Published on April 2nd, 2013 | by Joe Starks0
Athletic Science: Muscles
We all have a rough idea what muscles are. We have them all over our body; we know that they can grow if we exercise and that they are smaller in people who don’t move a lot. Most of us would like to have more muscle and some of us have too much. But what is a muscle really? How does it work? If the heart is a muscle why doesn’t it get tired? We’ll look into a few interesting facts about muscles in this article.
What are Muscles?
Muscles are a type of soft tissue found only in animals. Inside each muscle cell there are protein filaments that move on each other either spacing apart or getting together. This makes the muscle cells contract and expand. In turn the whole muscle expands and contracts. Contractions of the muscle are usually started by nerve endings on its surface, as are extensions.
There are three types of muscle:
- The cardiac muscles, which are formed in such a way that it can work tirelessly throughout our life at the expense of a lot of energy.
- The smooth muscles, which can be found in our inner organs. This type of muscle moves our bowels, contracts our stomach, empties our bladder etc. Smooth muscle moves involuntarily and can’t be controlled.
- The skeletal muscles, which pretty much covers most of our body. Skeletal muscle can be moved consciously and help the body keep its shape, protect it from impact and make it move.
When we exercise, we usually target skeletal muscle, but if we do a lot of cardio workouts our heart’s muscle will strengthen also.
Muscles keep their own energy storages in the form of glycogen and they need a lot of oxygen to work for an extended period of time. When we exercise, a lot of our blood flow is directed to our muscles from our organs to keep them working and oxygenated.
The human body has around 650 muscles depending how you group and count them. Some muscles are not always present like the Palmaris longus and others are gender specific (uterine muscles etc).
How do muscles grow?
When we exercise our muscles don’t multiply, even though it might seem like extreme bodybuilders have muscles where nobody else has. What happens is that muscle cells will grow larger, a phenomenon called hypertrophy and which is the basis of bodybuilding. By using the right diet and doing strength improving exercises one can cause muscle hypertrophy to happen, in other words one becomes more muscular. The muscle cells prepare to burn more energy so they create more ribosomes, which are like small factories within the cell. It is being argued that muscle can only go through hypertrophy to some extend and after that hyperplasia happens. Hyperplasia means that the muscle cells divide and create more cells.
If you stop exercising or are forced into a prolonged rest, like when breaking a leg, muscle cells grow smaller and even get “eaten” up by the body because it deems the extra calories burned by that muscle a waste of energy. When we grow older we lose some muscle because we don’t have that many hormones keeping the up and we stop exercising as much due to ailments of old age. To some extend, this atrophy of the muscle can be avoided with correct physiotherapy and medium intensity workouts tailored to a person’s age and abilities.
Why do we want more muscle, really?
Some of the obvious and less obvious benefits of growing your lean tissue are:
- A more muscular person has a higher metabolic rate. This means you can eat more calories for your height and body type. People who want to become lean and stay that way should add more muscle to their bodies so that they don’t need to eat too little.
- Muscle moves us around. The stronger, more flexible and enduring the muscle is the better we move and lift things. When you are muscular some movements are much easier to do than when you are not.
- Muscle protects our bodies. A punch into a washboard tummy won’t hurt as much as a punch into a soft one. Bones are less likely to break if they are covered with healthy muscle. Even small muscles like those in our hands can improve our lives if they are trained.
- Muscle is another way, besides fat, to add some curves to our bodies. With the exception of female breasts all other curves look better when they are made of muscle and not fat. Imagine the tight bottom of a dancer in comparison with a soft, flabby one. Also, it is healthier to stay curvy through muscle and not fat. A balance is needed of course as some body fat is mandatory for a healthy and beautiful body.