Tag Archives: muscle mass

How much strength training is enough?

Almost everyone performsHow much strength training is enough? strength training for a certain goal. Whether that goal is to get stronger, get larger muscles or lose fat, strength training can help. Achieving those goal does not just depend on the perfect training program but on how often you train as well. Training frequency is an important factor in achieving results. When you train more often with the right (on training frequency adjusted) training program, you will likely get better results. However we all lead busy lives and not everyone is able to hit the gym every day. So the important question is: How much strength training is enough to see results?

How deep should you squat? The effect of squat depth on muscle activity

(10-22-2013) Proper technique during an exercise is veryStrongman squat important for good training results. This especially holds true for free weight exercises such as the squat. An important part of exercise technique is the Range of Motion (ROM). To see what the effect of squat depth is on muscle activation during the squat exercise, researchers performed the following study.

Effect of training volume on strength and muscle size

(03-06-2013) Increasing muscle mass is a commonDumbbell curl goal for many men training in gyms. There are many variables to consider when designing a training program aimed at increasing muscle mass. One of these variables is the amount of sets or series per exercise. Most research on the matter recommends performing three sets per exercise over one, except for those just starting with strength training. The difference in recommendation between beginners and more advanced athletes is difficult to explain, and researchers from Japan claim it is due to differences in study design and subjects characteristics. To find out the effect of training volume on strength and muscle size the Japanese scientists performed a very innovative study.

Dumbbells vs Barbells: Dumbbell Shoulder Press vs Barbell Shoulder Press

Dumbbell Shoulder Press vs Barbell Shoulder Press

Barbells vs Dumbbells

In the first article in the Barbell vs. Dumbbell series we compared the Bench Press with the Dumbbell Press. In this second article in the Barbell vs. Dumbbell series we analyze which variant is the most effective for muscle growth for shoulder muscles: The Military Press (Barbell Shoulder Press) or the Dumbbell Shoulder Press. The Military Press is another classic barbell exercise and an essential part of a weightlifters’ training in which a barbell is pressed from just above shoulder height to above the head with outstretched arms. The Military press is performed while standing, although it is possible to perform it seated and decrease stability requirements. The Dumbbell Shoulder Press is a variant of this exercise but is usually performed while seated. It is perfectly possible to perform this exercise while standing however. Both exercises target the deltoid and triceps brachii muscles. Since both these exercises can be done both seated and standing, the effects of posture and which is more effective will be discussed as well.

Dumbbells vs Barbells: Barbell Bench Press vs Dumbbell Press

Dumbbells vs Barbells

Barbells vs DumbbellsThere is a long standing debate among strength training enthusiasts and professionals over the differences between training with dumbbells or with a barbell. Using similar exercises which version is more effective to gain muscle mass using dumbbells or a barbell?

The most effective chest exercises

There are many different exercises to train the pectoralis major, but what are the most effective chest excercises? For those who want to increase the size of their chest muscles it is important to train all different parts of the pectoralis major. This article reviews which exercises target the different parts of the chest muscle best. In addition, muscle activity of assisting (synergistic) muscles will be reviewed as well.

Weight loss or improving body composition?

Many people wanting to improve their looks or their health seek to lose weight achieve this goal by dieting, a dedicated training plan or both. Often they set goals to lose a certain amount of weight. Others don’t use the scale to measure their progress, but look towards body fat calipers or other methods to assess their body composition. So the important question is: Which is better focussing on weight loss or improving body composition?

The advantage of setting a weight loss goal is that it is easy to measure weight. However, the weight lost can be caused by loss of fat mass, muscle mass, water or a combination of these. Measuring body composition allows to keep track of changes in the relative amount of fat during diets and weight loss training programs. Changes in body fat percentage better represent changes in someone’s health and fitness. As stated above, weight loss can also be caused by a loss of muscle tissue. This not only makes a person weaker and less fit, resting metabolism decreases as well. This makes retaining weight loss much harder.

