Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How Do Muscles Work and How Do I Get Stronger?

Hello again, everyone! Yes, it is May 1st, and that means that I am finally free from school. You heard that right - this blog is now being officially written by a man with a Bachelor's Degree. I can't promise that you'll notice that much of a change in my writing style, but I do promise that you'll see an increase in my number of posts. Winter is finally fading where I live and May has come with sunshine and birdsong. What better way to celebrate Spring than to break my long-standing hiatus?

Yesterday, in fact, was so nice that I decided to try jogging again. I must emphasize the word "try." I barely made it a mile. Today, despite my best attempts at stretching, my muscles are sorer than Apollo Creed at the end of Rocky.

Yep. Even sorer than that.
So I decided to dedicate this post to how muscles work and how they grow.

How Do Muscles Work?

The easiest way to describe a muscle is to say that it's like a rubber band - muscles stretch or shrink much like elastic. Your bicep, for instance, is actually made of thousands of these elastic bands all working together. When you flex, your nerves send an electrical signal to the muscles to contract or tighten up. This is like pulling on a rubber band - it takes energy to do, and it stresses the muscle. When you release your muscle, the electrical signal stops and the muscle relaxes and expands. This is like letting go of the rubber band, only in this case, your muscle doesn't fly away and hit somebody in the eye.

The TSA should totally check for rubberbands, too...
 It's not all done through electricity, however. The human body often uses water-y chemicals as mediators to create electricity. Time for another example: your muscles are also like hydraulic piston. Calcium flows from one end of a a muscle fiber to the other, like the fluid in a hydraulic pump. Rather than having the change in pressure causing work to be done, however, the calcium actually stimulates energy molecules in your muscles called ATP. This energy molecule then causes smaller sections of fibers to change shape, which then, in turn, creates the motion of contraction.

Did I lose you? Sorry about that.
Basically what I'm trying to say is that liquid calcium is what triggers your muscles to move. When your muscles are damaged through regular wear-and-tear, such as working out, this calcium often leaks out. Without enough of this fluid, the muscle is incapable of contraction, which we feel as fatigue. This is why walking up the stairs was nearly impossible for me last night after my jog.

How Do Muscles Get Stronger?

Like I mentioned above, working out causes your muscles to rip and tear. If they're working without adequate oxygen (which happens often during intense workouts) they also produce lactic acid which sits on the muscles and eats away at them. Combine this with the damage caused by leaking calcium and it almost seems like working out is more dangerous for your body than it is beneficial.

But here's the cool part: your muscles only get stronger by being broken down. Once your body recognizes that your muscles have been damaged, it immediately works to repair the broken tissue, making it better. Your body will also synthesize new muscle fibers in the area to make sure that you'll be able to handle that kind of stress in the future. This is why weightlifters must gradually increase the weight they lift - your body is constantly trying to catch up, or adapt, to the work you're making it do. Want bigger muscles? Teach your body to lift gradually heavier weights.

Side note: the background music of this video is intense. I bet it could make anything seem hardcore. To test this, I'll find a way to play it while I'm grocery shopping someday.

Want to Know More?

If you're interested in learning more, check out this link about common mistakes many people make when trying to build muscle. Or, check out this link if you're interested in starting a new strengthening regimen.

Also, in case my explanations were a bit too dry or boring, feel free to watch this video which goes into greater depth about the anatomy of muscles:


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