How Building Bigger Muscles Makes Your Life Better

The Benefits of Building Muscle

Muscles, guns, buns of steel, six pack washboard abs, cannons. We idealize and fantasize about having strong and defined muscle, but why? Sure, it makes you look great, but building muscle mass can have drastic positive effects throughout your life.

But I Don’t Want to Get Huge!

A lot of people are afraid to strength train because they are worried about getting too big. This really isn’t something you should worry about. While starting to build muscle only takes a little bit of work, it takes significant amount more effort to build a lot of muscle, and it’s very easy to lose it. As soon as you’ve built enough muscle, you can shift over to just maintaining that muscle.

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Watch How to Easily Complete The Perfect Pushup

Why Pushups?

Pushups can be intimidating. Lifting yourself up off the ground takes a lot of strength and coordination throughout the body. Despite the challenge, a pushup is one of the most practical exercises you can do. And not to mention the incredible feeling of accomplishment when you finally master it. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it and comes in super handy. It’s an exercise you can do just about anywhere, even while you’re cooking, and can let you see some fantastic progress. This is just about everything you need in order to learn how to do a pushup.

How Do You Do A Pushup?

At its core (I love puns!), a push-up is a plank. The Plank forms the foundation for a lot of exercises and movements by training you to keep your core and hips stable and engaged. And the pushup is no exception. By taking the base of a plank and modifying it, you end up with this amazing strength building and core workout.

To start, the first step of performing a perfect pushup is nailing down The Perfect Plank. If you can stabilize yourself on your hands up in a plank, without breaking form, you’re a third of the way there! You can then move ahead and advance into the movement part of push-ups and focus on lowering yourself down to the ground. But before you actually start lowering yourself down, you have to prepare yourself.

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Twist those elbows forward!

How Do You Prepare for a Pushup?

Push Up Pads

When you’re first starting out, it can help to have some padding set under your body and head. A yoga mat is best since it is padded but it also stays in place without stretching too much under the tension of your hands. You could also use an exercise mat or a blanket, but make sure keep your hands stable on the floor right under your shoulders. Feel free to set up any extra cushioning under your knees if you need it.

Shoulders

First up, try to rotate your arms so the inside of your elbows are facing forward. When it’s time to start dropping down, pull your elbows in tight into your sides, scraping your ribs. You should feel the softness of your shirt on your elbows. This rotation of the arms and shoulders activates more of the Lats (Latissimus Dorsi) of the back and Pecs (Pectorals) of the chest. This recruits more muscles so you don’t have to rely on just your arms for all of the strength of the exercise.

Hips

Squeeze those buns, hun!

Maintain the Plank

That plank wasn’t just for the top of the push up. As you move, make sure to keep thinking about each body part and maintain the form of the perfect plank. Keep the tension in the legs, in the glutes (butt) and abs. Try not to arch the back or bend the hips, and keep your hips pushing forward to keep your body in a straight line. When you lower yourself down, your hips and your chest should hit the floor at just about the same time.

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Get Low

Slow Down

They’re called a push-ups, but you’re doing a lot more than just pushing up. The first movement focus is on going down. Like in a lot of movements, going down is just as important as coming up, and the speed you go makes a big difference. Moving slowly has benefits for improving your strength.

This slow lowering is called an eccentric contraction, when you’re going in the direction of gravity but still fighting against it. Go super slow here. Pretend you’re in The Matrix and you’re moving in super slow motion. The last few inches are the hardest. Don’t drop down, but lower yourself gently and keep pushing yourself down to the floor, fighting gravity.

Relax

You made it more than half way! Most of the hard work is done, so go ahead and relax for a bit. You can keep practicing this part, and when you’re ready, come back to the floor and get ready for the real part, the Push Up!

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Started from the bottom, now we’re here.

Push Up

Brace yourself. This is going to be hard. You can give up when it starts to get hard, or you can push through and reach the top. I vote for the latter. Think about what you did for that plank, and make sure everything is aligned and you’ve build up that tension while you’re still on the ground.

The key difference between planks and a pushups here is the arms. Place your hands nice and close into the armpits, and spread those fingers wide to get as much surface area and tension throughout your hands. Next up, roll your shoulders back, rather than down and forward, bringing your shoulder blades down and close together. We call this “packing your shoulders.” Keeping your shoulders packed and your chest puffed up helps to recruit the lats and the muscles of the back. It also keeps your back in a straight line, reinforcing that plank foundation. And just like with your plank, make sure to keep squeezing into your stomach and glutes

Get ready, and push with everything you have!

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Modified incline pushups against benches are awesome.

Progression

I’m not expecting you to be able to do all of that your first try, especially if you’re just getting started, and neither should you. If you can, awesome, power to you, you’re in the minority! Otherwise, you’re going to need a solid progression plan. You can start doing them against a kitchen counter, or a set of stairs, or on the floor on your knees. Just make sure to keep your hips forward and engage the abs and the glutes, just like you would in a plank or standard pushup.

If you could use a little bit more help, I’ve built out a proven program to get you doing full real push ups. Train with me online or in person, and I’ll be more than happy to help you get there.

