Strengthening Muscle

By Becca Smithers

What are muscles?

There are three types of muscle in the human body: smooth, cardiac, and skeletal. This blog will focus on skeletal muscle, to find out more about smooth and cardiac muscle, read Zoë‘s blog here.

Skeletal Muscle. CC-BY-SA Ton Haex

Skeletal Muscle. CC-BY-SA Ton Haex

Skeletal muscles are what make us move. They make us smile and frown, run, and even blink! Muscles are attached to our bones, they contract and relax and pull our bones in different directions making our bodies move. Different proteins in our muscles bind together to make a muscle contract. The most common proteins in muscles are called actin and myosin. Actin binds to myosin when the muscle contracts and this shortens the sections of muscles, called sarcomeres, that are connected and make up the full length of the muscles. Each sarcomere is shortened when actin and myosin bind, and this shortens the muscle making it contract.

Bicep and tricep muscles work together. As the bicep contracts, the tricep extends and vice versa. CC-BY-SA Wikimedia.

Bicep and tricep muscles work together. As the bicep contracts, the tricep extends and vice versa. CC-BY-SA Wikimedia.

Muscles often work in pairs to move big joints. They are antagonistic muscles. For example, the top half of your arm from your shoulder to your elbow has a muscle on the top side called the bicep, and a muscle underneath called the tricep. If you make the classic “showing off my muscles” pose where you bend your elbow, you will see your bicep standing out. Your bicep muscle contracted when you bent your arm, and your tricep relaxed to allow your arm to bend. If you straighten your arm, your bicep will relax and your tricep will contract. Muscles behave like elastic bands.

Why might you want to strengthen muscle?

A lot of people build muscles to get stronger. Some do this to the extent of becoming body builders, others just through the enjoyment of sport. Building muscle can also be an important part of recovery from an injury such as a dislocated joint, or after an operation. When you don’t use a certain muscle group for a while because it has been injured, those muscles can break down and become weaker. Building muscles can make you stronger and more agile so can help a lot in sporting success.

Specialists such as physiotherapists advise people on how to strengthen muscles after an injury or operation. They will assess the patient and offer advice and instruct them in exercises that can be used to strengthen certain muscle groups. Muscles are attached to bones so strong muscles can support joints and other parts of the skeleton. For people who wish to build the strength of their muscles for fitness gains, they may consult a personal trainer who can tailor an exercise programme to the individual with goals to safely work towards.

How do muscles get stronger?

plank-1327256_1280When you exercise you are using a lot of different muscles. If you exercise at a level where you are pushing yourself and finding it a bit difficult, you are at a level where muscle can be strengthened. During exercise, muscles can be slightly damaged and stressed, and this is the point where they will grow stronger because they build up to repair themselves. It is important to have rest days between exercises where you are strengthening muscle to give your body time to repair the muscle and let it get stronger. A lot of injuries happen when people overdo the exercise and can really do some harm to the muscles.

Muscles are made up of lots of muscle fibres which are formed by lots of strands of protein bound together. Eating protein is very important for healing muscles and building them up. When you digest proteins they are broken down into amino acids which are the building blocks of proteins. Your body can then use these amino acids to build up the correct protein needed to repair the muscles and make them stronger.

Remember to give your body time to rest and recover after intensive exercise. Your body is naturally very good at repairing and strengthening muscles. Do not over exert yourself or you may end up with an injury.

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Posted in Biology, Exploring Science