Vail Daily column: Gain muscle weight for improved health |

Vail Daily column: Gain muscle weight for improved health

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

Gaining weight is usually perceived as a bad endeavor for those seeking wellness. Our society is obsessed with thinness; this is potentially as dangerous as the ever-growing waistlines that are affecting millions of Americans.

Being thin is the opposite of muscularity, and being thin is often associated with frailty that welcomes a host of problems. Muscular people tend to have lower body fat percentages, higher metabolisms and suffer fewer musculoskeletal injuries. Being muscular might even save your life when disease strikes.

Let’s first talk about muscles and what they are responsible for. Muscles are the very engines of the body that propel it through time and space. Muscles are attached to bones, and when they contract, they pull or push against these boney levers that cause movement. Larger and stronger muscles enable easier movement ability, while smaller and weaker muscles require more effort to accomplish the same movement tasks. In other words, the more force a muscle generates, everything sub-maximal of that absolute force becomes easier.

For example, if you can squat 100 pounds only one time, squatting 50 pounds equals 50 percent of your maximum effort; squatting 50 pounds for several repetitions will get tiring quickly. But if you can squat 200 pounds one time, 50 pounds is only 25 percent of your maximum.

This latter example will theoretically become less tired because she is squatting a lower percentage of her absolute. This means better endurance for you endorphin addicts. Get stronger and stop worrying about your cadence so much.

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What about calorie consumption? Muscles are the most metabolically-demanding tissues your body has that consume energy, while body fat merely stores energy for later usage. The larger your muscles are, the more energy they consume. The more force you can produce through movement, the more calories you burn. If you can generate more force because you theoretically have been gaining muscle size and strength from training, you will burn more energy during your workouts, plain and simple.

A lumberjack squatting 400 pounds for five reps is moving 2,000 pounds in one short 45 second effort. The dude wearing skinny jeans who squats 100 pounds for five reps is moving merely 500 pounds in the same effort. The lumberjack hypothetically burned four times the energy to meet the work demand. Big and strong people are often leaner because they burn much more energy during training and through regular activities in life and sport.


Lastly, muscles can prevent against disease processes and injury. In college, I had an epidemiology professor who was also a practicing physician, Stephen Hohlman, who once said that he would rather see cancer patients who were overly fat verses patients who were fit and skinny. He said that overweight (this implicates over-muscled, too) patients usually responded better to treatment, presumably because they had larger energy reserves than their skinnier counterparts.

The energy requirements were so much greater for patients going through chemotherapy, and the additional cushion helped them. In a pinch, your body will absolutely catabolize muscle for energy demands just as it will fat. The more muscle you have, the more of a reserve you can draw from in a medical bind. Not to mention, the more muscle mass you have, the better your body is protected against bumps, bruises, falls and collisions.

Muscle mass acquisition is like natural armor building. Not if, but when you hit that tree mountain biking this summer, you will want additional muscle mass to protect your joints.

The shoulder seasons in the mountains are great times to develop muscle mass because you typically aren’t participating in your winter or summer sports respectively. Use this offseason to spend four to eight weeks developing some larger wheels. How do you acquire larger, stronger muscles?

The best way to develop titanic muscles is to use the heaviest weights possible with exercises that use the biggest muscle groups, moving the weight through the largest ranges of motion for a lot of repetitions. Arguably the best exercises are the barbell squat, deadlift, bench press, and standing overhead press.

Perform these exercises three to four days per week for three to five sets of five repetitions. Squat and deadlift on different days, bench and overhead press on different days. Eat plenty of steak and potatoes, sleep a bunch and minimize running yourself ragged every day. Try this for the next eight weeks and see what happens!

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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