Building Muscle Without Supplements? Part One

The supplement business is a multi-billion dollar business. From your local vitamin shop to your local grocery stores, there is at least one isle that contains some sort of supplement. All of these pills and powders help to promise lean looking muscle, a longer lasting “pump”, weight loss or weight gain. Some may work while others will not and cause adverse side effects. Many people can cash in on the supplement business because of  the fact that the government deregulated the sale of all of vitamins and pills you see over the counter today. Because of this deregulation, anyone can promote and sell with success any sort of weight loss or weight gain pill.  How easy is it? Check out the video clip below from the movie, “Bigger, Faster, Stronger.”

The point of all of this is that you can build muscle without the aid of supplements. The closest thing that I suggest to a client looking to build muscle is protein powder for the fast breakdown within the body. So how can you get bigger, faster and stronger without the aid of all of these supplements? The answer is simple, but the process may take a little longer than you want.

Let’s assume that everything is in working order. It has been theorized that the endocrine system can be manipulated naturally with resistance training to enhance the development of various target tissues, thereby improving performance.  If your goal is building muscle you want to take advantage of a few hormones. The primary ones to take advantage of are testosterone and growth hormone. When it comes to testosterone, both males and females release it. Males develop 10 times the amount than females though. Testosterone is the main hormone that interacts with skeletal tissue. It has direct and indirect affects on muscle growth.

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Direct affect:

  • Once secreted, testosterone will travel to the target tissues of your muscle cells. It will then go to the cell’s nucleus where it will cause an increase in protein synthesis. This means that once testosterone is released, it will go to the cells of your muscle all the way down to its nucleus. Once it’s there it will basically tell the body to increase protein buildup

Indirect affect:

  • Testosterone will promote growth hormone responses in the pituitary gland (more on growth hormone later).
  • Causes something called Insulin-like growth factor (IGF) to be released from the liver causing protein synthesis.
  • Influence the central nervous system by increasing the amount of neurotransmitters and neuromuscular junctions which will enhance muscle size.
  • May also have a role in central nervous system development in long-term training.

Other important roles of GH:

  • Decrease of glucose utilization/synthesis
  • Increases the availability of glucose and amino acids
  • Increases the transportation of amino acids (protein) across cell membranes
  • Increase protein synthesis
  • Increase fat lipolysis (fat breakdown)
  • Increase collagen synthesis
  • Stimulate cartilage growth
  • Control the effects of cortisol (your stress hormone)

Looking at these two particular hormones and their roles, it is no wonder people supplement themselves through outside sources. Like it was stated earlier, the answer to building muscle is easy but the process is more complicated. Now that the roles have been defined, how do you release the two hormones to its maximum potential? When it comes to designing your workout, consider the following:

For testosterone release:

  • Keep the workout under 60 minutes to prevent the excessive release of cortisol and to prevent catabolic reactions.
  • The majority of your workout should be multi-joint exercises. While everyone who wants to build muscle wants big biceps, concentrate on your larger muscles first. Rows, deadlifts, squats, bench presses, before biceps curls and triceps extensions.
  • Exercise later in the day is more effective for increasing overall testosterone concentrations over an entire day.
  • The intensity you are training at is anywhere between 85%-95% of your 1 Repetition Max. If you don’t know your 1RM, use a weight that you can lift between 2-6 repetitions.
  • Multiple sets of multiple reps (6 sets of 6 reps or 4 sets of 3,3,3,3 for example).

This is important: Your rest periods should be less than 60 seconds. If you don’t have access to a clock, your rest should be just enough to where you can catch your breath.

For growth hormone release you can combine these two variables or choose one or the other:

  • Workouts with higher lactate-concentrations and associated acid-base disruptions (i.e., high intensity, 10 RM or heavy resistance, with three sets of each exercise and short, 1-minute rest periods).
  • Supplement your diet with carbohydrates and protein before and after your workouts.
  • The rest of the guidelines are the same as testosterone in regards to time of day, exercise selection and duration of the workout.

I personally like a circuit training format to keep the heart rate up throughout. Straight sets can also be used, just keep in mind to keep your rest periods short. The type of workout is up to you. You can choose a variety of styles: Total body, upper body/lower body circuits, compound sets, supersets, split routines etc. Keep the weight heavy and keep it moving. You will be surprised how much you can get done in an hour. This first article was about understanding the roles of testosterone and growth hormone in the body as well as exercise variables to release it. The second half to this will be an actual sample exercise program over a few months.

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About Rich Samera

Rich is a certified personal trainer through the National Personal Training Institute (NPTI) and through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). He also has his bachelor's degree in psychology from Cleveland State University where he is also working on completing his Master's Degree in Exercise Science. A former lead trainer and manager at Fitness Together, Rich is currently the lead instructor and associate director of education at The National Personal Training Institute of Ohio. Rich currently trains clients independently and at the same facility he was once manager at. On top of instructing, he runs summer fitness camps within his home city of Parma, Ohio.

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