For many years it has been thought that to build muscle, we must demolish our muscles in a very isolated manner through hundreds of repetitions and then let them rest for a week.
But what we’ve found is that despite the ‘science’ supporting this approach, newer science has shown something much different.
In fact, all of the data points in the opposite direction. Increased frequency (versus massive volume just once per week) is actually the key to muscle growth.
This is because exercise is much more of a signal than a structural influencer. As an example of this, common knowledge tells us that lifting weights is good because it ‘breaks down’ our muscle. Then our body compensates by putting more protein in there, right?
Sort of, but not really. See exercise changes our bodies’ metabolic preferences by signaling to different tissue systems that we need to get stronger to handle the stress of our current activities. (Your brain tells your muscles to get bigger in order to be better at lifting things.) This is why higher frequency demands quicker muscle growth – muscles love frequent signals.
Imagine you stopped moving altogether. You’d probably lose muscle, right? But that’s not because you’re tearing down muscle without replacing it. It’s because you aren’t using it. So your nervous system sends everyone a signal that says, “Stop building & maintaining this muscle. We don’t really use it all that much and it’s metabolically expensive to maintain.”
So let’s play this same game with fat loss.
Common knowledge states that as we exercise, the fat from fat cells is extradited and sent to some fat-furnace in the middle of your body where it goes to be incinerated.
But this isn’t entirely true either. In a way, all movement helps to signal fat loss because extra fat doesn’t make sense in the presence of extra movement. Holding onto excess fat would be detrimental because it would make movement more difficult.
And all of this signaling is performed by … drum roll, please … hormones. Your body’s hormones are the gatekeepers to health.
But we can help control them by our actions. We can strength train, move a lot during the day, sleep plenty (during the night, preferably), keep our stress levels low, and manage our hunger cues. And when we take care of ourselves, our hormones in turn take care of us back.
So there are two main take-home points here:
- Movement & exercise (and all of the other things that I mentioned above) are far less about the actual, physical, structural implications of the exercise and much more about the signals that all movement produces in our body. To think about things only in terms of calories in versus calories out or breaking down muscles is sort of silly when you consider the larger impact that movement has on our bodies’ internal functions.
- Hormones truly control our health – everything from our brain function to weight to energy levels to sleep quality to sexual & reproductive health relies on hormones to function optimally. But you can’t depend on hormones to always just regulate themselves and keep you healthy in the absence of self-care. Health is a two-way street. To optimize your results, you need to think about optimizing hormone production. This means managing stress levels, going to bed at a consistent time every night, moving a lot during the day, strength training a little, and eating unrefined foods that are actually good for your body.