Building muscle, properly called hypertrophy, is often viewed as an aesthetic pursuit, meaning it enhances the way you look. While this is undoubtedly true, there is more to building muscle than just looking good.
In fact, increasing your muscle mass has plenty of benefits that go far beyond simple changes in body shape and appearance.
Not that there's anything wrong with training to look good; that in itself has numerous benefits, including improved self-image and increased confidence. However, those bigger muscles provide several additional benefits.
In this article, we discuss some of the most significant benefits of building muscle.
12 Benefits of Building Bigger Muscles
Building muscle is not just good for your appearance. It can also enhance your functionality and health. These are the top benefits of building more muscle mass:
1. Increased strength
Muscle tissue is the engine that drives your movements. And in general, bigger muscles generate more force than smaller muscles. However, that doesn’t mean that small muscles can’t be strong.
Force generation has as much to do with your nervous system as it does with muscle size. The more muscle motor units you can recruit simultaneously, the more force you’ll be able to produce.
This helps explain why small weightlifters are often stronger than bigger bodybuilders; they’re better at using their muscles to generate force. However, all things being equal, bigger muscles have the potential to be stronger than small muscles.
2. Improved resistance to fatigue
Bigger, well-trained muscles are not only stronger, but they’re also slower to fatigue. That’s because, when you are strong, many tasks feel easier. For example, if you have a bench press one-rep max of 225 pounds/100kg, you’ll probably find push-ups easier than someone with a 1RM of 90 pounds.
While there is a tradeoff between muscle mass and total body weight, and being heavy can be a disadvantage for some weight-bearing activities, stronger muscles generally fatigue more slowly than weaker muscles.
It’s no coincidence that even marathon runners and triathletes include strength training in their workout regimens. Strength is essential in the latter stages of a long endurance event and can be the difference between finishing well or crawling over the line.
3. Better posture
Posture is the alignment of your joints, and it can be good or bad. Good posture involves minimal joint stress as your bones are “stacked” in a biomechanically efficient position. In contrast, poor posture is inefficient, puts a lot of stress on your body, and can cause unnecessary aches and pains.
Getting into and holding good posture requires muscle strength. After all, it’s your muscles that hold you up against the unrelenting pull of gravity.
A well-designed strength training program will enhance your posture and help reduce the effects of chronic sitting and slouching. Increasing posterior chain muscle mass and strength can have a significant impact on your posture, appearance, and performance.
4. More stable blood glucose
While it’s normal for your blood glucose levels to fluctuate, too much blood glucose for too long can lead to diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, nerve damage, eye problems, inflammation, and a host of other serious medical conditions.
Increasing your muscle mass provides somewhere for blood glucose to go, where it is stored as glycogen. Strength training also increases insulin sensitivity, which helps your body move glucose from your blood to your muscles more efficiently.
Sure, you could cut carbs from your diet to regulate your blood glucose, but building more muscle means your body will be much more carb-tolerant, so you can continue enjoying bread, rice, pasta, etc.
5. Increased bone mass
Training for more muscle also increases bone mass. When you lift weights, your muscles pull on your tendons, which, in turn, pull on your bones and the surrounding connective tissue called the periosteum. This triggers an increase in osteoblast or bone-building cell activity.
Because of a process called osteopenia, bone mass tends to decline with age, leading to weak, porous bones. If ignored, this can become osteoporosis, which is a condition characterized by brittle, fracture-prone bones.
Lifting weights will preserve bone mass and could prevent osteoporosis, which is the leading cause of hip fractures and can result in lost independence in older people.
6. Improved quality of life as you age
Muscle mass peaks around 30 to 35 years of age. After that, most people lose between 3-8% of their muscle mass each decade. This is called sarcopenia.
Lose enough muscle, and things like climbing stairs or getting out of a chair become difficult or even impossible. Losing muscle can also contribute to loss of balance and an increased risk of falls.
However, the more muscle you have, the more you can afford to lose with fewer unwanted side effects. Plus, strength training in your later years can help preserve and even reverse muscle loss. It’s never too late to build or rebuild lost muscle.
Many people believe that lifting weights is a young person’s workout, but that is not necessarily true. In fact, it could be argued that building muscle is more important the older you get.
