Friday, March 28, 2014

The Benefits of Muscle

There are 3 types of muscle, 1) cardiac 2) smooth and 3) skeletal muscle. Cardiac muscle is the involuntary striated muscle found in the heart. Smooth muscle is also involuntary and is found in the digestive, circulatory, reproductive, and respiratory systems. Skeletal muscle is the voluntary contractile tissue that helps us move and is typically the kind that people think about when they hear the word "muscle".

Despite being the attention hog of the three muscle types, the majority of skeletal muscles are unknown to most people. There are well over 600 muscles in the human body, but most people only end up learning the names of the large muscles, like deltoids, triceps, pectoralis major, gluteus maximus, etc. Only an orthopedic surgeon or a serious anatomy student would be familiar with the lesser known muscles like the extensor carpi ulnaris or flexor digitorum brevis.

Developing muscles is beneficial for the following 3 reasons:

1) Metabolism-Resistance training can help you burn more calories. Muscle cells utilize more energy than fat. This means a person with a higher amount of muscle mass will burn more calories at rest than someone with a greater fat mass.

2) Strength- Increasing strength and stamina is important for sports and exercising, but even more helpful for the everyday activities and tasks we do on a regular basis. Luckily we are able to overload our muscles and make them stronger when we are involved in a resistance training program.

3) Appearance- Muscle tissue is more compact than fat. The picture below compares the size of 5 pounds of fat with 5 pounds of muscle. Some people panic when they begin an exercise program and start to gain weight. Who cares if you are slightly heavier on the scale if you are losing inches, your clothes fit better, and your appearance has improved? I frequently hear women express their reluctance or fear of lifting weights because they don't want to look like a male body builder. That will never happen unless you are working out for several hours every day and taking steroids.

For those who might be worried about gaining muscle, I suggest you look at the photo below which I recently came across which illustrates this principle. Would you rather weigh five pounds less and have a higher body fat percentage or weigh a little more due to increased lean body mass and have a more toned and trim physique? I think this is an important reminder that body fat percentage is a much more important thing to focus on as opposed to a mere number on the scale.

There are many benefits of resistance training. Increased strength, hypertrophy, and a better appearance are just a few of them. If you are not currently involved in a weight training program I encourage you to start (after getting the OK from your physician.) It just wouldn't be America if you didn't have to say that after everything.

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