HomebodybuildingHow Do Muscles Get Bigger And Stronger From Weight Training?

How Do Muscles Get Bigger And Stronger From Weight Training?

How Do Muscles Get Bigger And Stronger From Weight Training?


How do I get my muscles bigger and stronger from weight training without using drugs? That was the main question in my mind when I walked into a gym for the first time as a scrawny 125 lb teenager. The idea of building muscle to the point of creating a truly impressively muscled physique then seemed to be as unlikely as reaching the summit of Mount Everest with a hundred pound knapsack on my shoulder and no oxygen. Initially I was truly confused as I was surrounded by a cacophony of often contradictory information on the subject of muscle building. Everyone had their ideas for best practices, and my problem was that doing the 5-6 day a week, one hour a day training routines didn’t yield much to me in the way of results. At first it didn’t make sense that I was not progressing as quickly as some of the other guys in the gym who trained every day and seemed to sprout new muscles every time I saw them. I blamed my lack of progress on bad genetics, and believed that if I just stuck to the program and was patient, and stuck to my diet with complete dedication, that I would eventually get my muscles bigger to the point where I looked just like the superheroes in the comic books. (Which was and always has been my goal). As time went on and I was accepted and indoctrinated to the culture of the gym, I learned that all of my childhood bodybuilding heroes used steroids and that without using steroids, there was only so far you could go in terms of building muscle. Apparently everyone in the muscle magazines competing as a professional bodybuilder from the 1950’s onwards were using steroids in some form. Even more disheartening, was that almost all of the guys in the gym who had the look I was aiming for, either were on drugs or used performance enhancing drugs at some point in time. I would learn that even one cycle of anabolic steroids was enough to forever increase your muscle cells to the point where you would always be more muscular than someone who never used drugs in the first place. On one hand though, it was a relief. It didn’t make sense to me physiologically that people could train in such diverse ways and still build such impressive amounts of muscle. In the end, I saw that it didn’t really make a difference how people trained. As long as you were on the juice and putting in enough time in the gym with even a not picture perfect diet and training with moderate intensity, results would be significant. Seeing this, I did what any nerdy kid would do. I stopped listening to the well meaning advice of the guys in the gym who were training sometimes as much as twice a day and building muscle while using drugs, and instead took it upon myself to start doing real research.


I stopped reading bodybuilding books and magazines, as they were all about peddling protein powders and supplements that they claimed would make you look like the champions in their pages. We didn’t have the internet, but we did have Joe Weider and a slew of other supplement selling muscle magazines that made it just as confusing as it can be today with all the bodybuilding websites and their supplement marketing based messages. I left it all behind to focus instead on the science of how the human body actually works. It wasn’t easy, reading books and studies on muscle building back then. I couldn’t go online to look things up if I didn’t understand something in a physiology textbook, I had to find and ask someone who actually knew something about the subject which looking back I can say was to my advantage. With the help of some great mentors and my thirst for marketing free knowledge, I was able to develop my own method of high intensity training which helped me compete successfully as one of the top natural bodybuilders of my time going to as high as 225 lbs with a body fat percentage in the single digits. And most importantly, I was able to do it without using steroids or any other kind of hormones or performance enhancing drugs. I even stopped using protein shakes and supplements as I could clearly see that they didn’t work and distracted me from the important tenet that I didn’t need anything outside of myself to attain my goals, just an intricate understanding of how muscles get bigger and stronger. I went on to establish a successful career as a personal trainer NYC  and have had the honor of being the first lifetime natural bodybuilder with a successful DVD on the market (it’s still selling on Amazon today) and working with some of the top natural bodybuilders, bikini and figure competitors over the years. My work as a trainer in helping hundreds of men and women achieve their fitness goals over the past 27 years has also gone a long way in giving me an even deeper understanding of how muscle growth really occurs and in the following article I hope to pass on what I have learned from my now three decades of lifting experience. It might sound very different from what you are used to hearing about how muscles get bigger and stronger, but give its principles a try and you will be as amazed by how well it works as I have been for all these years.

