It’s late at night. You happen to be watching infomercials on television. This is the 4th time you’ve seen this ad so it must be important and you decide to pay attention. An incredibly muscle -chiseled, “ripped” young person with “6 pack abs” muscles is wearing some sort of device on the abdomen and promising that you too can have “6 pack abs” and look like the model. You only have to purchase and use this gadget, typically called a muscle toner or abdominal stimulator. In your tired state, you order it. Heck, just slap that on and you can be watching television, gorging yourself during the holidays and still look fantastic! What a deal!
I’m here to tell you that those gadgets do not work. Here are my reasons. The results of these gadgets are very limited. Yes- you will feel your muscles contract. However, in order for us to build true functional strength, we must not only involve contraction of our muscles but also involve our nerves. More specifically, the process must involve communication up to our brain.
These gadgets promote muscle building and contraction of only those muscles targeted. These gadgets stimulate the nerve at the direct site of the muscle fibers they want to contract, at what is termed the neuromuscular junction. These gadgets are not meant to promote communication up to the brain or to any other surrounding muscles involved in purposeful movement. There is in essence a disconnection between muscle and brain and ultimately the body.
Another key aspect of true strengthening is that muscles do not work in isolation. Muscles contract in an orchestrated fashion with other muscle groups to produce a more involved and purposeful contraction. Rebuilding strength is to re-educate the body on what muscles contract, in what sequence, and to what intensity to achieve a specific action. When trained in this way, it is easy to see how there are many muscles involved just to walk, for example, or to lift a cup to your mouth. These exercises are usually done very slowly to begin with so that patients can learn what it feels to recruit and engage muscles in the correct sequence as well as for this series of contractions to be learned by our brain. This concept is particularly important in the case of injury, illness, trauma or disease in which the sequence of firing and the amount a muscle contraction is askew.
Devices exist which aim to reteach muscles to contract when they atrophied from disease process such as Muscular Dystrophy, Charcot-Marie Tooth or Myasthenia Gravis. In such limited uses they can be helpful. However the biggest gain one will achieve with building muscle is in combination with a functional motion. For example, if building bicep strength is a goal, then aim to engage the shoulder blade, or scapula to stabilize your arm prior to contracting and building bicep strength. This
process will lead to positive change.
If you would like guidance in building muscle strength the wise and more effective way, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We enjoy seeing people become stronger and achieve their goals!