Winning the confidence to build muscle


Muscle is a central topic within the wellness community, the very cornerstone of fitness and health. Now a new report from Public Health England and the Centre for Ageing Better recognises that muscle and bone strengthening are vital for health and future wellbeing. Unfortunately, too many of us are doing nothing about it, so that in older adults’ poor muscle strength increases the risk of a fall by 76%, while those who have already had a fall are three times more likely to fall again.

We know ageing actively fights frailty, while strength training not only helps prevent falls, but also improves our response to insulin, another key element in fighting the rise of obesity. On top of this it can improve mood, sleeping patterns, energy levels as well as reducing the risk of an early death.

Yet while this evidence-based approach to promote muscle to help fight the U.K.’s “physical inactivity epidemic” is welcome, it is my experience as a Master Trainer that building or even maintaining muscle remains a subject that instils nervousness and even fear; and not just when it comes to female clients.

Why do we hold ourselves back from building muscle?

Even in a gym environment, where one might expect people have already bought into the idea of developing more muscle and strength, I see far too many individuals using weights that are too light. Some of them are clearly afraid of building strength, as they believe they will ‘bulk-up’ with muscle. This shows genuine naivety of how difficult it is to build serious muscle, but more importantly, by not lifting heavier weights their bodies will not trigger long term muscular adaptation, no matter how many sets and reps are done on a frequent basis. This means even people who have already bought into the importance of resistance training – which by the PHE’s own admission is a tiny minority – are not doing what is required to obtain the critical benefits – the chance of increasing:

  • lean muscle mass
  • bone strength
  • joint strength
Strength training: pivotal to health & wellbeing

Simply put, the weight you lift is the main trigger for muscle adaptation and development. Of course, it is vital to maintain proper technique and not compromise correct movement, but the amount of weight you lift – the level of resistance being created – is what is making the muscle work to produce the desired results. This can be measured by either the percentage of your 1 rep max (1RM) or the rate of perceived exertion (RPE scale), both a part of the intensity aspect of a training program.

The magnitude of your muscle adaptation is then dependent on both the frequency and volume of the given workout, all pillars of a resistance training program. However, if the intensity or weight is not significantly high enough then you will never truly create a muscular adaptation.

If you don’t pump enough weight, you won’t see results

Progression in the amount of weight you can lift is extremely important to not only obtain the health benefits of resistance training but to maximise almost all levels of fitness. Everyone benefits from increased strength and every individual can do with some extra muscle – especially after the age of 35, when the natural state-of-affairs is to lose muscle at accelerating rates.

Don’t be held back by fear of lifting heavier weights; embrace it and welcome the challenge. Building muscle and strength will also have a positive impact on mental strength too, while recent research also suggests improved cognitive function. What’s more, everyone loves lean muscle mass – it looks good, does us good and feels great. To achieve it all you need do is start pushing yourself a little harder and start lifting heavier to truly maximise your fitness goals.

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Alex is a registered Master Trainer and Nutritional Advisor with Level 4 qualifications in obesity and diabetes. He is also a strength specialist and a Ni Dan in Shotokan Karate.

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