How muscles get stronger
Diagram of the General Adaptation Syndrome model. Author=David McQuillan

How Do Muscles Get Bigger & Stronger- The Role Of Stress


The first and key element required for our muscles to get bigger or stronger is stress. Physiologist Walter Cannon came up with the term ‘homeostasis’ to explain the way in which our body does its best to always stay within a comfortable operating range where our cells can function optimally. The concept is that while external forces can sometimes bring about drastic changes in our body, it always reverts to a default position. Your heart rate is a good example of homeostasis as it beats constantly within a set range under ordinary conditions, but that rate can either go up or down depending on what type of activity you are doing. In spite of these fluctuations, as long as you are healthy,  your heart rate will always return to its regular resting rate. Stress is a key reason for your body to change, and having observed soldiers returning from World War One he coined the oft used phrase ‘fight or flight’ to describe the hormonal reactions in our body in response stress. In addition to life threatening situations, more mundane activities such as exercise also evoke a homeostatic response. A Polish endocrinologist named Hans Seyle furthered these concepts when he discovered in his experiments that rats who were exposed to certain chemicals all suffered the same failure of several major organ systems in a way that could be reproduced no matter what chemical was used. He called it, the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) and it encompasses the state of an organism in relation to how it adapts to its environment. The systematic organ failure he saw in the rats was a failure to adapt to stress. He found that there were three clearly defined stages within this particular syndrome, the first being the ‘alarm reaction’, very similar to the ‘fight or flight’ response described by Walter Cannon.  The second stage being an adaptive response- where the organism tries to adapt to the stress as a form of resistance. Finally if the stress is too large for the organism to handle, the exhaustion phase where cell death occurs.


how muscles get bigger and stronger by Kevin Richardson
Author and natural bodybuilding champion, Kevin Richardson is a living example of how muscles get bigger and stronger without drugs.

As negative a connotation that the word ‘stress’ carries for us today, the reality is that it is an extremely important stimulus in our daily lives as it allows us to adapt to our surrounding environment. Without stress, we wouldn’t exist and in many ways it can be a very positive thing as it is how the body acts to remove or minimize the effect of a stressful stimulus. A common example of stress at work is a callus. If you wear shoes that are a bit too tight and it rubs repeatedly against a part of your foot, if the action isn’t so strong as to form a blister (the exhaustion phase) As long as the action is not strong enough to create a blister (exhaustion stage) over time the layers of skin that rub against the inside of your shoe will begin to harden. The skin will continue to get thicker and harder until a callus is formed. The callus then, serves as a way your body protects the deeper layers of skin tissue from being destroyed by the action of rubbing against your shoe. In essence adaptation works to minimize the effect of stress on the body.

How Do Muscles Get Bigger & Stronger- Adaptation


The way in which our muscles get bigger and stronger is a prime example of the General Adaptation Syndrome. Understanding how it works can help you make the most out of your workouts. Let’s look at the most ubiquitous of muscles: the biceps. Your biceps are responsible for any movement involving elbow flexion such as a biceps curl. Now your body, over the years is already adapted to the weight of your arm and the regular activities that you do on a daily basis, so you could do lots of biceps curls with no weight and your arms would not get bigger or stronger. You’d get tired, the way you would by performing any kind of calisthenics, but your muscles wouldn’t increase in strength. In order for your muscles to get bigger and stronger, you would have to apply overload. To overload means that the muscle experiences a load above and beyond what it previously adapted to in order to trigger the sequence of a new adaptation.


How muscles get bigger- Image courtesy Grays'anatomy
How muscles get bigger- Image courtesy Grays’anatomy

So in a way, it sounds pretty straightforward- put some weights on a barbell, more than you have ever done, but not so much as to bring about injury and do some curls to increase the strength and size of your biceps. But there are some more principles involved, if not everyone that picked up a barbell and did some curls would have arms like Arnold Schwarzenegger! Our muscles, and our body in general tries its best to remain in homeostasis (remember that word?). So, in a way our body is reluctant to adapt and when it does adapt to a particular stimulus, it will stay where it is until there is a greater degree of stimulation. It is very similar to the way most people do their jobs, if you think about it. We tend to do just what is required of us to get the job done and if the minimum amount of effort works the first time around, then everything is fine. Only if it doesn’t do we increase our efforts incrementally, not in leaps and bounds until the job is done. Our body works exactly the same way, and you might even say it is a bit on the lazy side.


