What are you trying to do when you strength train? Get stronger, of course! Many of us imagine our muscles growing, our bodies becoming more defined, and becoming able to leap over tall buildings.
All these things can happen (except for the tall buildings part). But how does it work? Can understanding how you get stronger give you better results? The answer is YES, but why?
Have you ever heard that when you train one arm exclusively, the other arm also gets stronger? It’s true. Many studies have been done around this, primarily because of the implications for working with stroke victims. The usual finding is that when strengthening one arm, the other arm gets just shy of 8% stronger.
Other than potentially helping someone who has had a stroke, why is this important?
It shows that there is a muscle/brain connection. This connection has ramifications. It means that when you strength train, your muscles change, and so does your nervous system.
Makes sense, really. In addition to the above scenario, it’s been known for a long time that when you first start to strength train, your nervous system gives you most of the improvements in the first six weeks or so. It takes that long for the cellular structure of your muscles to start to regroup in response to the challenge of lifting heavier weights than usual.
In the meantime, your nervous system steps up to the plate and quickly learns how to fire up to adjust to the new demands. Clearly, this is not a miraculous change, giving you amazing results in just 6 weeks, but it does start the ball rolling. It is also why you will not see much change in the way your muscles look unless you keep going past 6 weeks.
Why else is this good to know?
When you think about it (pun), using your brain to help you with your training makes a lot of sense. Athletes use sport psychologists to help them focus on their tasks. Studies show that booting up your attention prior to some activity can enhance your performance. Visualization, focus, and mental practice can all positively effect what happens next.
Here’s what that all means for those of us who are working on maintaining our muscle strength or trying to increase it.
Whatever you do along these lines, staying focused on the task and even imagining what your muscles are doing as they work can have a big effect on the results you get. It means your brain, your nerves, and your muscles are all getting together to make you stronger.
To put it another way, let’s say you just blow through a workout to get it off the “to do” list OR you are even mindlessly lifting weights while you are doing something else (like watching your favorite sit-com). You may be getting some benefits, but adding in concentration, focus, and attention to detail will make your efforts more worthwhile.
© 2020 Kristen Carter, MS. All rights reserved.