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Muscle mythbusting

“Don’t work out, don’t build muscles. It makes you tight and inflexible.”

I’m just watching a Cirque Du Soleil video now, and you can’t tell me that those performers aren’t flexible, and at the top of their physical game … and we’re not talking about muscles for vanity, we’re talking about muscles that are useful. If performance were my goal, muscle-wise, I’d use these guys as a model.

Also, we lose muscle mass as we age, so metaphorically speaking, we should place regular deposits in the muscle bank before the annual fees bankrupt us. Google sarcopenia. Is this loss due to age or disuse or a combination thereof? I don’t know, but it doesn’t really matter because I know I’m getting older, so if I don’t use my muscles, it’s a certainty I’ll lose muscle mass.

I only have myself to go on (since I don’t go around squeezing bodybuilders), but my muscles aren’t normally tight or hard — they’re soft. They’re flesh. They’re only tight if I tense them. The general public might think that muscles are hard because they see bodybuilders tensing them so they look hard. Since working out more, they don’t feel any different to me, they’re just bigger than they used to be. And due to the loss of some fat, they’re more visible around the edges.

Now there is probably an optimum state for muscle size, far short of the point where a bodybuilder’s muscles get so big they impede his movements, but there’s no chance I’ll get that way. I just don’t have the time, nor the inclination … nor the youth or body type, probably.

Here’s an article to get us started. There are plenty more out there. They seem to agree: proper nutrition and exercise are what we need.

Thoughts? Caprice?

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  1. Caprice
    March 16th, 2010 at 16:31 | #1

    Funny, we were just talking about Cirque de Soleil performers the other day. The acrobats and gymnasts are super muscular (especially through their torso) because they need so much strength. The contortionists are not muscular at all because they need to be super flexible. Interesting contrast.

    I wasn’t sure where you were going with your third paragraph, but muscles are supposed to be soft and loose when not in use. Ideally, they only feel hard to the touch when they are contracting. And, also ideally, they are contracting because they are being used for activity (not “here, honey, I’m flexing my bicep, feel how hard it is”). As long as we stretch post-exercise, the muscles we use should stay nice and long and flexible. And, of course, as we lose body fat, they tend to become more visible. For guys, that’s more evident because they carry less subcutaneous body fat. If women lose too much body fat, it wreaks havoc on their hormonal system, so it’s better to worry about how well the package works as opposed to how well the package is defined (as long as your BMI is in a healthy range).

    I hope no one thinks it is “optimum” to be completely inflexible and unable to move in the way we are biomechanically designed. I have met guys who are so big their arms don’t hang properly from their shoulders (back muscles and upper arm muscles overdeveloped), and it’s no fun for them. Seriously. And they look weird. Like their arms are too short for their bodies.

    Yes, we do lose muscle tissue as we age. Just like we lose bone density as we age. It’s one of those cellular level things that happens. What do we do about it? We eat right, we exercise, we stay active. The last thing you want to do is spend your senior years trapped in an arm chair because you lost your ability to walk without losing your balance. Physical fitness is critical as we age, so whatever you do, don’t stop moving.

    My two bits, Steve.

  2. SteveR
    March 16th, 2010 at 17:26 | #2

    Regarding my third paragraph, I was addressing the misconception that once you start building muscle deliberately, it becomes hard when at rest.

    I agree: muscles should be soft and loose when not in use.

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