How Do Muscles Get Bigger And Stronger? The Role Of Overload


So, back to our biceps curl. When you subject your biceps to the overload of lifting weights they undergo a cascade of cellular events that lead to an increased production of contractile proteins. This process, called anabolism, also increases the size of the muscle. As the muscle gets larger the mechanical stress from the adaptation is spread out over a larger surface area and consequently places a smaller stress on the muscle. To sum it up, increased size equals increased strength. Physiologists will say that increase in contractile proteins is an expression of the muscles’ capacity to generate force. The strength of a muscle, therefore is often relative to its cross sectional area. Now, that doesn’t mean that if you keep lifting weights your muscles would continually get bigger and stronger until you could lift a Honda with one arm, as there are limits determined by our gender and hormones. Men have more testosterone than women, and so will have bigger and stronger muscles, and women not using anabolic steroids or hormones have little chance of naturally developing male sized muscles, no matter how hard they train.

Now after doing the bicep curl with an overload high enough to trigger an adaptation, a number of hormonal and chemical events occur. Among them are factors that bring about adaptive anabolic muscle building. These chemical actions, along with the mechanical stress to the point of overload leads to increase in muscle size, which we call hypertrophy. But, and this is important- the adaptation does not happen while you are training, but while you are at rest! What does that mean? It means that if you really want to maximize your results in terms of strength and muscle size you need to do three things:


1.      Always train to a point where your muscles are seriously taxed- as if you do not, there will not be adequate stimulation for the adaptation response to be triggered.

2.      Always keep changing the exercises you do and the way you do them so your muscles do not adapt too quickly to the work you are doing.

3.      Make sure that you spend more time resting that you do training. Physiologically, training is about breaking down your muscles, while resting is about building them up, so if you are serious about increasing your results, you should train harder but less frequently. My rule has always been, train three days- rest and grow for four days.


What Can Stop Muscles From Getting Bigger & Stronger- Overtraining & The Importance Of Adequate Rest 


Say the words ‘Train less’ to most serious exercise enthusiasts and they will look at you as if you have two heads, but it makes perfect sense. Remember the General Adaptation response model? If the action is too great and the organism is unable to adapt to the stress, it results in the exhaustion phase, where on a cellular level instead of a building (or anabolic) action, there is a destructive action (catabolic). This, in terms of exercise stress, is what is called overtraining and is defined as a physical, behavioral, and sometimes emotional condition that occurs when the volume and intensity of your exercise exceeds your body’s capacity to recover. You stop making progress and in many cases find yourself getting weaker more fatigued and generally less motivated as time goes on.  Overtraining can also lower your immune system and increase the incidence of injury. (See figure 1)


Diagram of how muscles get bigger and stronger

In my experience, the number one reason why most people don’t make the progress they expect in the gym is overtraining. Having put on over 100 lbs of muscle using short high intensity workouts lasting from ten to thirty minutes in duration three days a week, I can say with authority that less is indeed more. Unfortunately, many look to the examples set by those using anabolic steroids as an example of how they should train. In doing so, they fail to take into account that one of the primary advantages of steroid use are faster recovery times and that overtraining is no longer an issue. It is an issue, however for those of us who train without the benefit of such potentially dangerous drugs and while it may be hard for many to consider training less frequently and for shorter times, it is hard to argue with the results it can bring.

5th Avenue Gym circa 2009- 5 years out from my last show.

As you can see, trophies and competitions were NEVER the driving force behind why I train the way I train and why I eat the way I eat.

It's always been my passion to see how far I could go as a natural athlete and perhaps even more so, to show what can be accomplished without using drugs.

And 5th Avenue Gym was the perfect place to do it.

I really miss that gym.

It was a place where legends came to train and while it wasn't pretty, it had everything we needed to do the work we needed to do.

And boy did we work!!!

5th Avenue for life as they say!!!

Hope you are still training hard and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

And thanks @pit_bulls_67 for snapping the shot!!!!

#naturalbodybuilder #naturalbodybuilding #throwback #fifthavenuegym #5thavenuegym #drugfreebodybuilding #naturalbodybuildinglifestyle #gym #gymlife #gymmotivation #naturalbodybuildingmotivation #bodybuilding #bodybuildinggym

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Why Are Pull Ups So Hard For Some But Not For Others?

Pull ups are an exercise people love to hate!

They love to hate it because in my experience, most untrained men or women can't do one pull up and those who train can often struggle to do 6 or 10.


Because pull ups are hard!

