Building a Better Body with SARMs

You may have read about SARMs in recent news as a safe alternative to anabolic steroids.

SARMs, or selective androgen receptor modulators, can help you to build muscle with limited side effects. Here, we discuss how your body builds up muscle and the role that SARMs can play in that process.

The Types of Muscle

Our body contains three different types of muscles that perform vastly different functions in the body. Cardiac muscle, as the name implies, is reserved solely for the heart and is under involuntary control. It’s designed to be tougher than other muscles, as it has to keep the heart pumping nonstop for the entirety of your life.

Smooth muscle, like cardiac muscle, isn’t under conscious control. You can find smooth muscle around many organs, particularly around the digestive tract. Unlike the heart, however, many other organs only operate as needed, and so smooth muscle cells tend to be smaller and weaker than cardiac muscle.

Skeletal muscle is the type of tissue that we’re concerned with when it comes to bodybuilding. It’s composed of muscle fibers that form the basic units of contraction, allowing us to do everything from typing on a keyboard to driving a car. Muscles are attached to the skeleton with strong connective tissue known as tendons.

Skeletal muscle is the only type that’s under voluntary control. We’re able to decide when and how we want to use these muscles. It’s important to be careful when exerting yourself, however. It’s possible to overstrain muscles, leading to short-term, long-term, or even permanent damage. There are three grades of muscle injury:

  • Grade One: Less than 5% of muscle fibers suffer damage, resulting in some loss in strength or range of motion. Often, the best treatment is two to three weeks of rest.
  • Grade Two: While this type of injury is more serious, it doesn’t often result in permanent damage. It requires two or more months of rest before returning to vigorous activity.
  • Grade Three: A tendon or muscle suffers catastrophic damage such as a rupture and may require surgery to fix.

It’s important to know your limits when building muscle, especially if you’re just starting out. If you try to push yourself too hard too quickly, you’ll end up doing more harm than good to all three types of muscle.

Soccer Team Assists team MemberPhoto by Hanson Lu

How Muscles Grow

To safely and effectively build muscle, it’s important to know how muscle growth, or hypertrophy, works on a cellular level. While working out is a crucial component of sculpting your body, growth actually occurs during rest periods after exercise. There are three main mechanisms that cause muscles to bulk up.

Tension

Strength training involves dealing with a load of stress that’s slightly heavier than what your muscles can currently handle. Many people do this by lifting progressively heavier and heavier weights. Skeletal muscle grows best by being overloaded using either weights or resistance.

Damage

As you work out, you cause damage to the muscle fibers that you strain. When you’re done, your body immediately begins the process of repairing or replacing these damaged cells. It does this by fusing fibers to form protein strands known as myofibrils. As these increase in number and thickness, they add to the size of a muscle.

A little bit of soreness after exercise means that your efforts towards building muscle are working. Part of what you feel is the release of inflammatory and immune cells responding to damage, which in turn helps to activate satellite cells.

Stress

It’s not just physical strain that causes muscle growth. Metabolic stress can increase the amount of sarcoplasmic fluid inside muscle cells, causing them to appear enlarged. Doing this is how many bodybuilders achieve a fully “pumped” appearance before shows and competitions.

While sarcoplasmic hypertrophy causes an increase in muscle size, it doesn’t improve muscle strength. It’s entirely aesthetic, and often not the preferred method of people looking for permanent muscle gains.

The Key Players in Muscle Growth

Photo by Hal Gatewood

Building muscle is about much more than the muscle cells themselves. Several other factors also determine how quickly and efficiently you gain bulk.

We make new skeletal muscle cells as we work out from precursors known as satellite cells or muscle stem cells. These cells, much like regular stem cells, are able to give rise to just about any type of differentiated skeletal muscle cells, helping to increase mass.

Satellite cell activation is necessary for muscle growth to occur. The more strongly you activate satellite cells in the body, the bigger your muscles grow. According to one study, those who showed over 50% myofiber hypertrophy had almost a quarter of their satellite cells activated, while people with 28% growth showed 19% activation. Those who showed no growth, on the other hand, had 0% of their satellite cells activated.

Hormones also play a pivotal role in building muscles, in part because they help to regulate satellite cell activity. Two of the most important hormones include testosterone and Insulin Growth Factor (IGF-1).

Testosterone helps to increase levels of protein synthesis while preventing breakdown, giving your body a greater capacity for muscle growth. It also activates satellite cells and stimulates the production of other hormones, including the release of growth factors from the pituitary gland.

Weightlifting both encourages your body to release more testosterone and increases the sensitivity of testosterone receptors. The more often you exercise, the more efficient your body will become at building and maintaining muscle mass.

IGF-1 also encourages your body to synthesize more protein and helps to activate satellite cells. Additionally, it helps your body to take up glucose more readily and your skeletal muscle cells to absorb amino acids needed to make proteins.

Exercising to Build Muscle

Working out consistently is one of the best ways to build up muscle mass in the long term. Most people rely on strength training, including lifting free weights, using weight machines, or practicing body resistance training. Over time, strength training encourages muscle growth and eliminates fat. It also reduces the risk of injury and helps speed up recovery, especially in older adults.

