Big Muscles, Big Fat: Some Stuff You Need to Know

There are a lot of things that affect your body muscle and fat, some of which you might not even realize. Today we’re going to cover three big ones that you should know about: muscular training routines, body types, and the gender hormones testosterone and estrogen.

Types of Weight Lifting

In general there are three main types of weight lifting routines.

Hypertrophy Specific Training (HST)

HST routines are intended to increase the overall muscle size of the targeted body areas. A typical goal for a male would be to increase bicep and chest girth, while for women a typical goal may be to tone and round out their glutes.

HST involves a 6-8 week training cycle where the target muscles are worked every 48 hours (Chronic Stimulation) with the weight (Mechanical Load) being increased every workout (Progressive Load). The goal is to increase the weight to the absolute maximum over the cycle, until adding more weight would be unsafe due to either being unable to lift it at all or unable to lift it safely. At the end of the cycle, the athlete stops that lift for 7-14 days to slightly decondition the muscles, in order to start the cycle over and continue HST.

Usually repetition numbers start high (15 reps) in the first two weeks, then taper off in the second two weeks (10 reps) and last four weeks (5 reps) all at 1-2 sets per workout. Rest time is about 1-2 minutes between sets.

This is the training method that leads to the most muscle growth in most people.

Strength Specific Training (SST)

This type of training is not concerned with  building the look of the muscle as much as the function. It tries to get as strong as possible, as quickly as possible, in whatever lifts are being worked in that cycle. Anyone can – and probably should – undergo focused strength training in the major functional lifts (deadlift, clean/jerk, etc) as they directly benefit motion in every day life.

SST uses lower rep/set schemes at higher weights from the start of the program. Often the weight will be laddered – i.e. it will increase as the workout progresses – and the lift weights are based on the 1 repetition maximum (1RM) weight that the athlete can do on that particular movement. Here’s an example we use at CFC: 5 sets of 5 reps, starting at 50% of the athlete’s 1RM for the first set, and increasing the weight by 10% of the 1RM every set thereafter. This causes the muscles to work harder from increased load AND from fatigue, which will quickly build absolute strength. Rest times are typical 45-60 seconds between sets, and this routine can be performed every 48 hours to allow for proper rest.

Endurance Specific Training (EST)

EST is all about maintaining muscle output over time and doesn’t focus on 1RM or hypertrophy.

Endurance is typically developed by working at either low weight over more reps or by working at high intensity over a series of intervals. Here are two examples:

Low Weight + High Reps: The athlete can squat 150 lbs for 3 sets of 10 reps before fatigue sets in. To work on endurance, they load with just the Olympic bar (30 or 45 lbs) and perform 3 sets of 15 weighted squats, 3 times per week. Every 4th workout they add 2 reps to each set of squats, leaving the weight stagnant, until they hit 20 reps. Now they drop the reps back down to 15 per set, and add another set. Rinse and repeat until they get to 5 sets of 20 reps, then add 1olbs of weight and start over.

High Intensity Interval Training: Also called “Tabata”, this training method works at the highest intensity possible for 20 seconds and then rests for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times for 4 minutes of exercise. This method has been shown to build endurance as much as long distance running, but it harder on the body in the short term.

Body Types

Also called Somatotypes, this describes the way your body naturally tends to build and maintain fat and muscle. They’re the same for men and women, and include…

Ectomorph

Ecto’s tend to be skinny, holding little fat but also not being able to gain muscle very easily. They are “thin hard-gainers”. Ecto’s tend to need more calories than the other types to maintain or gain weight of any kind. Many would be considered “lanky” at their height and look slightly stretched out. Remember that guy from high school or college who was over six feet tall and maybe 15o lbs? Yeah, that guy.

A very fit Ecto will generally resemble a lean distance runner in both men and women. From a muscle building perspective, they will have to make concentrated efforts to gain significant muscular hypertrophy, and will probably never “get big by accident”.

Endomorph

Endo’s are the unfortunate people who tend to gain and keep fat much more easily than other somatotypes, while sometimes (maybe usually) having issues gaining muscle. These are the “chubby mid-gainers”. Endo’s tend to need to monitor their caloric intake to make sure they don’t get any more than they need, because the excess will tend to go straight into fat storage. An even mildly unhealthy diet can lead to weight gain very quickly, so that diet is a huge part of their overall health.

