By Carlee Frank

Buff, toned, ripped, shredded… the list could go on for the many names of people with pronounced muscles and little body fat. The appeal of muscular bodies traces back to ancient Greece. Greek sculptures feature six-pack abs and bulging leg muscles, and Greek body armor featured bronze abs and pronounced chest muscles. Greek history scholars Hans Van Wees and Lee Brice told GQ that the armor carried no real benefits other than intimidating enemy forces, and the sculptures were often times not based on real people.

So, while the reason for our long lasting fixation on muscles is hazy, this trend is just as popular in 2018 as it was in 900 BC. Nowadays, protein shakes and weight lifting magazines are everywhere, and “pumping iron” is part of our vernacular. But, like all trends, this one has healthy aspects, unhealthy aspects, myths and truth –so, let’s clear it all up.

First, what are muscles exactly? They are defined as a band or bundle of fibrous tissue in a human or animal body that has the ability to contract, producing movement in or maintaining the position of parts of the body (Meriam Webster). Furthermore, muscles are directly linked to how many calories the body burns in work and at rest. The Mayo Clinic said, “People who are larger or have more muscle burn more calories, even at rest.”

So, if muscles support the skeletal system, protect organs, cause us to burn more calories and look good, how do we build them already? Well, first you must use weight and resistance. You will not build muscle without either of these components. Weight training uses heavy weights while resistance training uses your own body weight to provoke muscle contraction. Examples of weight training are deadlifting, bicep curls and weighted-squats; and examples of resistance training are planks, bicycling and double leg raises (for the abdominals).

If you begin weight training, it’s important to know how much weight to lift. Livestrong suggests a weight that allows you six to 15 repetitions before fatiguing; to boost the cardio burn, lift a lighter weight for a greater amount of reps. As your muscles become stronger, you will be able to lift heavier weights for greater reps, but make sure to take it slow to prevent any injuries. You should also ask a trainer how to use any equipment in the gym with proper form to protect yourself from injury.

A popular myth surrounding weight training is that it will make women “bulky.” Bulky in this case is most likely defined as gaining an excessive amount of muscle mass. However, most women do not have sufficient amounts of testosterone to build enough lean muscle to look “bulky.” The most likely result to weight training –unless you are specifically training to add bulk –is a slimmer figure.

Concerning resistance training, which only requires body weight, you must listen to your body to determine its limits. For example, planking is an extremely effective exercise for core and arm strength, and a clear indicator of your body’s limit is a shaking in the limbs. Double leg raises –to be performed with the lower back pressed to the floor –can be executed until fatiguing just like weight lifting. Search the internet for more resistance exercises and routines!

Now, another popular myth surrounding weight and resistance training is the notion of “toning” muscles. Muscles already have a shape –they are not flabby shapeless things hanging on your bones. Therefore, you can only add muscle mass or burn fat to reveal the natural shape of your muscles. So, depending on your preference, choose weight and resistance training to add mass or cardio to burn fat.

Finally, rest is crucial in the building of muscles. “While training promotes breakdown, or muscle catabolism, resting enables building” (Livestrong). Exercise tears muscle fibers while growth occurs during rest when muscle fibers are fused and thickened. So, make sure to block out one to two rest days each week.

Good luck in your muscle gains this week, and happy lifting!