What is muscle? How do they work? How do they get bigger?

Yes, everyone knows what a muscle is… in the sense that we all have them and we need them to move around…. BUT have you ever actually wondered what muscles actually are and how they work?

A lot of us probably take our muscles a little for granted. They are literally our ‘engine’. Our ideas and thoughts manifest in the brain but in order to convert those ideas into action we need muscles. Feel like smiling? For that you need all your facial muscles. Type a text message? You need the muscles in your fingers and arms. Want to dance around in your underwear? You need almost every muscle in your body to do that.

Clinically speaking ‘muscle’ is a bundle of fibrous tissue in a human (or animal) body that has the ability to contract, to produce movement within the body. Most people think biceps or triceps when they think of muscles, these are examples of ‘skeletal muscle’. Skeletal muscles are not the only types of muscles we have. In fact there are 3 types. Did you know that the heart is actually a muscle? Cardiac muscle is found only in the heart. The third type is smooth muscle which is found in our organs such as stomach, intestines and bladder.

For the purpose of this blog we are going to focus on SKELETAL muscle. That’s what we (as physios) treat, and also what many of us flog ourselves in the gym to tone & sculpt. Skeletal muscles attach to the skeleton (bones) and bring about movement of our limbs. Contraction of these muscles is almost always voluntary meaning that you think about using them. The exception is cramps or muscle spasm!

We have two types of skeletal muscle: Type I fibres or ‘slow twitch’ fibres: Known as red muscle, these muscles can contract for a long period of time but with little force. They carry more oxygen so are used for aerobic activity. Type II fibres of ‘fast twitch’ fibres: Known as white muscle, these fibres contract very rapidly & with greater force but fatigue quickly. They are used for short anaerobic bursts of activity.

To make our muscles move (or contract) we need electrical impulses which travel from the brain via our nervous system. There are a series of complicated processes involving ions & so on but I think that’s getting a little too technical.

HOW DO WE BUILD MUSCLE?
Putting aside natural growth progressions our muscles get bigger as a result of stresses put through the body during exercise. When the amount of stress is greater than what your muscles are used too there will be an increase in muscle tension which in turn causes changes down at a biochemical level. This progressive stress also causes muscle ‘damage’ which is the reason why we get sore the day after a hard workout.
TheUpper Pecs_0 body then works to repair this ‘damage’ by forming new muscle strands. The increase in number and thickness of muscle fibres results in muscle hypertrophy or growth. It is important to note that this process of growth occurs during rest not while you are actually lifting weights!With this in mind it’s only goes to say that rest & nutrition are both vital to the recipe for building bigger muscles. Your muscles need protein for recovery & repair but also need carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores following a workout. Poor nutrition is one of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to build muscle mass.

Finally there is the effect of hormones. Testosterone increases protein synthesis, inhibits protein breakdown & stimulates other anabolic hormones. Strength & resistance training releases testosterone into the body which can then increase levels of growth hormone both of which contribute to tissue growth.

Keep in mind there are certain factors such as genetics, age & gender than can impact on how much your muscles can grow, which is why females don’t have as much muscle mass as their male counterparts. Muscle growth takes time with visible changes taking at least 4 weeks to come about. To stimulate growth you need to place stresses on your body that it’s not adapted to through heavy weights & mixing up your exercise program. This induces muscle damage and will stimulate the ‘rebuilding’ process which contributes to overall muscle bulk.

As we age, our muscle mass naturally decreases (along with other things such as bone density etc) watch out for upcoming blogs on why it’s so important to maintain adequate levels of both these things!!

Have a great week!

Em

Bad moods & breakouts. Are your hormones responsible?

Hormones are wonderful things…. Most of the time. They pretty much keep us ‘regular’. They regulate our menstrual cycle, control our thyroid function & regulate sleep. They dictate our sex drive, mood, what we look like, our digestion & our emotions. It would then make perfect sense that when we feel out of ‘sync’, hormones are the first thing we blame.

Can we really put our bad moods and breakouts down to the happiness of our hormones?

Unfortunately YES we can. I had a ‘hormone’ week this week. I was tired; apparently a little more irritable than usual which in hindsight is probably spot on; & I had what I call a’ best friend day’ where all I wanted was to do was call my girlfriend and cry.

