Muscular Strength: A brief overview
Published: January 09, 2015
Strong muscles can provide you with good posture, and strong tendons, ligaments and bones which can decrease your risk of falls and injury. Strong muscles also make your movements easier which leads to easier performance of work and recreational activities.
Muscular strength is the amount of force a muscle can produce and is one component of physical fitness, along with cardiovascular fitness, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition. The amount of muscle strength you can achieve depends on your gender, age, and inherited physical attributes.
While strong muscles are essential if you are involved in any athletic endeavour, strong muscles can benefit everyone in some way.
Skeletal muscle is composed of slow, intermediate and fast twitch muscle fibres. Muscular strength utilises fast twitch muscle fibres which primarily use anaerobic metabolism. One limitation to gaining strength is your genetic fast/slow twitch fibre profile which differs between people.
Activities which utilise fast twitch fibres are often explosive such as weight lifting, sprinting and jumping.
You don't have to be an athlete to develop strong muscles. Everybody can increase their muscular strength when appropriate physical activities are undertaken. Developing strength does not necessarily lead to muscle hypertrophy or increased muscle bulk. How much muscle you develop and the amount of hypertrophy that occurs depend on your strength training program.
The "overload" principle
To improve your muscular strength the work or force that your muscle is exposed to must be greater than normal. To develop strength in a muscle the "overload principle" is usually applied in the form of resistance. The resistance that is applied can be your own body weight, or some form of weight training or resistance training equipment.
Overload is usually produced by a combination of the amount of weight or resistance that is applied to the muscle and the number of repetitions of the movement you perform. The speed at which you perform a strength resistance exercise also influences strength development. A typical beginner's resistance training protocol to strengthen your legs could be:
- Standing squat
- Resistance: depending on experience no additional resistance, hand held weights, or barbell
- 8-10 repetitions
- 2- 3 sets short rest in between sets
Types of resistance training
Weight training or calisthenics are the most common method for strength training. Strength training can be performed 2-4 times a week depending on your goals. If you are a beginner twice a week may best suit your requirements.
Make sure you warm up before your muscular strength activities and finish with stretching exercises. You should always allow for one day's rest between strength training sessions.
If you are new to strength training it can be beneficial to obtain the services of a personal trainer who will be able to advise you and provide you with a strength training program that will suit your requirements.
There are many books available on the subject of strength training, but it is important to execute the exercises with the correct "form" if they are to be effective. A personal trainer will ensure that you are performing the exercises effectively.
Nurturing your body
To synthesise new muscle and bone you need to provide your body with adequate nourishment in the form of a balanced diet. Contrary to popular belief you do not need to consume large amounts of protein to develop strength in your muscles.
Corbin, C.B. & Lindsey, R. (1994). Concepts of Physical Fitness. Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown Communications Inc.
CSEP (2003).The Canadian Physical Activity, Fitness & Appraisal. Health Canada