Need help lifting something heavy? Need 5 liters of blood pumping across your body in a minute? Need to lose weight faster?
Call for the powerful muscles of your body to do all these chores and many more. Some muscles will obey your instructions, but most are busy doing their jobs automatically without pausing for your commands. Our body has more than 600 muscles, each performing with a specific task crucial to our movement and existence. Our muscular system encompasses three different types of muscles:
Smooth or Non-striated: Present in sheets or layers, they are often referred to as ‘involuntary’ muscle, as as we cannot control their movement. Our smooth muscle helps by pushing food through the digestive system, contracting and relaxing lung muscles during respiration, expelling urine from our bladder, pushing babies out of the uterus, and regulating the size of our pupils.
Skeletal or Striated: Skeletal muscle tissue, when observed under the microscope, is found to be made up of fine, thread-like structures called myofilaments. The thick, darker filaments (called A bands) are made up of a protein called myosin, and the thin, lighter ones (known as I bands) are composed of a protein called actin. The alternate light and dark cross-banding pattern gives skeletal muscles their other name, ‘striated’ muscles. These voluntary muscles can be categorized into a number of groups which include muscles relating to the head, neck, torso, and upper and lower limbs. They give shape to our body by covering our skeleton, hold our bones and joints in correct position, allow for movement (walking, holding, dancing, jumping, nodding our heads), and aid in changing facial expressions.
Cardiac: This tireless muscle works continuously to pump blood in and out of the heart. With every contraction, the blood is pushed out from the heart into the arteries, and as the cardiac muscles relax, the blood returns to the heart.
Major Skeletal Muscles When we talk about muscles, we usually think about the voluntary skeletal muscles which we can move and control.
Face: These muscles help give your face its expression. Don't forget your tongue. It is its own collection of muscles, helping you eat and speak.
Shoulders (Deltoids): These shoulder muscles help us hit a home run, rotate our arms, and shrug shoulders.
Biceps & Triceps: These upper arm muscles need no introduction, our arm movements depend on them.
Forearms: The muscles between your elbow and wrist help lift and move the hand.
Trapezius: These are located at the upper and midsection of our back. Traps help stabilize and move the back, mainly the spine.
Latissimus Dorsi: These are your wings. They are the center of movement for your back.
Rhomboids: They pull your shoulders back. Think of them as your posture muscles.
Erector Spinae: Your lower back. This group carries a lot of weight and takes a lot of abuse.
Pectoralis: Lying on the sides of our chest, this muscle is used while swinging our hands or lifting heavy furniture that has fallen on you.
Abs (Abdominal, Serratus, Obliques): They support the trunk, maintain posture, and hold the abdominal organs.
Gluteus Maximus: These are the strong muscles of our butt which aid in sitting, climbing stairs, and provide shape to our body.
Quadriceps: Located on the front side of our thighs, quads help us to squat, walk, run, and jump.
Hamstrings: These are the muscles located on the back of your thigh. Think of them as the biceps of the lower body.
Gastronemius and Soleus: The calf muscles on the back of our leg which help us in forward movement.
Core muscles are the muscles of our abdomen, back, sides, pelvis, and hips - basically the ones which join the upper body to the lower. The major core muscles include rectus and transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, erector spinae, multifidus and latissimus dorsi. Maintaining strong and flexible core muscles is essential for sidestepping nagging back aches, performing daily actions such as bending, sitting, and standing, engaging in sports activities, and enhancing balance and posture.
Building muscles and flaunting a toned physique is no longer a prerogative of bodybuilders and weightlifters. With a little help regarding proper technique, hard work, and consistency, strength training can improve our muscular fitness, reduce body fat, and burn calories efficiently.
According to Harvard Health Publication on Strength Training,“Studies attest that strength training can help you to manage and sometimes prevent conditions as varied as heart diseases, diabetes, arthritis, and osteoporosis.” A few simple strength training exercises which don’t require you to pump irons or use weight machines. These include the seated bridge, triceps dip, standing calf raise, resistance tubing, and abdominal crunches. Mayo Clinic suggests “two to three strength training sessions a week lasting just 20-30 minutes are sufficient for most people.”
Overuse of a muscle, dehydration, and failure to warm up can all lead to muscle cramps. However, it is easy to prevent cramps by following stretching exercises and staying well hydrated. Using a warm towel on the tense muscles or taking a hot water bath after your workout also helps to relax the cramp and relieve the pain. In case of acute pain, a doctor may prescribe muscle relaxing drugs as treatment.
The Bottom Line
Building good muscle health is important to be able to move freely, enjoy sports, maintain balance, and avoid falls and injuries. Eating a balanced meal, exercising regularly, and getting enough rest will ensure that your muscles are strong and body healthy.
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