Why Is Muscle Growth So Slow? - The Muscle PhD

Why Is Muscle Growth So Slow?

If you’ve been lifting weights for at least a year, then you’ve probably realized that you’ve plateaued in your bodybuilding journey. Your exercises are getting easier, and adding more weights doesn’t really help with your gains like it did before.

Probably that’s when you’ll start thinking that you’ve reached your genetic limitation and maybe you’ll even consider quitting altogether. You might be asking yourself “Is this the limit of my natural muscles? Why is my muscle growth so slow?”

Well, let’s get something out of the way first: muscle growth isn’t linear, and we never agree with the statement that you’ve hit your limit and can only gain muscle slowly. Read further if you want to understand how your body works and how to optimize it for muscle growth.

The Growth Loop

Olympic weightlifter building muscle

A researcher by the name of Hakkinen conducted a study on Olympic lifters over a long period of time. He studied how their strength and muscle mass went up, and how their hormones would change during the process.

He found that these Olympic lifters would go up in strength and size, and then plateau. However, a few months later, they could do the same sequence–increasing in size and strength–before plateauing, and then a few months after, the same scenario would occur.

What gives? How did they always plateau and yet keep on overcoming it? Well, by understanding the era that these lifters come from, we’ll be able to get a glimpse into their training regimen. These lifters used to do what’s called traditional periodization.

Traditional periodization refers to training using one regimen for several months, then changing it up entirely. You then stay in that new regime for a couple of months, then change that one entirely. The change the study saw was happening when the lifters switched to a new training regimen, which broke them through their plateau.

These lifters were used to changing every exercise every few months once their growth reached its limit, and that’s how most bodybuilders grew back then. If you keep doing that one thing that made you grow, you’ll eventually stop growing from it, plateauing for months, even years. However, when you learn and implement something new to your workout, you can go back to growing again.

Muscle Growth Isn’t Linear

The only way to make your muscles grow is to change the stimulus they get introduced to so drastically that your body tries to adapt by growing more muscle tissue. When we expose ourselves to something new, the first thing to happen is that our nervous system adapts.

Since putting on muscle is energetically costly, we only do it when our nervous system taps out and is unable to cope with the stress we’re putting it through. Eventually it gets smarter about the stress we put it through, and adapts again, requiring us to again change up the stress we’re placing on it.

So the takeaway is that growth isn’t linear. It’s in response to something completely novel, and the most novel thing to introduce is a complete change in your exercises.

If you’ve been doing squats for the past year, adding more weights will never give you that same growth stimulus as a completely novel exercise or a variation on an old exercise. You can start by doing walking lunges. Next time you go to the gym, get on the floor with a bar on your shoulders and start doing barbell lunges for your entire workout until you collapse. That will give you a massive growth spurt.

We hope this article helps you get the idea of how muscle growth works and how exposing your body to different stimuli every few months will exponentially grow your muscles and increase your gains. We’ll see you next time!

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