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04 Tue

Developing strength involves more than just muscles

Developing strength involves more than just muscles

Written by: Paul Kochoa, PT, DPT, OCS, CKTP, CGFI

Muscular development is not just about the muscles, it’s also about movement development.  Barring any major physical or neurological problems, we grow up moving the same way.  We learn early how to roll, how to stand up from a chair, how to walk, and how to pick things off the ground.  Our brain, nerves, and muscles learned how to work together.  We used to move without pain, easily and smoothly.  But things change when we get older.

As we age, our tissues become less and less flexible, we may lose some muscle mass, and we basically retrain our movement patterns.  Our nervous system and muscles change how they work as well.  But perhaps we go to the gym and lift weights, but developing strength is more than just developing muscle.

Your brain tells a muscle to contract while it gets feedback from other receptors telling it where the limb is in space and how much force is needed to lift the object or do a movement.  There’s this feedback loop that keeps your from lifting a small cup of coffee with too much force that it sends it spilling all over the table and yourself.  There’s a neurological component to strength and movement that plays a big role in recovering from an injury or decreasing pain.

Generally, you come see a physiotherapist because something’s bothering you. We do an evaluation and find a component of your body that needs strengthening.  You get some exercises to do, and you find that after a while, the body part that was weak, feels stronger.  If you and your physiotherapist are doing everything right, then this usually takes place in a week or two.  But did you notice your muscle get bigger?  No, probably not.  Initially, it’s not the muscle that gets stronger but the body’s nervous system getting stronger.

The true difference in gaining strength with movement is the ability for the brain and nerves to work more.  Initial strength gains and improvements with movement are a result of the brain and nervous system working more efficiently.  It’s all a function of the brain and motor units in the muscles.  The brain sends signals out that travel down a nerve to a muscle motor unit to contract.  If that nerve can communicate with more motor units or your muscle is better at “listening” for those signals, you can generate more strength. Increases in motor unit recruitment is the key to gaining strength in weak muscle tissue.

Improving strength and movement takes more than just lifting a weight.  There’s so much more to getting stronger than just that. Integration of the nervous system, coordination, motor learning are other factors of getting stronger.  Learning how to move stronger and efficiently is another component, and the brain and nervous system plays a big part of that.

If you would like more information, please call Professional Physical Therapy and Training at 973-270-7417.  Our offices are located within the YMCA locations in Madison and Summit, NJ.  You do not need to be a member of the YMCA to visit with us.

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