Another Way Strength Training Brings More Than Just Strength

A cyclist with huge quadriceps power can be out-sprinted by someone with much lesser thighs. Strength training can help make your muscles outperform those of someone who’s naturally stronger (or perhaps who trained much earlier) because your muscles have developed a better brain-muscle connection, improving the way muscles work together. Long before you see added muscle, (from strength training) the neuro-muscular connection is already improving. And it’s the strength training that does it. Not riding for hours. Science on brain-muscle interaction at a molecular level is showing it to be more immediate and intensive than earlier thought.

In a recent case, electrical activity showed that coordination between the muscles determined the cyclist’s performance, not basic strength. Strength training causes the nerves connecting muscle cells and brain to signal more quickly making the movement more effective. This fits with other views gained in working with people who've done strength training, shown little mass improvement, (such as the elderly and the very young) yet have leapt forward in evident strength gain. The training has given them more motor units – nerve cells which connect with muscle cells – and it seems it’s the coordination benefits within the muscularity that makes the difference.

(This is from Gretchen Reynolds’ book, The First Twenty Minutes. Reynolds is the Health writer of the New York Times and writes the paper’s Well Blog. She refers, in this case, to work done by Avery Faigenbaum, PhD, a professor of exercise science at the College of New Jersey)