How do our muscles get strong

Muscles: what makes us strong

The best training for rapid strength building

It seems downright brutal what the participants in a study at the German Sport University in Cologne have to take on: First, they should strain their muscles on training equipment until they are exhausted. Three quarters of an hour later, the subjects are asked to sit on a couch so that researchers can disinfect one of their thighs on the side and numb it with a painkiller. The scientists then use a scalpel to cut through the skin to a length of about half a centimeter and insert a hollow needle the thickness of a ballpoint pen into the exposed muscle. With the help of the needle, the experts finally remove a piece of the tissue - its volume roughly corresponds to the size of the cotton wool head on an ear swab. The sample is necessary so that the Cologne scientists can find out which highly complex molecular processes take place inside a muscle after strength training. Because although biologists have been researching organs for more than 100 years, no one has yet known in detail the biochemical processes that are triggered when a muscle is stressed during training - and then begins to change its structure, thus building more mass and strength . The scientists are convinced that if it is possible to really understand what is happening, new, more effective training and rehabilitation methods can be developed. Athletes might then be able to plan their strength training in such a way that less effort causes greater muscle growth than before.

With the help of the study, the Cologne researchers want to get closer to this goal. The test participants hardly suffer any damage as a result of the intervention. Because the 100 to 150 milligrams of tissue that they are now missing make up less than a ten-thousandth of the mass of the thigh muscle. With a weight of around four kilos, it is one of the body's greatest powerhouses (all muscles make up up to 50 percent of a person's mass) - and is used in particular to straighten the knee. Above all, however, the muscle can quickly compensate for the loss of tissue and produce new substance. Because the organs of movement are true masters in building up mass. They have to constantly adapt their strength and endurance to the requirements of the body.

At a glance

  • Muscle mass

  • The bundles of strength make up
  • 50 percent of our weight and consist of one
  • certain proportion of red and white muscle fibers.
  • endurance

  • Red fibers contain one
  • special, red molecule,
  • that they with oxygen
  • provided. You work sluggishly,
  • but persistent.
  • speed

  • White fibers can also gain energy without oxygen and quickly develop high levels of power. But only for a short time.
  • training

  • We invest in sports
  • Muscle mass increases because fibers are exposed to high stress
  • thicken over time.

Even in the early days of mankind, around 1.9 million years ago, this ability contributed to the enormous success of the homo genus. An anatomically sophisticated, muscular build made her the perfect endurance runner who was superior to many animals. Some people can even keep up with a horse: in a race between runners and horses that has been held annually since 1980 and covers a distance of more than 35 kilometers, human athletes have already been the first to cross the finish line twice. It is no coincidence that muscles are the epitome of movement and strength. Capable of accelerating a sprinter's body to nearly 45 km / h, they allow a weightlifter to lift more than 200 pounds of iron - almost three times their own weight. But muscles are not only amazingly fast and strong, they can also last a long time. The German triathlete Jan Frodeno won the Ironman competition in Hawaii in 2015, arguably the toughest competition in the world, after swimming 3.86 kilometers, then cycling 180.2 kilometers and finally running a marathon (42.2 kilometers) - and all of this without a break in exactly eight hours, 14 minutes and 40 seconds.

By far not every muscle that works in our body is used for locomotion. In addition to the more than 600 skeletal muscles, there are many other powerhouses that act without our conscious command - we don't even notice them. The muscles of the hair roots, for example, are downright tiny; they straighten up the body hair, give us goose bumps in the cold or make our hair stand on end in moments of shock. All of the blood vessels in our body are enveloped by the finest muscles, which widen or narrow the veins and thus have an impact on blood pressure. Many internal organs are also equipped with muscles, including the esophagus, stomach, intestines and bladder, as well as the trachea and bronchi. The diaphragm muscle helps us breathe, and the sphincter muscles in the colon and urethra ensure that food residues or fluids can only leave the body in a controlled manner. There is even an organ that is made almost entirely of muscle mass: the heart. This pump, about the size of a fist, constantly transports blood through our body, it must never tire and not rest for a minute. The hollow muscular organ strikes around three billion times in the course of an 80-year life, transporting around 200 million liters of our lifeblood. As different as the individual muscle types are, the principle by which they function is largely the same for all of them - and has proven itself over millions of years of evolution.

You can find the whole article in

GEOkompakt No. 46 "Sport".

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