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Why Muscle Density Matters & How To Build It

Arnold

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Why Muscle Density Matters & How To Build It

That dense look you desire is all dependent on muscle density.


For those of us who lift big and seek a massive physique, muscle density is something that cannot be overlooked. Despite our complete drive for that increase in size, what we visually seek may not be the absolute best goal for us. Have you ever been in the gym and the guy next to you is massive, huge, lifting some serious weight?

And then you look at yourself at you’re not as massive, not as huge, but you’re lifting the same amount of weight? This is muscle density and while this guy next to you may have the aesthetic you want, it’s a great thought to know that, in theory and principle, you’re stronger.

When it comes to certain strength sports, muscle density is an absolute must have. Powerlifting and Strongman athletes need to feel as though they can lift and push and pull and squat anything and everything that comes their way. Bodybuilders seek that well-rounded, perfectly sculpted physique, but what makes those muscles pop is vital for their success. Ultimately, the goal is to increase strength and size and luckily for us, the two are more than possible.

With muscle density being so important, let’s dive into it. From what it is, to the difference between muscle density and muscle mass, to how to build it, we’ll cover all the bases so you can start prioritizing what you need to do to really start to succeed.

What Is Muscle Density?​

Muscle density is the amount of lean muscle tissue that your body has in comparison to the amount of fatty tissue. The more muscle tissue, the more dense of an appearance and structure the muscle takes on. With more density, this means the muscle fibers are stronger, allowing you to produce more power than larger muscles that may not be as dense. Essentially, muscle density is about the strength of the muscle. And by getting rid of excess fat that may be buried in between the muscle fibers will only enhance the level of muscle density you ultimately have (1).

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Difference Between Muscle Density & Muscle Mass​

While muscle density is about strength and the amount of lean muscle compared to fatty tissue, muscle mass tends to refer to the sheer size of the muscles. So, we’re talking here about strength versus size, or for our purposes, muscle density (strength) versus muscle mass (size).

Let’s take a look at hypertrophy, or muscle growth, to really understand how muscle density and mass work and what we can expect. Two types of hypertrophy exist that will hopefully help us break this debate even further: sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and myofibrillar hypertrophy.

Myofibrillar hypertrophy is another way of saying muscle fiber growth, which in turn is another way of saying increased muscle density. What happens with this is the muscle fibers become enlarged through the multiplication of myofibrils which equate to strength, speed, and power, respectively. Through working out and lifting, these fibers must increase in density as they recover, thus leading to that valuable increase in muscle density (2).

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is the increase in muscle size, or for our purposes, muscle mass. The volume of the muscle cell fluid increases, boosting the literal size of the muscle cell but not adding any strength or density. For many bodybuilders, this is what we’re looking at unless they prioritize strength and size, instead of one over the other (3).

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Why Muscle Density Matters​

Muscle density matters because that is your muscle strength. Your sheer ability to get stronger and see the gains you want most are all dependent on how you work muscle density. It can be easy to get caught up in being the biggest, the one with the absolutely bulging biceps or popping pecs. But muscle density allows for better sport specific movements, can increase your chances at seeing great PRs, and will ultimately win out over just muscle mass any day, for your ability to lift big is how you grow (4).

How To Build It​

Here are some tips to get you started and help you build that valuable muscle density.

1. Lift Big But Lift Smart​

Always look to increase the weight more than you had previously before. This will really pay off as you start to build more and more of those muscle fibers looking for them to grow. Just be cautious that you lift within the realm of what you can do to avoid injury.

2. Resistance Training​

Placing the proper amount of resistance on your muscles is vital for fiber growth and the right amount of overload can really work to get those muscle dense.

3. Diet & Supplementation​

For your dietary routine, something like a low-carb diet will work to get rid of that excess fat around the muscles. This is partly why the ketogenic diet is so popular. But don’t forget to use the right supplements and really work to push only the highest of quality supplements into you before, during, or after a workout (5). Something like a protein powder, pre-workout, or BCAA supplement will work wonders for all phases of your workout.

Wrap Up
When it comes to building muscle density, also know as our strength, it is important to really put an emphasis on that depending on our goals. While muscle mass and our literal size may be the end goal, muscle density will prove to pay off in the long run for us as we seek to lift as big as possible. Don’t neglect muscle density and the path to get there because it will change your fitness goals for the better.

References

  1. Miller, A. E.; MacDougall, J. D.; Tarnopolsky, M. A.; Sale, D. G. (1993). “Gender differences in strength and muscle fiber characteristic”. (source)
  2. Damas, Felipe; Angleri, Vitor; Phillips, Stuart M.; Witard, Oliver C.; et al. (2019). “Myofibrillar protein synthesis and muscle hypertrophy individualized responses to systematically changing resistance training variables in trained young men”. (source)
  3. Roberts, Michael D.; Haun, Cody T.; Vann, Christopher G.; Osburn, Shelby C.; Young, Kaelin C. (2020). “Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy in Skeletal Muscle: A Scientific “Unicorn” or Resistance Training Adaptation?”. (source)
  4. Wang, Ling; Yin, Lu; Zhao, Yue; Su, Yongbin; et al. (2021). “Muscle Density, but Not Size, Correlates Well With Muscle Strength and Physical Performance”. (source)
  5. Pasiakos, Stefan M.; McLellan, Tom M.; Lieberman, Harris R. (2015). “The effects of protein supplements on muscle mass, strength, and aerobic and anaerobic power in healthy adults: a systematic review”. (source)
 
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