Column: The why and how of building and maintaining muscle |

Column: The why and how of building and maintaining muscle

This time of year, many individuals are concerned with shedding excess body weight and getting lean for the summer.

While I applaud the effort to live a healthier lifestyle, most go about their goals in an unhealthy manner. Excessive cardio routines, highly restrictive diets and negative self-perception comprise the methods in which most aim to punish themselves to a “better body.” The focus, rather, should be on incorporating effective and sustainable changes that ultimately yield results. Most people can starve themselves to a lower body weight for a short period of time, but often times they rebound to the same spot or worse. If instead, the focus shifts to strength training and the promotion of lean mass, then results may be different.

Benefits of muscle

Before approach training, it’s essential to understand why maintaining lean mass is so important. Muscle decreases naturally as you age at a rate of about 0.5-1 percent a year after the age of 50. This is a term know as Sarcopenia, a natural degenerative process. Sarcopenia occurs at a much faster rate in those who do not strength train, typically. Muscle cross sectional area is often related to general strength. Simply put, less muscle, less strength.

As you age, you want to be as strong as possible to better handle illness, falls, stress and disease. In regards to remaining lean, higher muscle mass leads to an increased resting metabolic rate. This means your body will burn more calories while at rest, requiring more throughout the day.

Finally, increased muscle mass will provide more shape to your body. When clients ask me to write them a program to get “toned,” what they really desire is increased muscle mass and decreased body fat. They realize that no matter how much fat they lose, there isn’t much muscle underneath to reveal. For those who fear getting too “bulky,” fear not. Building muscle is extremely difficult and calorically expensive. Even if you’re eating everything in sight and training properly, then it takes a long time to build.

How to train

While aerobic training is still highly beneficial, it should not be your only method of exercise. In order to begin strength training, start by adding two to three days a week. The focus should not be on any particular body part, but on multi-joint compound movements instead. Incorporate squatting, pulling, pressing, carrying, lunging, hinging and rotational exercises. Think about movements, not just exercises. Each movement should be somewhere between three to five sets and eight to 12 reps for starters. You can play with the rep schemes and sets as your strength/hypertrophy goals become clear. The number one factor however, is that you must progressively overload each time you train (with planned deload phases of course). You can do this by more adding weight, reps, sets or decreased rest time to name a few. Besides training, ensure that your sleep and nutrition are in order. Aim for seven or more hours of sleep per night, and 0.8 grams of protein per a pound of body weight.

If you’ve never tried resistance training or simply tired of your excessive cardio routine, then give it a shot. The benefits of building and maintaining muscle cannot be overlooked. I hope these tips help guide you toward a more manageable fitness routine this spring season.

Jimmy Pritchard has a B.S. from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the assistant strength coach at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Pritchard’s passion is to help others meet, and often exceed their goals in all areas of fitness. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or

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