We all talk about building muscle, keeping muscle mass, and wanting to have good shape to our muscle.
But how is muscle really “made”?
How do our workout efforts translate to shapelier, stronger muscle?
You’ve no doubt heard that muscle growth is a result of damage, or slight tears, to the muscle. This is true, so you’ve got the starting point.
Yet the physiological phenomenon of making muscles is actually a fascinating process, worthy of awe and respect. So why not take a closer look?
Your body is always poised to make muscle
Skeletal muscle – to differentiate from other muscle, such as the cardiac muscle and smooth muscle – is actually the single most adaptable tissue in the human body.
Let’s hear it for the satellite cells!
Located on the periphery of your muscle fibers are what are known as satellite cells. These cells are poised to act on a moments notice to respond to muscle trauma, such as the slight tearing of fiber that occurs during challenge to the muscle.
That’s right, when the resistance load – or the weight you are lifting – becomes too much for the muscle to manage it its current condition, these satellite cells scramble into action to build you some fine, new muscle. We call it muscle hypertrophy, literally meaning increase in size.
Satellite cell fusion
In the effort to repair or replace damaged muscle fibers, the satellite cells fuse both to each other and to the existing muscle fibers. This leads to an increase in the muscle fiber cross-sectional area.
As the satellite cells multiply, most of them undergo a rather rapid maturity process which readies them for fusion to existing muscle fibers to form NEW muscle protein strands. They also work to repair damaged or torn muscle tissue.
Voila! Increased thickness and number of the myofibrils of the muscle cells.
Muscle building in a nutshell
Here’s a recap of the muscle-building process. Simplified.
- Resistance training that overloads the current capacity of a muscle to contract with the amount of resistance leads to trauma or injury of the cellular proteins in muscle.
- Satellite cells are signaled to begin muscle growth and repair.
- Adaptive change to the muscle in response to #1 – overload stress of resistance exercise – begins immediately upon the incidence of muscle overload, resulting in muscle growth, or hypertrophy.
Muscle building may start right away, but we must be patient!
Even though our muscle “satellite cell” system is poised to play on demand, the actual building of muscle takes some time to complete. It can take weeks or months to fully manifest, and is dependent on repeated, progressive demand placed on the current ability of the muscle.
This is why patience and persistence are so important to the muscle building process. Initial changes in muscle strength are usually noted first and can happen quite rapidly, then progress more slowly from there, depending on your prior condition. The appearance – or how you look – of new muscle shape takes a little more time and is also dependent on becoming leaner, if necessary, so that your hard-earned muscle shows.