Originally published on the Well Empowered Blog
Have you ever taken a moment to contemplate what it is, how it works and how it benefits you and your commitment to thrive – in health and in life? Today I invite you to be “wow’d” by the many marvels of this most spectacular tissue.
WHAT IS MUSCLE?
When we talk about muscle in conversation, we are really referring to “skeletal muscle”.
Skeletal muscles are the muscles that make movement possible. They are voluntary muscles. You control how and when they work.
I instruct you to pick up a cup, and you do so. You use/contract many muscles in the process. Your biceps go to work as do the muscles in your hand and forearm. Even muscles in your shoulder and supporting your spine will go to work, providing stability to perform this simple movement we commonly take for granted.
Skeletal muscles are one of three types of muscles.
Most of the muscles in your body are skeletal muscles.
The other two types of muscle are:
cardiac muscles (the muscles that make your heart contract)
smooth muscles (the muscles that control your digestive tract, your blood vessels, etc.)
Cardiac muscles and smooth muscles are both involuntary muscles. Whereas you control how and when your skeletal muscles work, you are not in direct control of your cardiac and smooth muscles.
Without moving, make your heart beat 20% faster or 20% slower. Can you do it? If so, teach me how! The same is true for your smooth muscles. We are unable to intentionally contract the muscles in our small intestines, colon, etc.
SKELETAL MUSCLE FUN FACTS
You have roughly 650 skeletal muscles
30-40% of your body is made up of skeletal muscles
Skeletal muscles, in collaboration with your nervous system, make every movement you make possible
YOUR MUSCLE, THE SCALE + THE MIRROR
Muscle, your metabolic money-maker:
Skeletal muscles are metabolically expensive tissues. That is – they use up a lot of calories, even when you are at rest. It is estimated that a pound of muscle requires two to five times the amount of calories a pound of fat requires to sustain itself. Simply put: when you add more muscle to your body, you burn more calories while you sleep.
If you are committed to losing weight or maintaining weight loss, the high caloric demands of muscle make it your best friend!
Muscle + The Mirror:
Additionally, building our muscles is our only access to shaping our body. You cannot make your legs grow longer, but you can affect the shape of your body through adding muscle.
And if you’d like to seeee those muscles?
That is where nutrition comes in. People who look bulkier rather than lean and well defined – that is given by excess adipose tissue (ie “fat”) covering their muscles.
WHY MEANINGFUL STRENGTH TRAINING?
Building and preserving muscle requires regular, meaningful strength training. It is through meaningful strength training we send a very clear message to your body:
“Build and keep these muscles big and strong OR perish.”
Without such a message, your body has no good reason to use its precious resources (calories and protein) to build or preserve muscle.
Let me explain…
Your body is engineered to prioritize survival. Your genes have not yet caught up to our modern-day living where a Dunkin Donuts is down the street and a grocery store exists on every corner. Instead, your body is built to survive a famine/food scarcity. The reason for this is straightforward:
No food + high caloric demands = death.
In a time of recurring food scarcity – something we can imagine our ancestors were quite familiar with – your body would be very wise to get rid of any tissue that was using up lots of its precious calories.
Your body still employs this life-preserving approach today.
When you reduce your caloric intake without engaging in meaningful strength training, you lose both fat and muscle. This is because your body relates to a decrease in calories like a famine. Your body will begin to unload this metabolically expensive tissue, “thinking” (biologically speaking) that your life is at stake if it doesn’t do so.
And remember, muscle helps you burn more calories while you sleep. Not only do you want to hold on to every last ounce of muscle you can, you want more of this metabolism magic!
WHAT IS MEANINGFUL STRENGTH TRAINING?
Meaningful strength training is weight lifting performed at a perceived challenge of 7/10 or greater. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being picking up that cup on your desk and 10 the greatest strength challenge of your life, meaningful strength training registers above average to high on this perceived challenge spectrum.
SAFETY, EFFECTIVENESS + EFFICIENCY
It goes without saying that getting injured while exercising is counter productive. We want our strength training to enhance our health, not cause harm to our body. This is why it is important to ensure you know how to properly lift weights. This is also one of many reasons I am an advocate for slow strength training.
Slow strength training removes momentum, and momentum is commonly at the source of injury.
Also, by moving slowly, your body is forced to use muscle to move the weight – rather than momentum. This is good, because that’s what you’re trying to do: use/stimulate your muscles so that they get stronger.
And by moving slowly and engaging your muscles safely and effectively, you will be infinitely more efficient in your workouts. Muscles will be meaningfully challenged in less time, producing the outcomes you seek in as little as one to two 30 minute strength training sessions per week.
HOW TO PERFORM MEANINGFUL STRENGTH TRAINING
Take a full 5 seconds to lift the weight and a full 5 seconds to lower the weight.
Work with a weight/level of challenge that has you “feel the burn” by the 8th repetition.
Focus on form! Remember, if you compromise your form, you are putting yourself at greater risk of injury. There are many online resources to answer your questions on proper form.
Breath while you are lifting weights! If you are holding your breath, you are likely compromising your form.
Consider working with an expert – if only for a few sessions. In Chicagoland*, my trusted resources include
I hope your newfound understanding of muscle has left you in awe of your spectacular body and inspired to take the next steps to preserve your muscle – safely!
*If you live outside of the Chicagoland area and would like recommendations for your neck of the woods, please feel free to email us at [email protected], and we’ll do our best to locate a quality option in your area.
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