And yet people like myself can easily do as many as 20-25!

So what's the reason for this discrepancy?

Is there some secret that allows me and others to do pullups so easily?

There isn't, and in this video I go over exactly why I can do as many as I can and why it can be so much harder for others.

I also go over my #1 pull up variant that ANYONE can do, even if you can't do one pull up.

And yet it can build strength and muscle size in some cases even more so than regular pull ups!

So click the link in my bio to see the full video on YouTube or go to my channel by looking up naturallyintense!

Thanks in advance for watching and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#pullups #highintensitytraining #naturalbodybuilder #naturalbodybuilding #fitover40 #naturalbodybuildingvideos #backworkout #pullupworkout #naturalbodybuildingtips #backtraining #highintensitytrainingtips #hometraining #trainingtips #bodybuildingtips

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Maximize Biceps Growth With High Intensity Arm Blaster Hammer Curls!

50lb Dumbbells For 20 reps!

The Arm Blaster is a fantastic piece of equipment for a home gym or any gym!

It doesn't take up much space and allows you to add variety to your biceps training.

It locks your elbows in place, thus increasing training intensity, and by doing a hammer curl, you can use more weight (thus increasing intensity even more) and target your brachialis muscles which help add density to your biceps!

This was my last set and I couldn't go any heavier as I am still nursing a wrist injury, but the 50lbers were more than enough to do the job!

Try them out next time you train arms and let me know how it goes!!!

Still training, hope you are too and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#hometraining #homeworkout #homeworkout #nuobell #highintensitytraining #naturalbodybuilder #naturalbodybuilding #fitover40 #naturalbodybuildingvideos #armworkout #bicepsworkout #naturalbodybuildingtips #biceps #armtraining #bicepsworkout #highintensitytrainingtips #drugfreebodybuilding#powertec #armblaster #hammercurls

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Injury-Proof Your Training: The Power of Workout Variation!

One of the main reasons why I can still train heavy and intensely at 49 after 35 years of nonstop training without any training related overuse injuries is the fact that I vary EVERY workout!

Overuse injuries come from doing the same movements over and over and by always changing your routine, you radically lessen the likelihood of chronic injury.

Squats, deadlifts, barbell curls and bench presses are great exercises, but if you do them all the time, you do increase the odds of getting injured.

And as a natural athlete, it bears mentioning that it takes years to realize your full potential, and so it's crucial to have a training program that is sustainable, and one that will allow you to train injury free for as long as I have or longer!

Thanks so much for tuning in and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#naturalbodybuilding #naturalbodybuildingtips #naturalbodybuilder #naturalbodybuildingvideos #injuryprevention #fitover40 #workout #gymlife #workouttips #trainingmotivation #naturalbodybuildingmotivation #drugfreebodybuilding #highintensitytraining #injuryfreetraining #longevity

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High Intensity Training Leg Extensions To Failure!
And as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#naturalbodybuilding #naturalbodybuilder #highintensitytraining #highintensitytrainingtips #hometraining #homeworkout #fitover40 #naturalbodybuildingvideos #naturalbodybuildingtraining #naturalbodybuildingtips #naturalbodybuildingmotivation #legextensions #legday #legworkout #powertec #legdayworkout

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This Is What 35 Years of Natural Bodybuilding Looks Like!

So as you know, As you may know I recently turned 49 and every year I do a photoshoot to show my progression.

In the hopes of showing that you can not only maintain a level of excellence as the years go by, but that you can do it without steroids, TRT, drugs or even pre-workouts and protein shakes!

(I’ve never had a pre-workout or energy drink and haven’t had a protein shake in decades!)

You don't need it as all it does make you forget tht excellence doesn’t require anything outside of yourself.

You already have all the tools you need!

Not a huge fan of taking photos of myself, (I much prefer being behind the camera) but I humbly try to be one example of just how much you can achieve with proper training and an uncompromisingly proper diet!

So here I am again at 49 and I am looking forward to seeing what you accomplish over the years as well!!! Thanks so much for tuning in and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#naturalbodybuilding #naturalbodybuilder #naturalbodybuildingvideo #naturalbodybuildingmotivation #naturalbodybuildingtips #highintensitytraining #drugfreebodybuilding #nodrugs #fitover40 #fitoverforty

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High Intensity Arm Training- 50lb Concentration Curls!

