When I saw the phrase “strong is the new skinny” on a t-shirt I knew I had to get it. The best way to feel good about your body is to make it healthy and strong – not overly-skinny. It is pretty well-known now that a strong woman doesn’t look like a guy; it’s about being toned and hard. In fact, strengthening those muscles may not budge your scale much, but I can assure you your clothes will feel looser.
Increasing our muscle strength is a pretty fascinating process our body undergoes. There are 2 main ways our body increases it’s strength- through hypertrophy and neural adaptations. You may have heard of muscle hypertrophy, which is the increasing of the size of the muscle fibers. Basically it is the process of our muscle getting bigger and more toned. After a tough workout, our soreness is an indicator that our muscle fibers have been broken down and need to repair. The body’s defenses prepare for another hard workout by building up the size of the muscle fibers (hypertrophy) so they can better handle that level of stress again. That is why increasing our weight as we get stronger is so important! We need to keep our muscles preparing for the next level. A few factors do affect how much hypertrophy will occur such as, degree of weight training, diet, genetics and rest. The amount of testosterone naturally occurring in our bodies also greatly affects hypertrophy which is why men gain more muscle size than women, so don’t worry about getting big .
Another way we gain strength is through the neural adaptations that occur when we exercise. The harder we train, the more our muscle cells learn to work together instead of taking turns. This nerve/muscle connection becomes stronger as we become stronger. There is a natural “inhibitory neural feedback” found in untrained muscle which is kind of the bodies way of keeping the muscle from being overworked. The more we use our muscles, this “feedback” is lowered and allows the body to embrace the change in our muscles. We actually gain strength more quickly in this manner than through hypertrophy even though it is less well known.
Now we know a little of the science behind our strong muscles, but what about those other factors besides our workouts that affect our level of strength? Proper nutrition is essential to build. We must make sure to eat enough protein (about 50 g a day for women) to rejuvinate our muscle tissue. Also key vitamins such as A, D, E, B complex are necessary for repair.
Think vegetables aren’t important for muscle growth? A recent study revealed that the high nitrate levels in spinach allows our muscles to release calcium which makes a stronger muscle contraction. This directly affect fast twitch fibers which are used in intervals, sprints, heavy weight lifting, etc…
Lastly, rest days and sleep are critical for muscle change. Never train the same body part two days in a row. Depending on the level of soreness, you may even need 72 hrs to recover instead of the standard 48 hrs. Our rest days are when our muscles repair and grow. Without them, overtraining and even injury may occur which will really set you back on your quest for strong muscles.
Being strong really is a key component to a healthy body. As we age, it becomes even more imperative to strength train because after age 35 we naturally begin to lose muscle and bone mass. Fight the fight! There is no reason to lose our strength no matter what our age!
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