The Truth About Strength Without Bulky Muscle
I was having a chat the other day with one of my personal training clients. He was telling me that a bodybuilder had explained to him that “gaining muscle is the only way to get stronger.”
Well, that’s what happens when you invest more in pre-workout supplements and tanning lotions than in furthering your knowledge. Luckily my client knows better than to take the advice of everyone and their mother when it comes to their fitness program and just come to me with questions.
In this case, though, it wasn’t really a question. It was a sarcastic quip because my guy knows it’s not true, partially because of the feats of strength he’s seen me do. (Here’s my demo reel in case you don’t know what I’m talking about)
He also knows this because he’s seen tremendous strength gains himself without having to look like a tanned moonrock to do it. As a matter of fact, I often times give very noticeable and measurable increases in strength during the first day of the one week trial membership of the personal training program that I offer. One of the reasons I offer it is because it gives me a chance to prove to my potential client that what I do works quickly.
If I can get someone stronger, during the first session, it’s not because they’ve put on muscle. At least not in the beginning.
The strength gains happen via neurological efficiency, which I initially learned about through the teachings of Pavel Tsatsouline. Basically, your brain sends a command signal through your nervous system which tells your muscle fibers to contract, which pulls on tendon which pulls on bone and that is how movement occurs. It’s illustrated wonderfully in the gif below. (Thank you to whoever created this gif, it’s a wonderful illustration)
At any given moment, your body contains enough muscle fibers to lift a car off of a human being, but there are various things called mechanoreceptors throughout the body that measure things like proprioception but can also act as strength limiters to prevent us from overdoing it and ripping ourselves apart. In muscle cars, we can think of it like making sure the torque of the engine doesn’t bend the chassis.
It’s a good thing that those mechanoreceptors are there because they keep us safe, however, they are overly conservative. The average person only has approximately 25-30% of their muscle fibers available at the moment and is reserved for those life or death instances that you read about in Reader’s Digest.
This strength deficit can be overcome mentally (which is what I had learned to overcome as I underwent the path of the steel bending strongman and became the subject matter of my motivational speech).
For people starting out though, the easier and more pain-free way of getting stronger is to simply improve the communication between your brain and your muscles and the strength of that signal that tells your muscle fibers “contract!” My first strongman mentor the late, great New Jersey’s Superman Greg Matonick once explained it to me like this;
“Think of the central nervous system being like a babbling brook. The more water that goes through, the deeper the streambed becomes until it becomes a mighty river.”
A lot of what strength training is is simply teaching your body and mind that it doesn’t need to hold back quite so much and that it’s ok to give a little bit more. You do this by not forcing the process, but by allowing it.
Changes and adaptations of the central nervous system happen very quickly. It’s why I am able to help my personal training clients get very noticeable and measurable increases in strength within the first week, often times within the first personal training session.
This is how you can get stronger without putting on a ton of bulk. If you know someone that should read this please share it with them. If you would like help, give the one week trial of my personal training studio a try.
Eric Moss is a world record holding professional strongman, author, speaker and personal trainer. In the tradition of the strongmen during the turn of the century, he performs feats of strength such as bending steel and breaking chains as part of a show and speaks on goal achievement for corporations, nonprofits, government as well as for schools and universities. His exclusive personal training studio is in Boonton Township New Jersey with Lewandowski Chiropractic and is close to Mountain Lakes, Denville, and Parsippany New Jersey.