Trauma, burn injury, sepsis and ischemia lead to acute and chronic loss of skeletal muscle mass and function. Healthy muscle is essential for eating, posture, respiration, reproduction, and mobility, as well as for appropriate function of the senses including taste, vision, and hearing. Beyond providing support and contraction, skeletal muscle also exerts essential roles in temperature regulation, metabolism, and overall health. As the primary reservoir for amino acids, skeletal muscle regulates whole-body protein and glucose metabolism by providing substrate for protein synthesis and supporting hepatic gluconeogenesis during illness and starvation. Overall, greater muscle mass is linked to greater insulin sensitivity and glucose disposal, strength, power, and longevity. In contrast, low muscle mass correlates with dysmetabolism, dysmobility, and poor survival. Muscle mass is highly plastic, appropriate to its role as reservoir, and subject to striking genetic control. Defining mechanisms of muscle growth regulation holds significant promise to find interventions that promote health and diminish morbidity and mortality after trauma, sepsis, inflammation, and other systemic insults. In this invited review, we summarize techniques and methods to assess and manipulate muscle size and muscle mass in experimental systems, including cell culture and rodent models. These approaches have utility for studies of myopenia, sarcopenia, cachexia, and acute muscle growth or atrophy in the setting of health or injury.