Ever since I started to become interested in Soft Tissue Therapy, the thing that has amazed me the most is how the body is able to adapt when a stimulus is applied. Of course, if too much stimulus is applied the body may break instead (ie. pain due to bad posture), so it’s a fine line sometimes.
There are many books on how to build strength, with various routines on how to optimise strength gains, so I’m not going to repeat them. Instead I’ll give the very basics on how muscles become strong. Although there is a correlation between muscle size and strength you do not necessarily need big muscles to be strong. Also, everyone is different with variables which influence strength, such as muscle type, nutrition, hormones and many others.
The muscle adapts in two ways. Firstly, it adapts neurologically and secondly the muscle itself increases in size. Of these, the neurological adaptations are by far the most important, especially in the earlier stages of gaining strength. This is because the body is working out the best way to do the movement. If a movement (exercise) is done enough the body increases neurological recruitment of muscle fibres , increases the speed of neurological signal, gains better intra-muscular coordination, gains better inter-muscular coordination, better antagonist inhibition, and better motor learning. All leading to increased strength. As the potential neurological adaptations become fewer so the muscles start to increase in size. It should be emphasised that it is not easy to gain significant amounts of muscle, so if you’re worried about gaining too much muscle, don’t be.
I see strength as a skill. The more you do a movement, the better you will get at it and the stronger you will become at that movement (kind of like learning to juggle ). As you become stronger the more intensity you can sustain and so you become stronger, and so on.
There is one big caveat and that is for these improvements to occur the body must be given the right conditions to adapt. This means rest and proper nutrition. You don’t gain strength while you’re doing the movement, but after when the body has a chance to adapt. Remember also, that tendons and ligaments take longer to adapt than muscle, so don’t be in too much of a rush. Take your time but be consistent.
There are many benefits of getting strength not least of which is less injury and increased bone density. But that’s a title for another blog.
So there you have it. My take on gaining strength. There’s plenty of different ways to do it, from lifting weights in a gym to calisthenics in your own garden. Take your choice.