Consider the following example:

Subject 1 and Subject 2 before weight loss:

Table 1 Subject 1 and Subject 2
Age 25 years
Length 182cm/6′
Weight 90kg/200lbs
BMI 27.2 (overweight)
Fat Percentage 25%
Fat Mass 22,5kg/50lbs
Fat Free Mass 67,5kg/150lbs

Subject 1 and Subject 2 followed different weight loss programs and the results are:

Table 2 Subject 1 Subject 2
Weight 82kg/182lbs (-8kg/-17.8lbs) 88kg/196lbs (-2kg/-4.4lbs)
BMI 24.8 (Healthy) 26.6 (Overweight)
Fat Percentage 23% (-2%) (Overweight) 18% (-7%) (Healthy)
Fat Mass 18.9kg/42lbs (-3.6kg/8lbs) 15.8kg/35.1lbs (-6.7kg/14.9lbs)
Fat Free Mass 63.1kg/140.2lbs (-4,4kg/9.8lbs) 72.1kg/160.2lbs (+4.7kg/10.4lbs)

In this example we can see several interesting things. First, Subject 1 lost more weight in total and therefore was no longer overweight according to the BMI. However, his fat percentage did not decrease as much and he is still considered overweight in this respect. This means that, although he did manage to lose some body fat, most of the lost weight was not fat, but muscles and water instead.

Subject 2 on the other hand did not lose as much weight, but did manage to bring down his fat percentage by a considerable amount. Enough to be classified as healthy when looking at fat percentage. The BMI in contrast, which depends only on weight and length, still classifies him as being overweight, even though the health risk as a result of too much fat has decreased considerably. Subject 2 managed to lose a lot of fat and actually gain some muscle mass. Not only does this make him look a lot better than Subject 1, he is healthier as well.

This example serves to illustrate that it is better to improve body composition, than to just focus on losing weight. Someone who gains muscle mass and burns fat mass at the same time, will look healthier and lighter than they actually are. Muscle tissue density is much higher than fat tissue density, meaning that in the example above Subject 2 looks a lot slimmer than Subject 1 despite being heavier.

See also:

-Is Cardio Training the Best Way to Lose Weight?

-Strength Training for Weight Loss

-Cardio Training for Weight Loss

Split training or full body workout?

What is Most Effective for Muscle Growth: Split Training or Full Body Workout?

Increasing muscle mass and strength are important training goals for many people. Muscle hypertrophyNot only for cosmetic reasons but for health reasons as well, people seek to increase their muscle mass. A much used method to increase muscle mass more effectively, a process also known as hypertrophy, is using a split training program. In a split training program only a few muscle groups are trained every workout. This allows more exercises per muscle group which increases the training stimulus to the muscle compared with performing just one exercise per muscle group.

Unfortunately there has been little research comparing split training with a comparable full body workout up until now. However the following advantages and disadvantages are theoretically supported.

Advantages Split Training in comparison with Full Body Workout

-A stronger and more complete training stimulus per muscle group. As a result of combining multiple exercises in one training session, a larger part of the muscle is targeted which results in a larger number of muscle fibers that need to adapt.

-It allows for a higher training frequency. When the increase in muscle mass from a Full Body workout performed 3 times a week is not sufficient, it is a bad idea to perform this workout 4 times a week or more. This will not allow the muscle to recuperate and increase its’ size. A split training regimen, if designed properly, even allows daily training. While muscle groups that have been trained in a previous workout are allowed to recover.

Disadvantages compared in comparison with Full Body Workout

-It is less suitable for beginners. The training intensity is often too high for relatively untrained muscles. Moreover, most beginners will have a hard time reaching the necessary training intensity at all, since they still have to learn to activate their muscles to a larger extent. When they can’t reach the necessary training intensity, split training often offers few advantages.

-It requires a higher training frequency to train all muscle groups regularly. Ideally muscles are trained when they are fully recuperated and adapted to the previous training stimulus. For optimal results it is recommended to train every muscle group two times a week. When a split training is performed two times a week, the muscle will have recovered by the time it is trained again, but the training adaptations will probably have disappeared as well.

