Strength is the ability of muscles to generate force. Muscles can only exert force after receiving stimuli from the brain. A person who is suddenly paralyzed can still have strong muscles for a brief period but cannot use them because they are disconnected from the brain. Most medical and fitness experts believe that the strength of muscles is proportionate to their size, but that is not true. If it were, two people of the same age, weight, and body type would lift more or less the same number of pounds. In fact, an experienced weightlifter may be able to lift three times as many pounds as a beginner. What makes the experienced lifter stronger is that she has more fast-twitch muscles and a brain that communicates with them faster and with more intensity.
If we were to look inside the bodies of these two weightlifters, we would see that the stronger one has more white, fast-twitch muscle, whereas the weaker one has more red, slow-twitch muscle. Also, because tendons and ligaments are composed of white, fast- twitch tissue, the stronger one has strengthened his joints, while the other one has not.
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The difference between these two athletes would be even more pronounced if the stronger one were a weightlifter and the weaker one a bodybuilder. When impact athletes, such as ice hockey or football players, train like bodybuilders, they become slower, weaker, and more susceptible to injuries. When, however, they train like weightlifters, they become faster, stronger, and less susceptible to injuries.
Imagine that you are at an Olympic stadium, watching champion men sprinters. As you look at the Gold Medal winner, you may think, “If I had his body, I could break world records, too.” But you would need more than that. Even if you had his body, you would not run as fast, because you also need his brain, which activates his muscle fibers.
When we age, our muscles tend to atrophy and our joints tend to wear away. Eventually, we become weaker and slower, and we develop chronic pains. The only things that can prevent or reverse this degeneration are proper exercise and nutrition, as we saw earlier with Charlie Henderson, the 80-year- old weightlifter who can lift his own weight above his head something the average 20-year-old male gym member who exercises regularly cannot do.
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