All of the Science Inside Your Muscles

Without muscle, we would be pretty useless. The muscles of the body enable us to live life as we know it. They let us lift, carry, push, pull, walk, run, scratch, and hug. They can get stronger, weaker, bigger, smaller, tear, heal, tighten, and stretch. These movements and features are complex, and muscles are incredibly advanced to make it all happen.

Extra Science Alert: This one is a bit of a sciency post. I’ve done my best to make it as easy to read as I can. Even if you hate science, try to read through anyway. Understanding how the muscles work, just like learning how fat works, is super important. We have to know what something is in order to know how to use it to our advantage. Understand how to grow and maintain those beautiful muscles of yours is key to making your body work for you.

Different Types of Muscles

Not every muscle in the body is the same, and you have muscle in places you might not think of. There are 3 main types of muscles throughout the body: Smooth, Cardiac, and Skeletal. Skeletal muscle is what we usually think of first, the muscles that connect to your bones and drive your movement. These are primary muscles used during exercise, and are attached through connective tissue called tendons.

Smooth muscle is a little deeper, and it actually makes up the lining of many of the internal organs. These help our organs and internal systems function, and generally cannot be contracted voluntarily. Cardiac muscle is last. As it’s name implies, it’s what the heart is made of, and also cannot be directly controlled. Even though we can’t intentionally contract it, but like skeletal muscle, the muscles of the heart can be strengthened through exercise and training.

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Check out the guns on this guy

How Do Muscles Work?

Here’s the relatively simple version: Skeletal muscle is made up of chains of proteins called myofibrils. These overlap, and work to move the muscle. They pull together to contract and shorten the length of the chains, and they can relax to expand and lengthen. All of this needs energy to happen, and that energy comes from the breakdown of ATP molecules.

Those myofibril chains then come together to create full muscle fibers, or myocytes. These fibers also contain glycogen, a carbohydrate which helps provide more energy for exercise, and myoglobin which stores oxygen. Muscle fibers are surrounded and bundled together repeatedly by fascia, forming the complete muscle as we know it.

All of these muscle fibers work and move together across the entire muscle. Muscle action does not use every muscle fiber, since each fiber can be switched on or off independently. Depending on how much strength is needed in a particular situation, more or fewer groups of muscle fibers contract.

Muscles can contract in a few different ways. There’s the standard Concentric Contraction which leads to movement working against the direction of gravity. Next up is Eccentric Contraction which leads to movement working in the same direction of gravity as a sort of braking mechanism. Finally, there is Isometric Contraction, which engages the muscle but keeps it holding in one place without any movement.

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A deeper look at muscle fibers

Muscle Fiber Types

Even though they all do the same two movements, contract and relax, muscle fibers are not all equal. They come in two main forms, Type I and Type II, also known as slow twitch and fast twitch. Each muscle usually is made up of a combination of both fiber types. The proportions are different depending on the muscle group, and vary from person to person. The composition of Type I and Type II fibers can also change depending on your training and exercise.

Type I muscle fibers are called Slow Twitch because their myofibrils contract more slowly. They are aerobic, which means that they use oxygen for when they transfer energy. This helps them work at lower intensities and for a longer time. Because of this, they are great for bigger things like keeping up posture and stability.

Type II muscle fibers are known as Fast Twitch because of their short bursts of strength and speed. Because they can act quickly, they can’t use this power for long periods of time, and end up fatiguing sooner. They also access ATP faster, utilizing quick bursts of energy. Because of this, Type II fibers are not always activated, unless the muscle is putting out a large level of force. As a result, Type II fibers are responsible for a big chunk of the body’s movement, and play a big part in muscle size and definition.

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The Growing of the Quads

How Do Muscles Change Size?

Because of all of this, muscles have the awesome ability to adapt and change in size over time. They can grow or shrink depending on the level of muscle activity. Exercise can spark more myofibril protein chains to be created, which increases the size of the muscle fibers. Because muscle fibers are mainly made of protein molecules, they need more protein to grow. If you don’t eat enough protein, your muscles won’t grow, and can even shrink through atrophy. While this can also happen as a result of injury or disease, the most common cause is inactivity. If muscles aren’t put through enough consistent activity and stress through exercise, they can waste away. This is generally not permanent, and rebuilding usually takes less time than it did to build up the first time.

Exercise is a complicated process using the entire body, with muscle as a key player. Knowing about the composition and function of the body’s muscles is key to understanding how to use them to your advantage. Now that all the science is out of the way, you can moving forward to start using those muscles to increase strength and overall fitness.

Is Cardio Actually the Best to Quickly Lose Fat?

Figuring out the most effect exercise program for the goal of losing body fat can be challenging. The first step is knowing why the body makes fat, understanding how the body gets rid of fat, and that you can’t target specific areas to lose fat. After that, it’s time to make a plan and get started moving. In terms of the best way to get rid of that fat, there is a ton of conflicting information on which is the best route for fat loss: Cardio or Strength Training. Each style has its own benefits and drawbacks in the quest for getting rid of fat.

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How Do I Get Rid of Body Fat?

For better or worse, our bodies are really efficient at storing energy for later. This is super helpful when we’re starving and need to find food to eat. It’s super unhelpful when we build up a big chunk of stubborn body fat from all this excess energy. Unfortunately, getting rid of this extra energy and fat isn’t as easy as just doing crunches to get rid of the belly. The body has its own process of using up and removing fat, and sometimes it’s not exactly what we want.

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