-Smaller increases in growth hormone and testosterone production. The increase in hormone production is strongly dependent on the amount of muscle mass that is active during training. Since split training targets a few muscle groups each training, the hormonal response on training is smaller. Recent studies have shown that this hormonal response is not a requirement of muscle growth. However, it is likely that growth hormone production has other beneficial effects, such as stimulating fat metabolism. A full body workout is probably more effective in this aspect.


Using a split training regimen has both advantages and disadvantages. Moreover, no studies comparing both split training and full body workouts have been performed. However a split training allows for a higher training frequency and a more complete workout for each muscle group, while other muscle groups are allowed to recover.


-Kraemer, W.J., Ratamess, N.A. Fundamentals of Resistance Training: Progression and Exercise Prescription. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2004, 36, 4, 674-688.

-Wescott, W.L. How Often Should Clients Perform Strength Training? ACSM’s Certified News 2010, 20, 2, 10-11.

How long does it take for muscles to start growing?

When a person starts a resistance training program aimed at increasing muscle mass without any previous training experience, it may take some time before results are visible. Despite the rather large increase in strength during the first few weeks, the muscles do not grow very rapidly. How long does it take for muscles to start growing? And how is it possible that the muscles are getting stronger without growing larger?

This can be explained by the nervous system recruiting more muscle fibers during a specific exercise, which could not be activated before. In addition, autogenic inhibition, or antagonistic muscle activity, is lowered which results in an increase in net produced force, without the muscles having to work harder. Moreover, the antagonistic muscles work even less. In other words, the nervous system optimizes the muscular system and it learns how to use the muscles more effectively without any structural adaptations such as hypertrophy, which cost a lot of energy and protein to realize.

During the first two to three months of resistance exercise, this mechanism plays the largest role in increasing muscle strength. Hypertrophy, while present to a small extent, will become more noticeable when most of the potential of the muscles has been reached and the muscular system receives adequate stimulation to warrant further adaptation. This means that exercise intensity must increase continuously so muscles have a reason to grow, when the nervous system cannot realize any further improvements in muscle coordination. After the period in which the nervous system improves muscular coordination, hypertrophy will become more noticeable.


-Heyward, V.H. Designing Resistance Training Programs. In: Advanced Fitness Assessment and Exercise Prescription. 2009. Human Kinetics, Champaign USA.

-Wilmore, J.H., Costill, D.L., Kenney, W.L. Adaptations to Resistance Training. In: Physiology of Sports and Exercise Fourth Edition. 2009. Human Kinetics Champaign USA.

How does strength training increase muscle mass?

The increase in muscle mass due to resistance exercise is a result of several hormone mechanisms. High intensity resistance training increases hormone concentrations of testosterone, growth hormone and IGF-1. These hormones stimulate protein synthesis and therefore increase muscle mass.

Men naturally produce more testosterone and growth hormone and these levels rise more strongly than in women as a result of resistance exercise. In men testosterone seems to be the most important regulator hypertrophy in muscle mass, in women, who produce much less testosterone, this role is reserved for growth hormone.

The amount of these hormones produced depends on several factors, the amount of muscle mass active during training, training intensity and rest periods between series. When more muscles are activated during training, anabolic hormone levels rise. The same applies to higher training intensity and shorter rest durations.


-Heyward, V.H. (2010). Designing Resistance Training Programs. Advanced Fitness Assessment and Exercise Prescription Sixth Edition. USA. Human Kinetics

Free Weights vs Machines

Free Weights vs Machines: People often wonder if resistance training with free weights is better than training with machines and why. Both methods have distinct advantages and disadvantages which are discussed in the article below.

Training with machinesFree weight vs. machines

-Training with the aid of machines is often much easier. Machines ‘force’ the person training with them to make a certain movement and

therefore it is easier to train with correct technique.

-Because it is easier to perform an exercise correctly and movement is forced in a certain direction there is less chance of injury.

-Machines are often easier and quicker to set up

-The stabilizing muscles are not activated as much and will hardly be trained, so the limiting factor is more often the larger muscle groups that are targeted by the specific exercise. (ie. the main muscle groups receive a proper training)

Training with free weightsFree weight vs. machines

-Training with free weights, even when performing the same basic movement as with a machine (for example a dumbbell press vs a chest
press) activates the muscles that aid and stabilize the movement to a greater extent. This has important implications for stabilizing ability of certain joints.

