer getting bigger. You also know what need to be done. You need to progressively overload. BENCH MORE WEIGHTS!!!
A lot of people neglect this important aspect of bodybuilding when it is in fact the fastest way to get the most of your workout. Training, nutrition and rest constitutes what I refer to as the triangle of bodybuilding. Have you heard the saying; ‘muscles are built in the kitchen’? If you aren’t eating enough (carbohydrate) to support your training and enough (protein) to help build your body after the day’s workout, then you would not be giving yourself a fair chance at building muscles.
A balanced diet is basic for a bodybuilder. However, timing and quantity of food is important for sport specific diets. Consuming food or drink high in carbohydrate about an hour before your workout helps to give adequate strength needed to complete the workout while consuming some protein between the time immediately after your workout till when a two-hour window after your workout closes helps to give your body something to feed on for the healing process. You need to consume carbs of roughly 45-60% of your total daily calories intake and protein of about 0.8-1 of your body weight in pounds while the rest of the total daily calories requirement can come from fat. Generally speaking, if you’re trying to build muscles mass, eat a lot of carbs (within the upper half of the range above) while if you’re trying to build lean muscle mass, more protein (about 1 multiplied by your weight in pounds or your weight in kg multiplied by 2.2 in kcal).
Impact of genetics
Genetics is another reason you’re not growing muscles as rapidly as you would love. Sadly, there’s only little you can do about this one. Genetics is a motherfucker. Hypertrophy occurs for everyone, but the results may vary for people doing exactly same workouts. This is due to the differences in genetic make-up. People with very good genetics would grow muscles faster. The shape of a muscle is determined by the length of the tendons of the muscle. For bigger muscles, it is better to have shorter tendons. Someone with longer tendons may experience slower muscle growth than someone with shorter muscles despite going through the same workout routine. However, don’t be discouraged. With a lot of work, genetics becomes less of a limiting factor.
So, there you go. Now you have an idea why your muscle growth has plateaued after the first few weeks of immense gains.