Recently I’ve begun what I’ve called a ‘muscle building’ phase in my diet and training program, I use that term over the traditional ‘bulking’ one because ultimately that term denotes a large amount of fat gain, and associated unhealthiness that comes with that – my goal is to put on as much muscle as I can, while remaining active, and healthy. This is important to note at the outset.
In the fitness industry, we live by a different standard – in that, it is not common for most people to train 6+ times a week, to lift hundreds of kgs of weight off the floor, or be able to perform many repeated sprints, or indeed, run for long distances etc (not to mention our dietary and recovery practices). Many of us are drawn to the industry because we love sport, or health, or body modification, or rehab et al – we are not the standard, but sometimes we are a standard to strive to, and for.
Having said this, I ask: why build muscle mass?
Well, that depends on some clarifications. How much muscle mass are we talking, in what type of circumstances is the muscle being built, and for what purpose? What methods are being employed to reach said goal? These questions might change the the situation and whether or not the pursuit is reasonable, and attainable. For example, I would argue, and indeed have, that muscle building is essential to fat loss, health, vitality etc. So in that sense, everyone should be on a muscle-building program. The amount of muscle one puts on, in any given program is determined by many factors, not the least of which are caloric intake, resistance training, volume, intensity, duration, frequency etc. I think it’s clear though, that we can differentiate from the kind of metabolic type resistance training one might do for fat loss (which can still build appreciable amounts of muscle and a wonderful physique, see here), and bodybuilding type training, in which one generally trains for the purpose of increasing lean mass.
Why do I want to build muscle mass? Why is that something I’ve chosen to do? Again, my response depends on what context I am being asked this question. On Facebook I’ve had a few responses to my posts on muscle-building that have prompted this blog, and have made me realize that to many people, particularly in a society concerned with being overweight, and obese, that specifically trying to put on weight, might seem counter-intuitive – or perhaps worse, speaking to a psychological issue (dysmorphia for one). Moreover there are issues such as what effect my training and dietary habits have on my clients, the gym members, and society as a whole.
I personally don’t have any grand motives for muscle-building, I wish I did, ultimately it comes down, for me, to simply wanting to be a big guy. Why do I want this? Well, I could say that I was always fascinated by comic book superheroes, their power, presence and physiques seemed unattainable to a 65kg 20 year old. Perhaps it was, originally because I was so skinny, that I saw a ‘grass is greener’ situation, or wanted to stop bullying – that is a common enough reason to lift weights – they certainly contributed to my beginning a weight training program. But, why do I want to put on muscle mass now? Is it pure ego? Or admiration and emulation of muscular physiques? Do I even need a reason, or have to justify my behaviors? Perhaps it does come down to my first point, I work in an industry where I am in a different population, in that, all the people I emulate, and work with, are in amazing shape, in terms of muscularity, cardiovascular health, physical prowess and flexibility. That being the case, wanting to alter my body becomes then another target, another goal to set myself in the gym – something to keep me interested, not because I find my body distasteful, or shameful and in need of modification. Since I don’t care about strength per se (although I do lift heavy, and would consider myself pretty strong), or endurance, or fighting prowess, I don’t focus any of those extremes (although I may use them in my programs for the associated health and physique benefits). I want to look like a superhero, not actually be one.
What about the effect a culture of muscle worship may have on those not in our specific population? Will a focus on muscle-building for me affect my clients, affect peoples perception of what a healthy physique is? Well, when talking in terms of me personally, it’s hard to see how anyone will be affected by my specific body modification strategies, but let’s assume they are. What can I do, what is my responsibility in this situation? As always: education. In my job I train people for fat loss, and muscle gain (primarily these are the two extremes, and my most common clients), having just come off a reasonably successful fat loss program (see here), and having written and researched a lot on that subject along the way, I want now to turn to another passion of mine, getting ‘blassive’ – which I will, and have, also supported with scientific literature on the benefits of (see here, and here). One could say, that my experiences and results in the gym, on myself, have helped to motivate my clients, and have helped to inform them of the benefits of weight training, and most importantly to shed some of the misconceptions they have had about getting ‘bulky’ (for women), or muscle gain being unattainable (or only so through steroid use). I see these as positives.
So, there you have it, some, by no means all of my reasons for wanting to gain mass, any thoughts?
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