There are two basic types of exercises, compound movements like barbell curls and isolation movements like concentration curls.

If you want above average arm development, you have to go hard on all exercises.

Isolation movements included, especially if you are drug free as we don't have the privilege of maximum growth from anything less than putting in some seriously hard work!

You have to go to that dark place where you can barely get the weight to move and do whatever it takes to get it up!

And then somehow find it in you to do it again!!!

You can't intellectualize it, you just have to do it and believe!!!

This was my third and last set and so I went all out!

My wrist is still a bit off so not going ultra heavy (by my standards) but
this was a hard set!

I haven't done concentration curls in a while, so I am really sore right now as I type this out two days after the workout!

Bear in mind that I always try to change it up and no one exercise is done every time I train.

Never training to maintain, always working hard to gain!!!

Still training and I hope you are too!!!

Thanks for tuning in and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#hometraining #homeworkout #homeworkout #roguerack #nuobell #highintensitytraining #naturalbodybuilder #naturalbodybuilding #fitover40 #naturalbodybuildingvideos #armworkout #bicepsworkout #naturalbodybuildingtips #biceps #armtraining #bicepsworkout #highintensitytrainingtips #drugfreebodybuilding

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Unlock Your Natural Potential By Varying Your Workouts!
For the past 32 years I have always done a different workout every time I trained.

I have never followed a set program of exercises and the only unifying aspect of my workouts is the blistering intensity!

I train three times a week with a protocol I call Naturally Intense High Intensity Training, and what distinguishes it from other forms of high intensity training is the constant variety.

Muscles grow in response to overload and UNACCUSTOMED stimulation.

Remember when you first started training how effective everything seemed to be, but over time that progress slowly ground to a halt.

You change your routine and see some progress, but the gains in size and strength inevitably fall off over time if you don't make a change.

Now what if you never left that "beginner gains" stage and were always training with different exercises and radically different ways of doing the exercises every single time?

You would be where I am, not having experienced a plateau over the past 32 years and be able to really start unlocking your natural potential!

How does it all work, and how would you measure progression? Watch the full video on YouTube by clicking on my bio link, or going to my YouTube channel (Naturally Intense) and see for yourself!

I really think it can help make a difference in your overall progress, and best of all, it helps you avoid injuries so you can keep training hard for years on end! Thanks in advance for watching and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#naturalbodybuilding #naturalbodybuildingtips #naturalbodybuilder #naturalbodybuildingvideos #workout #workouttips #fitover40 #gymlife #workoutmotivation #trainingmotivation #naturalbodybuildingmotivation #drugfreebodybuilding #highintensitytraining #highintensitytrainingtips #HIT

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Please note that all material is copyrighted and DMCA Protected and can be reprinted only with the expressed authorization of the author.

Featured everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to CBS News, Personal trainer New York City Kevin Richardson’s Naturally Intense High Intensity Training have helped hundreds lose weight and transform their bodies with his 10 Minute Workouts. One of the top natural bodybuilders of his time, Kevin is also the international fitness consultant for UNICEF and a 5 time Best of Manhattan Award Winner for Personal Training

Related Articles:

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What Happens When You Stop Training

Aerobics & Strength Training- How Much Is Too Much

No Pain No Gain- Understanding Muscle Soreness

How Weight Training Builds Strong Bones & Prevents Osteoporosis


Featured everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to network TV,  Kevin Richardson is the international fitness consultant for UNICEF, natural bodybuilding champion, creator of Naturally Intense High Intensity Training and 5 time winner of the Best of Manhattan Awards for Personal Training. 



Kevin Richardson
Kevin Richardsonhttps://www.naturallyintense.net
Featured everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to CBS News, celebrity Personal Trainer NYC and with over 2.6 million readers of his blog, Kevin Richardson is the creator of Naturally Intense High Intensity Training, one of the top lifetime drug free bodybuilders of his time, the first International Fitness & Nutrition Consultant for UNICEF, 2020 and 8 Time Winner of the Best of Manhattan Awards for Personal Training and a world recognized authority on high intensity training. Kevin has helped thousands, from celebrities to CEO's over the past 30 years achieve their fitness goals with his 10 minute high-intensity workouts done just three times a week in conjunction with his holistic nutrition approach. You can learn more about about his diet and training services at www.naturallyintense.net

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