When we are feeling at our best our hormone levels are pretty well balanced BUT beware the roller coaster of emotions when things are not quite right.

hormones

Everyone thinks it’s a girl thing…. when was the last time you heard a group of boys whinging about how they are feeling emotional because their hormones levels are out of whack?

How are hormones regulated? The production of hormones in the body is almost always regulated by a delicate set of feedback relationships. Most of them are negative feedback loops where the amount of a substance in a system regulates its own concentration. When concentration of a hormone rises to above desired levels, a series of steps is taken to lower the concentration. On the flip side if the concentration falls, steps will be taken to increase it.

1. OESTROGEN & PROGESTERONE

Ah the seesaw of female reproductive hormones, and what an intricate relationship it must be. Oestrogen builds up the lining of the uterus during the initial 14 days of your cycle, progesterone then kicks in from days 14-28, & when progesterone begins to drop we get a period. When the balance is disrupted we say hello to reduced libido, severe PMS (the rise of the Grinch), issues with weight control, fatigue & a variety of reproductive issues.

What can be done? Maintain a balanced diet & control your weight. Excess body fat will store oestrogen while if you are too thin you won’t produce enough; both scenarios signal the body to hold onto extra kilos particularly around the waist, thighs & arms.

2. TESTOSTERONE

We need testosterone it to pump up our sexual desires, muscle & metabolism. Females only produce 10% of the testosterone of males BUT this small amount is critical! Too little and you will be a little on the disinterested side…. Too much and you may become prone to facial hair & acne.

What can be done? Ensure you get enough shut eye and have a little fun in the sun. Both of these have been linked to helping regulate testosterone levels.

3. CORTISOL

The ‘stress hormone’. It raises your heartbeat & unleashes energy stores. All good things when experienced at the right time like for the morning rush to help us wake up and give us energy throughout the day. Problems arise when this system stays ramped up ALL THE TIME, you become constantly wired & you can begin to suffer sleep disturbances & feel generally worn down. Ladies high levels of cortisol also stimulates storage of unwanted kilos on your love handles… which is not where we want it right?

What can be done? CHILLLLLLLL out a little more. Take things in your stride and go with the flow. Learn to recognise when you are more stressed that usual & take positive steps to change it such as mediation, deep breathing exercises or regular physical activity. Stimulants such as caffeine may not be the drink of choice if you are a bit of a stress head.

4.THYROID HORMONE

Healthy skin, hair & nails? Apparently all we need to do is keep our thyroids happy. Chronic stress, nutritional deficiencies and inflammation can leave this hormone out of whack. Too much and you may notice weight loss, absent periods & mood swings. Too little and you may notice your hair becomes brittle & you begin to feel sluggish, tired & gain weight.

What can be done? If you smoke… quit. Be wary of some nasty chemicals that lurk in things like re-usable plastic coffee cups & high levels of heavy metals found in some farmed fish as these can both disrupt thyroid function. Ensure a balanced diet with lots & lots of vegetables. They are packed full of vitamins & minerals that your thyroid craves. You may consider taking a multivitamin supplement to increase your vitamin C, E & B complex vitamins.

5. OXYTOCIN- The LOVE hormone

Ever wonder why ‘hugging it out’ actually makes you feel instantly better.  Human ‘touch’ whether it be by a friend or a lover triggers the release of oxytocin. High levels of this amazing hormone will lower blood pressure, increase your sex drive & lower stress…. (Ummmm where can I get more of this…?!?!)

What can be done? MORE HUGS. Cuddle your partner every day! Hug it out with friends whenever you can. The best solution? Have regular sex… Oxytocin levels skyrocket after orgasm… well hey if it’s good for your health why not!

The scary part about all this is that I have only touched on the mere basics of just how much control hormones have over who we are & how we feel.

Hormones really are wonderful things when they work well…. But as we can see it’s a very delicate balance and with so many chemical reactions going on simultaneously it’s no wonder they occasionally slip up and we are left feeling down in the dumps, lethargic and reaching for an extra cream bun!

If you think your hormones all over the place, visit your medical practitioner whether it be your GP or naturopath. Have some tests done. Some people have no idea how good their bodies are designed to feel, but we all deserve to find out!

Want to know hormones control your hunger & your happiness? Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog next week!