The Best Exercise To Build Muscle

What would you say if I told you the best exercise to build muscle DIDN’T have to take hours in the gym and hundreds of dollars of equipment?

(No, this isn’t the beginning of a TV infomercial, LOL!)

In my studying for the Integrative Medicine boards I have been learning about the current research regarding hormone changes in the body during different forms of exercise.

I’ve found that the human body is pretty smart (duh!) and responds by giving you the tools to do whatever it is you ask it to do most.  If you ask it to be strong, it will respond by getting stronger.  If you ask it for endurance, it will modify itself into an endurance machine.

Think of two different types of runners.  Imagine the runners you see crossing the finish line at the Olympic marathon event.  They are skinny and have very little muscle.  They tend to have a low percent body fat (but maybe not as low as you would think).

2008 Boston Marathon Boston, Ma    April 21, 2008 Photo: Victah

Now think of Olympic sprinters.  Look at their leg muscles.  They are VERY muscular because they need that muscle to propel their bodies as fast as possible down the track.  They have an even lower percent body fat than the marathoners do.

sprintersWhy the difference in physique?  Because they are asking their bodies to do different things.  Short, intense bursts of maximum-effort physical activity create a hormone environment that causes the muscles to get bigger and stronger.  They also burn more fat because large fat stores are not necessary for short intervals of high intensity exercise.  Muscle glycogen and blood glucose are enough for that.

For long-distance endurance runs, muscle glycogen and blood sugar run out very quickly.  The marathoners’ bodies adapt to using body fat as the energy source.  In order to have enough energy for the long runs, the marathoners’ bodies must keep relatively larger body fat stores.  They don’t need massive muscles for long-distance running (and in fact large, heavy muscles are counterproductive for speed and endurance).  So the marathoners’ and sprinters’ bodies have both adapted beautifully for the tasks they are asked to do.


Oh, by the way, do you notice the sprinters’ ARMS?  They do not train their arms much, except in their role as counterweight to leg movement, but even their arms are muscular and well-defined.  This is hormonal as well.  The pumping action of the arms as they sprint stimulates the arm muscles to become bigger and stronger too (because they are pumping their arms for all they are worth as they fly down the track).

So now you see that sprint training (or interval training) is more effective for building muscle than endurance training.  What does this mean in practical terms?  It means that spending hours in the gym lifting heavy weights ISN’T necessary to improve muscle mass and definition.  (Yay, because who has time for that?!)  High-intensity interval training is better.

There are lots of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts out there.  The one I use (and just started my 12-year-old son using) is by Nathan and Jenni Oates.  No, I’m not an affiliate and am not promoting this program for my own purposes.  I just have been using their workouts for years off-and-on and know they are intense, challenging and effective.

Is it possible to significantly change your body contour, weight and percent body fat in just 30 minutes 3-4 times weekly?  Yes, if you are willing to throw EVERYTHING you’ve got into it for 30 minutes.  That’s the essence of HIIT:  maximum effort for short periods of time.  Sprints.

Nathan and Jenni offer a free workout at their website.  What do you have to lose?  Give it a try and see how you feel afterwards.  Just a warning:  if you do it right, you probably will feel a quivery, maybe-I-can’t-make-it-up-the-stairs sensation in your muscles.  That’s what triggers those hormone changes that make the muscles burn lots of fat and start to get bigger.  And the next few days you will be VERY sore.  Don’t let that stop you!  If you continue with the program, the soreness goes away.  And if you are a member of the Shaklee family, Nathan and Jenni offer a discount on the program so definitely get in touch with me and I’ll give you the coupon code.

As a bonus for reading this far, I’m including the link to another awesome photo illustrating the muscular benefits of Olympic sprint training.  I didn’t want to embed the photo in this post because I didn’t want to be accused of providing “beefcake” photos.  But it’s a great example of how sprint training gets you an awesome physique.  Enjoy!

QUESTION:  Have you ever done a high-intensity interval training workout?  Which program was it?  Was it effective for you?


2 thoughts on “The Best Exercise To Build Muscle

  1. Pingback: The Truth About Carb Cycling - Jennifer Wurst, MDJennifer Wurst, MD – Helping Parents Create Healthy Families

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