Muscle Details – Factors That Could Be Holding Back Your Training and Your Ideal Physique
Like many others, you train hard and are making some progress, but would you like it to be quicker. There are others who seem to be getting superior results. Or, possibly your results are at the upper echelon but you wonder if they could be even better?
It comes down to whether you are loading your muscles and all of their constituent performance elements, to an optimized level where they become stressed to the point of having to adapt.
For decades now, in various books, magazines, and seminars, the common mantra is that you should train according to your genetics.
However, the guidelines for this are very simplified and “generic”. They also do not address the complete picture. The most common classifications are the three main somatotypes; ectomorph (rather slim or skinny), endomorph (stocky or thick-set), and mesomorph (the “perfect” build with small hips, wide shoulders, and long muscle bellies that respond well to training)
These classifications are however, very broad and over-simplified. And so are the assumptions on how training should be structured. It is not that simple.
To better understand how muscles are likely to be stimulated and adaptive response is optimized, we need to consider all the factors that contribute to a muscle’s performance, size, and shape.
There are many such elements and they all play significant roles so from here on, we will not focus simply on muscles, but instead, the entire “muscle-system”.
Part of the problem to date is that only the muscles have been the focus of discussion and theories.
Delving into the muscle-system, the most notable element is one that has been discussed frequently – it is in fact based on a more detailed view of the muscle itself;- The muscle fibers can be classified into Slow-twitch (type 1) and Fast-twitch (type 2). It is also recognized that type 2 can be broken into type 2a. (“fast oxidative”, or “intermediate fast twitch”) and type 2b. (“Pure fast twitch” or “fast glycolytic”).
The general understandings of these fiber types are that type 1 work through an aerobic cycle, utilizing oxygen at a high rate and whilst being lower in power output, they can maintain activity for a long time. Type 2a. are considered as intermediate or a hybrid of FT and ST, utilizing both aerobic and anaerobic energy cycles, giving them the ability of high power output with some sustainability, but not with the same endurance as type 1. Type 2b. work solely from the anaerobic energy cycle and produce considerable power output but only in short bursts before they fatigue because the energy production cannot keep up with the demands.
However, all of this does not matter too much, as we shall soon see. In a similar way that knowing how much cacao will be put in a cake-mix will not tell you what the cake will taste like until you know the other ingredients and the ratios and the amount of cacao in relation to those ingredients! More on that later once we cover some more important elements of the muscle system.
A muscle system also, in relation to its size and performance, consists of the following key elements;
We will ignore, for now, the protective layers such as the layer of connective muscle tissue known as the Epimysium and Perimysium and we will go straight down to the Fasciculi which contain the muscle fibers.
As we get down more to the business end, we find the Sarcolemma (cell membrane) and Sarcoplasm, (cytoplasm – a thick fluid which contains Glycogen, Fats and Mitochondria)
The muscle fibers themselves contain Myofibrils – bundles of Actin and Myosin proteins that cause the muscle contractions. The Myofibrils are surrounded by the Sarcoplasmic Reticulum which holds more nutrients for contraction, primarily calcium.
Overall, looking into these primary building blocks of a muscle system and what they contain to get the muscle to function, we can summarize the key elements as:
- Muscle composition – myofibrils – ratio of fiber types
- Sarcoplasmic reticulum
- ATP stores
- Creatine Water stores
- Glycogen stores
- Capilliaries – oxygen delivery and lactic acid removal
- Neurological activation
- Contraction activators, calcium, sodium, potassium
- Limb length hence leverage and total work done
- Tendon attachment sites, hence leverage and work done
What is also important however, rather than simply the size or quantity of these elements, is also how they synergistically work together. Hence the oxygen exchange efficiency will be more important than just the capillary numbers themselves – similarly, the efficiency of the ATP conversion to energy could not be estimated simply by knowing the quantity of ATP and the efficiency of the ATP-PC cycle cannot be known, as well as . . . you get the picture . . .
This then brings us to a complicated problem and realization – that the performance of a muscle cannot be predicted or judged, even if we had a means of accurately measuring all of these important operational blocks.
The answer to this conundrum however is relatively simple and common-sense in concept – black-box theory.
We can measure the overall performance of all elements working together and, by varying the various performance parameters, we can gain an idea or “model” of the complete system. We do not even need to know how many muscle fibers there are, or how much ATP etc. We do not care. We just want to know how they all perform and how we can maximize the performance.
For instance, there may be a high proportion of type 2b. fibers, so, if we could look into the muscle and see this fact, our natural assumption might be that the muscle will be very strong for short periods of time. But there may be an issue with the ATP-energy conversion process and maybe the type 2a. fibers, even though relatively low in number, might perform very well in an oxidative state and over-ride the performance of the type 2b. fibers.
There are many combinations and examples of the above scenario – making it apparent that we have to ignore the elements as we do not now how they all work together until we test them under load.
The good news therefore is that you do not have to be able to look into your muscles and measure all the aforementioned elements. Additional good news exists in the fact that we have now simplified all these variables down to a simplified assessment – i.e. we do not have to study them all individually and scientifically figure out how they will all work together – as a matter of fact, that would be impossible. We need instead to assess the entire system as a complete unit.
The bad news (until now*) is that the time to get results is rather long and other variables that occur that time can also affect our results and blur out interpretations. Additionally, you would have to conduct training in a very scientific manner, controlling and recording many variables. This is impractical and impossible for most people.
However, knowing about these other variables within the muscle system is empowering and opens your mind to the fact that the combined interaction of all these elements ultimately affects your performance and the shape, condition, and appearance of the muscle systems. This in turn enables you to break free from the old paradigms about how you should train for the best results.
Ultimately, you need to test how the entire system performs under different conditions. By trying different methods of training, you can determine which modes of training produce the greatest output. The method of assessing output is another matter and is addressed in other blogs.
*In another article, we will describe how the AMP Your Workout system provides and effective “Artificial Intelligence” to monitor the training for each of your muscle systems and determined their optimum training modes. Rather than trialing variations over many years and still potentially not finding your ideal training, the AMP Your Workout system will start predicting and guiding your workout from day one.