“What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” A famous quote by Morpheus in The Matrix (1999). There are always two sides to a coin. What seems real could simply just be electrical impulses.
Likewise for muscular limits. How do you define muscular limits? It you’re talking about the point where your muscle can no longer contract. Then perhaps the fault lies not in your muscle, but in your brain.
The things that’s stopping a person, even a trained weightlifter from reaching their limits were never their physical inadequacies but rather, their brain is incapable of believing that they are as strong as their body were designed for.
Here’s 3 scientific facts that have proven that muscular limits is purely psychological.
#1 Scientific fact: An average Chimpanzees are 4 times stronger than a male human athlete.
To figure out this disparity in strength between human and chimpanzees, scientists have used microscope to compare a human and chimpanzees muscle cells. Amazingly, they did not find anything special about chimpanzees muscle cells. Which means, theoretically, human should have the same amount of strength as chimpanzees, if not more.
So what’s stopping humans from becoming just as strong as chimpanzees?
When the scientists viewed human muscular cells under a microscope, they discovered a very high ratio of nerves to muscle cell. This indicated that our brain have an extraordinary amount of control over our muscle cells. The high nerves to muscle ratios allows us to perform intricate task like writing and making tool but it also cause our brain to inhibit muscular contraction efficiently, causing us to lose our strength.
In fact, we humans have superhuman strength, it’s just that your brain is throttling them down to conserve energy. Scientists have discovered that when the human brain control was overwritten by a high voltage of electricity or fear, human muscles will contract violently and produce forces several times larger than what is “humanely” possible. But in the process, damaging muscle cells and tendon.
Just when you think your muscle is at it’s limit, your are not even halfway there. It’s in all in your head.
#2 Scientific fact: It’s not about your muscle being at it’s limit, It’s just your brain that couldn’t keep up.
For your muscle to contract, it requires electrical signals from your brain. But in a human, scientists found that your brain simply cannot produce sufficient electrical signals to contract all the muscle at once.
Like we had discussed earlier, we have learnt that our brain and muscle are very well connected, allowing our brain to have extraordinary amount of control over our muscle. This is definitely good as large amount of control allows us to complete delicate task like writing and making tools.
However, this large amount of control also have its drawback. To produce large amount of strength, we need to activate and contract as many of our muscle cells as possible. Unfortunately contracting large number of muscles cells requires large amount of electrical impulses from your brain, something that you brain find it hard to keep up with.
In fact, Vladimir Zatsiorsky, a professor of kinesiology at Pennsylvania State University who has extensively studied the biomechanics of weightlifting, found that an average human being can only activate up to 65% of their muscle cells while a trained weightlifter can activate 80%. Trained weightlifter are able to do it because they focus well, allowing their brain to send out as much electrical impulses to activate as much muscle cells as possible, thereby producing a larger amount of force.
Even for trained weightlifter at their limit, they only activated 80% of their muscle cells. Theoretically, their muscle can definitely output an additional 25% more force by activating the remaining 20% of their muscle cells. This prove that, even for trained weightlifter, muscular limits is purely psychological.
Oh wait how about chimpanzees? Did they have a much powerful brain? Definitely not. It turns out that in a chimpanzees, a single nerve is connected to a larger number of muscle cells. A single electrical impulses travelling down a single nerve get divided multiple times and activate large amount of muscle cells. As such, chimpanzees can activate close to 100% of their muscle cell without having their brain to output huge amount of electrical impulses.
An average human, even at their limits, is using only 65% of their muscle cells. Theoretically, your muscles are definitely capable of producing twice as much force by activating the remaining 35% of your muscle cells. Your are definitely far away from from reaching your true muscular limits. What stopping you is really just your brain.
#3 Scientific fact: Your muscle actually have an organ that actively and overly inhibit muscular movement by sending negative feedback to your brain.
That organ is know as the golgi tendon, it’s purpose is to throttle down the power of your muscle which otherwise, could have torn your tendon when your muscle is at its maximum strength. It is part of the tendon that connect your muscle to your skeleton. When your muscle contract, the golgi tendon is being pulled. Depending on how hard the golgi tendon is being pulled, it will send out negative feedback to your brain to explicitly stop the muscular contraction.
Scientists first knew about the golgi tendon when they are treating athlete with damaged tendon. The doctors found that athlete who had their damaged tendon replaced with artificial ones, suffer repeatedly from broken tendon. Even when the artificial tendon are proven to be be unbreakable by “normal” muscular force. This is because the surgical removal of tendon, removes the golgi tendon as well. And without a brake to regulate the strength of their muscle, their muscle would unintentionally exert a extremely large force, tearing apart their artificial tendon.
One good example is during the sinking of south korean ferry Sewol in 2014. When the bodies were recovered, doctors found that all the tendon in their fingers were torn apart as the victims panicked underwater and tried to pull apart the window in their cabins with all their might. This shows that every human have superhuman strength, to the point of tearing apart their tendon.
The only true muscular limits are when your muscles break apart, else it’s just purely psychological.
In conclusion, muscular limits is purely psychological. You quit gymming not because your muscle is tearing apart, you quit because you are mentally weak. Acknowledge the 3 scientific fact as discussed above, for which it will convince you that your body won’t tear apart from excessive gym. Hopefully it will gives you the confidence to gym harder and keep pushing your limits. After all that limit is purely psychological.