7. Stronger, more stable joints
Bones come together to form joints. Some joints are fixed and immovable, like those in your skull. Others are semi-movable, such as your spine. The rest are freely movable, such as your knees, hips, elbows, and shoulders.
The more mobile a joint is, the more unstable it will be. Unstable joints are prone to injury and wear and tear. However, stronger muscles help support the joints and reduce unwanted movement.
For example, strong quadriceps (anterior thigh) and hamstrings (posterior thigh) control your knee joints. Well-developed quads and hammies will help prevent your knees from moving beyond their natural range of motion, protecting them from acute and chronic injury.
8. Increased metabolic rate
Muscle is more metabolically active than fat. It’s estimated that one pound of fat burns around two calories per hour, while a pound of muscle burns approximately six. One pound of muscle will burn an extra 96 calories in 24 hours compared to the same amount of fat tissue. The more active you are, the higher your calorie expenditure will be.
In addition, the process of building muscle uses a lot of energy, which is another source of calorie burning.
So, whether you are sat on your couch watching TV, working out, or just recovering and growing after training, muscle burns more calories, leading to an increased metabolic rate and an easier time reducing or maintaining your body fat percentage.
9. Better balance and coordination
Hypertrophy training doesn’t just affect your muscles – it affects your neurological or nervous system, too.
If muscles are your hardware, the nervous system is the software that controls everything from your balance to how you move to your proprioception or ability to sense where your limbs are in space. Proprioception even allows you to see into the future, for example, to predict where a ball will be so you can catch it.
A well-developed nervous system means you can fully control your muscles.
Strength training involves and develops many aspects of your nervous system. However, the neurological benefits are greatest when you work out with freeweights and calisthenics.
Fixed-path resistance training machines are less effective as all you have to do is push or pull the load. The more complex an exercise is, the more neurologically beneficial it will be.
10. Enhanced protection from impact
Muscle tissue acts as a sort of natural armor during contact sports. Muscle mass tends to be densest around the places where impacts are most common, such as the shoulders, torso, hips, and thighs. There is a reason that fighters spend so much time working on their abs!
Muscle isn’t entirely shockproof, and you’ll walk away from a big hit feeling battered and bruised, but muscle will shield your bones and organs from damage, which is why you can walk away at all.
11. Improved load-carrying ability
Have you ever watched someone struggle to carry a heavy suitcase at the airport, their groceries to their car at the supermarket, or even their kid at the playground? These and many other load-carrying activities are much easier when you’re packing some extra muscle mass.
Bigger, stronger muscles mean that whatever you are carrying will a) represent a smaller percentage of your body weight and b) be well within your strength capacity. As such, you’ll be able to lift that suitcase/grocery bag/child with impressive ease.
Unexpected tests of strength can cause injuries – especially to the lower back. However, having muscle mass to spare means these activities won’t be stressful and won’t tire you out.
As an added benefit, you’ll never have to struggle to open a jar of peanut butter again!
12. Better brain function and health
The term meathead has long been used to describe someone who is big and strong but lacks intelligence. People with big muscles are often viewed as athletic but dumb. However, the truth is that lifting weights is good for your brain and can help preserve cognition as you age.
Like the muscles and bones, the brain is affected by age, leading to Alzheimer’s, dementia, personality changes, and other common age-related mental changes.
Exercise, both cardio and strength training, increases oxygen levels in the brain, helping to keep it young and healthy. It seems that bigger biceps can help ward off age-related mental decline.
The Benefits of Building Muscle – Closing Thoughts
Training to build muscle is often viewed as a vanity project. That’s the influence of bodybuilding in action, which is all about increasing muscle size for the sake of appearance. However, the benefits of increasing muscle mass go far beyond simply changing how you look.
Increased muscle mass can have a profound effect on your athletic performance, physical and mental health, and your prospects for living a long, independent life. As famous strength coach Mark Rippetoe once said, “Strength makes everything better.”
So, lift weights, do your push-ups and pull-ups, and enjoy your bigger biceps and more sculpted chest. But remember that building muscle isn’t just about looking good – you’ll feel and function better, too.
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