“For individuals starting to lift weights, motor units are important for muscle movement. Can building more motor units help build strength and maintain muscle mass?”
Table of Contents
Motor units control the skeletal muscles and are the force behind every body movement. (C J. Heckman, Roger M. Enoka 2012)
This includes voluntary movements like lifting weights and involuntary movements like breathing. When lifting objects and weights, the body adapts to motor unit needs, meaning that individuals must consistently increase the weight to progress.
Exercise increases the body’s muscle strength, while sedentariness and inactivity weaken them. A motor unit is a single nerve cell/neuron that supplies the nerves to innervate a group of skeletal muscles. The neuron receives signals from the brain that stimulate all the muscle fibers in that particular motor unit to generate movement.
The number of units activated depends on the task. Stronger muscle contractions require more. However, fewer units are needed to accomplish the movement for individuals expending less effort.
The purpose of lifting weights is to challenge the muscles so they adapt to the new challenge and grow in strength and mass. Motor units are a major part of the adaptation process. (Dr. Erin Nitschke. American Council on Exercise. 2017)
Heckman, C. J., & Enoka, R. M. (2012). Motor unit. Comprehensive Physiology, 2(4), 2629–2682. doi.org/10.1002/cphy.c100087
Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, et al., editors. (2001). Neuroscience. 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2001. The Motor Unit. Available from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK10874/
Dr. Erin Nitschke. American Council on Exercise. (2017). How Muscle Grows (Exercise Science, Issue. www.acefitness.org/resources/everyone/blog/6538/how-muscle-grows/
Pete McCall. American Council on Exercise. (2015). 10 Things to Know About Muscle Fibers (Exercise Science, Issue. www.acefitness.org/resources/pros/expert-articles/5411/10-things-to-know-about-muscle-fibers/
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