When we exercise we are most likely focused on getting stronger muscles, losing weight or improving our cardiovascular health. It is easy to forget that all the systems of our body work as one unit to keep us alive and healthy. Our nervous systems play a significant role in our fitness gains and in making us faster and stronger.
Our nervous system is in charge of sending messages throughout the body for both voluntary and involuntary actions. When we lift a weight, a connection must be made between our brain and the muscle fibers needed for that movement. With continuous exercise, our nervous systems become more efficient and adaptive which makes us better at that exercise.
With every strength training session, the connections between the muscles and the brain coordinate more and more resulting in better muscle activation, coordination and more forceful movements. These changes only take a few weeks after training begins. In fact, when someone begins a strength training workout they will notice gains in their strength without necessarily any changes in muscle size. This is due to the activation and changes in the nervous system.
These changes allow brain to recruit synergistic muscles (muscle that assist other muscles) and stop antagonist muscles (muscles that would hinder other muscles in an exercise). Our brains start to learn which muscle fibers to recruit for each exercise for the best efficiency of use and for the most power; this is often called “motor-unit synchronization”. By using only the necessary and the best fibers for an exercise, our endurance is increased and we are able to train longer and heavier.
These brain-muscle connections are surprisingly strong as one study’s finding were able to reveal. While studying the effects of the nervous system on muscle growth through weight training, scientists made a pretty amazing discovery. The person in the test was told to do a certain number of bicep curls for many weeks with a weight that would promote muscle growth. However, he was to only perform the exercise with his right arm. Not surprisingly, over time his right arm muscles got bigger and his left arm appeared the same. The real shocker here is when they tested the strength of both arms. Both arms gained in strength which confirmed the power in these connections made through the nervous system to the muscles.
The next time you lift weights and feel like you are just going through the motions, it may help to think about how amazing our bodies are and how it will adapt and get stronger based on the challenges you give it. Keep changing your workouts and making them harder. Your body is ready to adapt and take on that challenge!
For more info on that amazing muscle study….
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