If you're looking for quick muscle building, go no further than your local gym, where doctors say that major strength gains can be had in just a few weeks.
Last year, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association updated their recommendations for physical activity. In addition to regular cardio workouts, Americans are now being encouraged to perform resistance training at least twice a week, working every major muscle group.
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Spero Karas, MD, assistant professor of orthopaedics in the division of sports medicine at Emory University, says that testosterone, the male hormone responsible for muscle growth, maxes out between the ages of 16 and 18. It reaches a plateau during the 20s and then begins to decline. As a result, muscle building after the adolescent years can be challenging, he says.
Fortunately, a little strength training goes a long way -- particularly in the early days.
"When someone starts a fitness program, especially after not doing anything for awhile, the initial strength gains tend to be dramatic and quick," Karas says. "In the first 12 weeks, it's not uncommon for a guy to see a 10, 20 or 30 percent jump in strength."
During the first weeks of a new training regimen, strength gains come from the recruitment of new muscle fibers, which make the muscles stronger and more visible.
Even though muscle recruitment does not result in more muscle mass, says Karas, it will definitely make your muscles look bigger.
One reason is that muscles take in water and swell during training. Another is that muscles burn fat, which tends to make the muscle look more prominent.
After the first three months of strength training, muscle gain is much slower. At that point, you're aiming for an actual increase in muscle mass, which takes time to develop.
"After you've maximized the recruitment, you've reached the plateau, which is when the increase in strength and muscle mass becomes an arduous task," Karas says.
Whether you're committed to the long haul or just want some muscle-building tips, here are seven ways to maximize your gains.