Study Finds Exercise Works By Stimulating NERVES Not Just Muscles

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Study Finds Exercise Works By Stimulating NERVES Not Just Muscles
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Exercise is one of the best ways to stay healthy; together with good lifestyle choices and a healthy diet. The Department of Health and Human Services actually recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week and strength training twice a week at the very minimum. We have long associated muscle size with strength — the bigger the muscle is, the stronger a person is. However scientific studies have proven this to be untrue; bigger muscles are technically able to lift better and be stronger, but that is only half of the equation. We are forgetting something that plays an essential role in your muscles’ ability to do any work: Your nerves. [1]

Jenkins, et. al. in 2017 focused on neurological involvement during high-load and low-load resistance training. Explained simply, they studied how our nerves are affected during exercise and how they, in turn, affect muscle strength. The study was conducted over three and six-week periods, including 80 percent and 30 percent one repetition maximum resistance training (1RM) in the leg extensor muscles. There were 26 male participants who completed the study (out of 30 initial participants). They were assigned randomly to high-load or low-load resistance training. After the three and six-week periods, both groups experience similar increases in muscle thickness despite the varying loads used in the exercise. [2]

Here’s the kicker (quite literally) – muscle strength was significantly stronger in the high-load exercise group despite muscle size being almost equal with the low-load exercise group. Why did this happen? The researchers conducted further testing and found that the high-load group developed better neuromuscular adaptation than the low-load group, wherein their nerves were able to conduct better and therefore allow the muscles to exert more effort and strength during the exercise.

Jenkins and his fellow researchers explained the ability of our neuromuscular system to adapt to stress (e.g. exercise, specifically resistance training) which leads to “enhanced force or torque production”. In fact, they cite that in order to exercise to be effective in terms of building strength, one repetition maximum should reach at least 60 to 85 percent – factors that they included in the experimental study. The researchers were able to find conclusive evidence of better neuromuscular adaptation in the group that experience high-load resistance training, exactly a rise of 2.35 percent in muscle strength compared to 0.15 percent in the low-load group. While these percentages may not seem significant, they are when you consider that these data were taken only after three to six weeks of exercise.

Jenkins’ study suggests that shift in focus is needed if we want to keep our bodies healthier and stronger. Bigger is not always better, indeed. You might be intimidated by other people in the gym who have bigger muscles than you but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are stronger. The most important thing is to exercise efficiently. If you are scared of high-load exercise, don’t be. Work with a good trainer – and build up your workout routine to get to a percentage that you’re comfortable with.


[1] Mayo Clinic. Fitness.

[2] Jenkins, N., et. al. (2017). Greater Neural Adaptations following High- vs. Low-Load Resistance Training.

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