A very fit Endo male will generally be more square-shaped than V-shaped, and will be the proverbial “Brick Wall of Muscle”. Very fit Endo women tend to remain curvy with less overall muscle tone because of their increased body fat content around the chest and hips. Both men and women can get to that six pack stage, but it involves heavy diet control.

For muscle building, some Endo’s behave like the Ectomorph above, but some don’t have any real issues gaining muscle, behaving more like a Mesomorph Lite Version. Endo’s will generally need to engage in specific HST to gain significant muscle size, but will also usually see some growth from a non-HST program as well.

Mesomorph

Meso’s are natural athletes, or as the other types might call them: Lucky Jerks. (Kidding!)

Meso’s tend to burn body fat rather than keeping any extra, and it seems like they  build muscle just by looking at a gym. They tend to be naturally stronger and more fit than their peers throughout most of their lives. Unless they make a concerted effort to ruin their physiques (and I know some who succeeded!) then they tend to appear healthy most of their lives.

Meso’s are the “fit easy-gainers” of the somatotypes. Their diet should be healthy but they can get away with most food choices in moderation.

Mesomorphs gain muscle like it’s their job, so an HST program will probably sky rocket their development. They will generally see hypertrophy even with non-HST programs, since their body is wired to do so. The Meso is the most likely type to “accidentally get too big”.

Gender-related Hormones

Men and women are different, which comes as a shock, I know. But trust me, it’s true!

Snark aside, male and female bodies produce many of the same hormones, but the amounts we have in our systems have a huge impact on muscle growth and fat sustainability. The two major players here are…

Testosterone

Often called the “male hormone” because it is heavily involved in the development of the male body and sexual characteristics, testosterone is linked to muscle growth, fat loss, overall strength, and…ahem…”male vitality”. On the down side it is also linked to aggression and baldness!

Testosterone encourages muscle gain, higher bone density, red blood cell production, better libido, more self confidence/better mood, more lustrous hair, and sexual arousal in the primary/secondary sexual areas of the body. These occur in both men and women, though women produce, on average, about 1/20th as much testosterone per day as men.

Low testosterone levels basically reverse all the good benefits while also making you more susceptible to diseases such as coronary heart disease and obesity.

Excess testosterone tends to cause overly aggressive moods, body/facial hair growth, and balding.

Estrogen

Sometimes called the “female hormone” because of it’s role in the development of the female body and fertility, Estrogens are incredibly powerful. Almost every tissue in the body is sensitive to Estrogens in some way. They help the urinary tract, breasts, skin, blood vessels, and uterus to stay toned and flexible. It also plays a role in the libido for men and women, proper hair production in women, and skin health.

Low Estrogen in men actually produces some of the same symptoms as Low Testosterone including muscle loss, fat gain, and decreased libido. If that sounds bad, women have it much worse off at low levels…

In women, low Estrogen can cause lack of (or irregular) menstruation, delayed development (younger women), hot flashes/night sweats, fatigue, forgetfulness, insomnia, lack of sexual desire and painful intercourse. Bladder infections and headaches might occur. Mood changes that lead to crying, feelings of depression and irritability are also symptoms. Bone loss also occurs that leads to osteoporosis.

High Estrogen levels in men can cause male breast growth, infertility, lowered libido, higher risk of stroke/heart attack, prostate issues, and weight gain. Ouch.

High Estrogen levels in women are likely characterized by PMS, excess body fat around the hips, difficulty losing weight, gallstones, varicose veins, uterine fibroids, cervical dysplasia, endometriosis, or ovarian cysts.

In both sexes, high Estrogen has been linked to development of various cancers. No one gets off easy.

Conclusion

So that’s it for today.We’ve discussed some factors both inside our control and outside it that can explain the ability to gain muscle in large amounts as well as rid ourselves of excess body fat. The important take-away today is that your body type and overall health are affected by almost every aspect of your life. The more you learn, the better armed you’ll be in the committed fight for god health.

While some few people seem to get dealt a winning hand, remember that most people don’t! We have to contend with strengths and weaknesses, working within our limitations to achieve our goals. Knowledge is power and you can use it to better your life without going crazy over it. Try to look at yourself objectively, without judgement, and just decide what you need to do to go from where you are, to where you want to be.

Seriously, it’s that easy, so don’t worry and keep it simple!

Happy Holidays!