The physiological changes that occur in the body when partaking in a bodybuilding regime fascinate me. I’ve studied it at length, and I love hearing different opinions and trains of thought when it comes to almost every aspect from muscle growth to muscle loss and everything else you can possibly imagine.
It’s a given we associate ‘big muscles’ with strength. In fact, I think it goes deeper than simply nurture, i.e. being told big is strong, etc. I think to an extent it’s almost sheer natural instinct.
But what makes a guy who’s big and well-muscled stronger than the next guy? And why are some guys who are smaller, sometimes stronger than guys who are bigger?
First let’s look at the most obvious and common explanation: When a person lifts weights, their muscles are torn down…and, in a bid to not have the muscles torn down next time during the same activity, the body builds the muscles bigger – but since you increase you weight or reps or intensity, the muscles continue to grow in an attempt to adapt.
The theory on growth from weight lifting, thus strength increase, comes down to two: hyperplasia and hypertrophy. Hyperplasia is when muscle fibres actually multiply, so there are more of them, and inevitably giving the muscle a bigger appearance. Hypertrophy is when muscle fibres grow in size, thus gain strength; also giving the outward appearance of bigger muscles.
Now, both of the aforementioned would definitely result in increased muscle strength. It’s common sense. But, there is another theory which I firmly believe to be true, which doesn’t necessary require increased size for increased strength, and I call it muscle control.
The thinking is, at any one time you can only recruit so many muscle fibres to perform a lift. This can happen because you simply haven’t developed the nervous pathways in your muscles in order to give them the power to contract optimally, thus generating maximal force. By building up muscle control (by flexing regularly, and squeezing your muscles at the top of each rep) you build these pathways and increase blood flow, thus building strength.