You just start strength training, what changes should you expect (and what causes these changes?)?
You’ve been strength training for over a decade, what is allowing you to continue to get stronger?
Authors of a new research study published in Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports sought to understand exactly how we get stronger over the lifespan of our strength training “career.”
Here’s what we all experience:
When we first start strength training, the rapid increases in strength that we experience are primarily due to neurological adaptations. Specifically, our brain is more proficient at recruiting the muscle we are actually trying to recruit. In our first 12 weeks of strength training, it is not uncommon to make incredible improvements in our strength. We can lift more weight and perform more reps on virtually every exercise, despite the fact that our muscles haven’t gotten bigger. Interestingly, this improvement in our ability of our brain to activate our targeted muscles doesn’t continue to improve much beyond 12 weeks. After 12 weeks, we see two distinctly different changes.
As we continue to strength train for years to come, our brain becomes more specialized in NOT recruiting the antagonist muscles. A simple example: When we do leg extensions, we are using our quads, but not our hamstrings. In this example the hamstrings are the antagonist muscle). With more and more years of training, our brains are more efficient at NOT sending signals to our hamstrings.This makes our leg extension much stronger. This applies to every exercise that we perform.
Lastly, as we continue to train over the years, our muscle fibers get bigger and this continues for many years. This is the explanation around the long held axiom: Strength before size. We get stronger before our muscles start to grow.
Our early strength gains are neurological. Our brain becomes more sophisticated in its ability to recruit the targeted muscle. Our long term improvements are due to neurological improvements in NOT recruiting the antagonist muscle as well as an increase in the size of our muscle fibers.