-Because there is more variation in movement, strength gains are not as specific as in training with machines, but more general, meaning that strength useful in real life will increase more. In addition, the stabilizing muscles are trained to a greater extent, making free weight training superior in increasing ‘real life’ strength.

-Improvement in proprioception also known as the sense that detects position and movement of the body. Because more attention has to be paid to a correct technique during training, people using weight training are better aware of what their body is doing, which makes it easier to correct bad posture and to train more effectively.

-Because it is harder to perform the exercise correctly, the movement is not forced into a certain direction and more stabilazation is needed there is a higher risk of injury compared with training with machines.



Testosterone is an androgen (male sex hormone) that promotes the development of secondary male characteristics during puberty.  These include characteristics as a deeper voice, facial hair and an increase in muscle mass. Testosterone stimulates, directly (through testosterone receptors on muscle fibers), and indirectly, (through stimulating Growth Hormone production in the pituitary), hypertrophy. The increase in muscle mass caused by testosterone increases muscle strength. However this is not the only reason muscle strength increases. Testosterone can also bind with receptors on neurons (nerve cells), where it influences the production of neurotransmitter and the structure of nerve cells. Testosterone increases strength not only by increasing muscle mass but by improving muscle activation as well.

Testosterone is primarily produced in the testicles in men, and in the ovaries and adrenal glands in women. Men produce 15-20 times more testosterone than women, and the effect of different training protocols is greater on testosterone levels in men as well. In women, testosterone levels are hardly influenced by strength training or other forms of exercise, which partly explains the lower potential in women for increasing muscle mass.

In addition, an artificial form of testosterone (androgenic anabolic steroids) is used to stimulate muscle strength, hypertrophy and contraction speed, to increase performance in sports and athletic events. Most athletic organizations have banned the use of androgenic anabolic steroids and athletes who are caught using them risk suspension. Moreover, the use of androgenic anabolic steroids increases risk of developing cardiovascular disease and several forms of cancer.


– Baechle, T.R., Earle, W.R. (2008). Endocrine Responses to Resistance Exercise. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Third Edition. USA. Human Kinetics. -Wilmore, J.H., Costill, D.L., Kenney, W.L. (2008). Ergogenic Aids and Sport. Physiology of Sport and Exercise Fourth Edition. USA Human Kinetics.


Superset training is a form of exercise organization in strength training, in which a combination of two exercises are alternated without rest. Many combinations of exercises are possible, but traditionally two antagonistic exercises are combined, which target opposite muscle groups. This way, when performing the second exercise, the muscle groups that were active during the first exercise are allowed a short rest before their second set.

Superset training has several advantages over traditional 3 set per exercise training. Firstly, by combining two exercises without rest, training time is effectively cut in half. Secondly, because the muscles get a shorter rest period, and because they can rest less effectively while other muscles are active during their rest, muscles can not recover as well as during normal training. This results in increased acidification, lactate production and muscle fatigue, which can lead to greater muscle adaptations and muscle growth. Thirdly, due to the same amount of work performed in less time, the body’s work capacity increases and needs more energy during recovery (EPOC), which helps weight loss and improvement in body composition.

Superset training is less suitable for those just starting strength training because training intensity is higher than during regular strength training with rest periods after each set. Superset training is mostly done by combining exercises targeting opposite muscle groups, such as biceps and triceps. However, it is possible to make other combinations as well, such as a standing calf raise and shoulder press (calves and shoulders). As long as muscle groups during one exercise, are not or hardly active during the second exercise, they can effectively be combined into a superset.

Growth Hormone

Growth hormone is produced in the anterior pituitary gland. The best known function of growth hormone is stimulating cell growth in almost all tissues, hence the name. Growth in children is regulated by growth hormone. In adults it still has many important functions, not the least of which are inducing muscle growth or hypertrophy, stimulating bone mineralization and increasing lipolysis or fat metabolism.