Experts recommend that you fit strength training into your workout routine at least twice per week. You should aim to exercise all major muscle groups, including:

  • Quadriceps: Four large muscles on the front of the thigh
  • Hamstrings: Muscle group on the back of the thighs
  • Calves: Muscles of the lower leg
  • Chest: The pectoralis major and pectoralis minor muscle groups, or “pecs”
  • Back: Latissimus Dorsi, or “lats,” Erector Spinae, Rhomboid, and Teres Major muscle groups
  • Shoulders: The front deltoids, side deltoids, and rear deltoids
  • Triceps: Muscle group on the back of the upper arm
  • Biceps: Group of muscles on the front of the upper arm
  • Forearms: Include the Brachioradialis, Extensor Carpi Radialis Longus, Flexor Carpi Radialis, and Abductor Pollicis Longus muscles
  • Trapezius: Large, triangular muscle located on the upper back
  • Abdominal muscles: Made of several muscle groups, including the Rectus Abdominis, the External Obliques, the Internal Obliques, and the Transversus Abdominis

Contrary to popular belief, cardiovascular exercise also factors into muscle growth. Studies have shown that cardio can help to improve muscle growth and strength in addition to improving cardiac and respiratory health. It may also help to reduce the risk of injury.

According to health and fitness experts, you should get at least 150 minutes each week of light to moderate cardiovascular exercise. Moderate exercise includes activities such as:

  • Walking
  • Light cycling
  • Playing gentle games such as badminton or pickleball
  • Cleaning or doing yard work

If you’re strapped for time or looking for a bit more of an exciting workout, you can work to do 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity instead of lighter exercises. High-intensity workouts include activities like:

  • Jogging or running
  • Swimming laps
  • Aerobic dance
  • High-impact sports such as soccer or football

Always remember to warm up before exercising to help reduce your risk of injury. You should work to exercise using proper form, including posture and breathing techniques. If you’re starting a new workout routine, always make sure to consult a doctor to make sure it’s safe beforehand.

The Importance of Rest

Working out primes your muscles for growth and helps to encourage the release of hormones necessary to the process. However, growth doesn’t actually occur until after you’ve finished your workout for the day. Resting gives your muscles the chance to repair and speeds up the growth process. You should always aim to rest muscle groups for at least two days between strength training sets.

Sleep is also a vital part of the muscle growth process. Without enough sleep, your body is less efficient at synthesizing protein and building muscle. While everybody has different needs when it comes to sleep, experts recommend that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. Older adults may need a little bit less sleep, while teenagers may require more.

Using SARMs to Enhance Muscle Growth

Photo by Edgar Chaparro

Even if you exercise consistently, it takes time to build muscle. You may have to work out for weeks to months before seeing any results from your labor. Your body needs time to become accustomed to your training routine and optimizing conditions for muscle growth.

SARMs are bodybuilding supplements that can help you to quickly gain muscle and strengthen bone while losing fat at the same time. They’re chemically similar to anabolic steroids but have fewer adverse side effects.

Originally, SARMs were created to help combat chronic conditions such as muscle wasting diseases, anemia, and osteoporosis. Previously, steroid and testosterone therapy were the only alternatives, and both treatments came with a whole host of side effects. SARMs were touted as a safer option for patients.

Nowadays, bodybuilders are beginning to see the promise that SARMs have to offer. They’re quickly becoming a popular supplement amongst those looking to improve muscle mass quickly and safely. Some of the most popular SARMs available include:

  • MK-2866 or GTx-024 (Ostarine): Ideal for preserving muscle mass, this SARM is used for cutting, bulking, and recomping.
  • LGD-4033 (Ligandrol): Builds lean muscle quickly, making it ideal for both bulking and cutting.
  • RAD-140 (Testolone): Offers steroid-like results, including increased strength, muscle mass, and aggression.
  • S23: This SARM has extremely high anabolic activity, offering fast gains.
  • GSX-007 or S-4 (Andarine): This offers similar results to Testolone and Ligandrol, helping you to build both muscle and strength quickly.

How SARMs Work

SARMs function similarly to anabolic steroids when building bone and muscle. They stimulate androgen receptors, which make muscles more sensitive to the effects of testosterone. Though SARMs are similar to anabolic steroids in both composition and function, they tend to be safer and put you at risk of fewer side effects.

Unlike steroids, which flood your entire system with androgens to saturate receptors, SARMs target just the bones and muscles instead of other organs. This mechanism helps to eliminate many of the health issues caused by steroids, particularly problems with the prostate, brain, and liver.

The Benefits of SARMs

While SARMs might be slightly less powerful than anabolic steroids, thanks to their targeted approach, they also have fewer side effects. You won’t have to worry as much about organ damage.

SARMs, unlike steroids, also don’t break down into dangerous base components such as Dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. An enzyme known as 5-a reductase converts testosterone into DHT, which is responsible for many common steroid side effects such as hair loss.

SARMs are also resistant to aromatase, an enzyme that converts newly high levels of testosterone into estrogen. This lowers men’s chances of developing breast tissue as a result of use. SARMs are also less likely to cause water retention.

The Risks of SARMs

Though many bodybuilders are beginning to recognize the potential of SARMs, they have yet to be approved for medical use. Currently, you can only find SARMs sold as “research chemicals.” However, clinical testing is currently underway to determine the safety and efficacy of the supplement.

SARMs are currently prohibited in the professional athletic arena. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned the substance in 2008 due to its potential for misuse, and that ban has not yet been lifted.

While SARMs have fewer unwanted side effects than steroids, they still carry with them a risk. There isn’t a lot of data on the safety of common compounds, and scientists don’t know much about the effects of long-term use. Possible side effects are similar to those of anabolic steroids and include:

  • Reduced testosterone production
  • Acne and oily skin
  • A low sperm count
  • Elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Heart problems
  • Liver disease
  • Permanent hair loss

Before taking any new supplement, always do your research first and talk to your doctor. You’ll be able to find out more about the potential risks for your body, including those related to genetic conditions, current medications, and lifestyle factors.

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