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The fascinating truth about why bigger muscles aren't necessarily better

The fascinating truth about why bigger muscles aren't necessarily better

id you ever try to move so explosively fast that your brain hurt trying to keep up with the task? Maybe during a 100 meters sprint to the finish line at school or maybe sometimes when running in a forest or riding a bicycle just trying to beat your training buddy to the imaginary yardstick? Fact is, when it comes to optimizing the performance of your nervous system and cementing the connection between your brain and body, it doesn't really matter how impressive your bicep is.

Bodybuilding gives muscle quantity, sprints & max strength training give muscle quality 

Conventional strength training and muscle building are fantastic tools for aesthetics, symmetry, musculoskeletal development, and even anti-aging. But when it comes to optimizing your brain and nervous system, recruiting more muscle fibers faster, enhancing nerve-firing speed, and optimizing brain-body coordination, it is more important to focus on “sprints” or short, fast, highly intense, and high force output movements.

‍Sprints produce a state of high force output for the first 5 seconds. This is due to the law of inertia, you remember from high school, force = mass x acceleration. So the heavier you are and the faster you want to accelerate, the more force your muscles must produce. Hence, the good news is you don’t need to sprint for your life, you just need to produce a lot of force with your muscles.

Think of the 6 Minute Workout, although slow and controlled in the protocol, it puts your body in a state of emergency, demanding your body to recruit all muscle fibers during the first two reps of every exercise and optimizes your brain-body coordination thanks to workout intensity and highly demanding correct exercise execution. The high loads simulated during the first 20 seconds give you all the benefits of max strength training and high force output, while the remaining 40 seconds give you all the metabolic goodies of “the burn”. One gotta love it.

Bigger muscles aren't better if you want to live long and enjoy life

There is also a direct link between your power-to-muscle-mass ratio and your longevity. It means that your ability to quickly recruit muscle fibers matters most. Sorry to disappoint you, you never recruit all muscle fibers when you go for a long run. While very enjoyable, it's no longevity hack.

In a podcast hosted by Ben Greenfield, author Paul Jaminet claims that a smaller muscle capable of exerting more force is a healthy muscle, while a huge but relatively weak muscle is an unhealthy muscle. Pay attention to professional cyclist’s leg muscles. So skinny, yet so strong. On the contrary, research suggests that many professional bodybuilders suffer from chronic, inflammation-related diseases. Okay, okay one does not have to graduate from Harvard to draw the conclusion that force-feeding, water-shedding, and frequent visits at Dr. Fuentes are not exactly on the top of the “how to live healthy”-list. Admittedly, there are some omitted variables here.

The bigger the muscle, the more expensive for the body to carry and supply it 

The healthiest muscle strength gains might come with only small muscle size gains because larger muscles take far more energy to carry and cool and require far more antioxidants for repair, recovery, and mitochondrial activity. Your body is intelligent by nature to develop strong and efficient muscles. That muscle mountain range developed in gyms, using a high amount of proteins and artificial supplements is an industrial approach to body development. What would the Revenant think of barbels and treadmills?

It is well established in exercise science that muscle contractions lead to elevated levels of reactive oxygen varieties in skeletal muscle. Although these highly reactive molecules are beneficial for normal cell signaling, when in excess, they have many deleterious effects, particularly because they contribute to a net inflammatory state. Just like in any area of life, so in muscle building: Excess is unhealthy.

The ultimate formula for performance, aesthetics, and longevity

So if your goal is the ultimate combination of performance, aesthetics, and longevity, what you should pursue are functional, efficient, powerful muscles rather than unnecessary pounds of excess muscle mass. What does that mean? In addition to the 6 Minute Workout, sprint explosively either when you go for a walk or riding a bicycle.

Big and bulky muscles require a more powerful heart muscle. Can your heart keep up?  

Big and bulky muscles don't necessarily produce much explosive force. Such big muscles may even be unhealthy, like in the case of cardiomegaly, the enlargement of the heart. When heart tissue is incapable of exerting as much force as it should, the heart often grows larger to compensate. Those who have cardiomegaly, including exercise enthusiasts, may die earlier because the heart has to work so hard to support its own bulk.

Aim for muscle force, not muscle mass

Old-school bodybuilding techniques or other exercise styles that are designed to produce pure mass, rather than force, can potentially damage your health. Paul Jaminet mentioned a study that showed that lower muscle mass and higher muscle-force capacity, which is found in powerlifters and anyone training more for power and speed than just for strength and size, could actually be associated with longevity. 

More muscle mass, more calories, less longevity

The more muscles you have, the more you need to eat to maintain or build that muscle. Meanwhile, science suggests that moderate caloric restriction can enhance a variety of health factors, including, most notably, longevity. After all, when was the last time you saw a professional bodybuilder eating once a day? If you watch any Netflix video about professional bodybuilders, half the show will typically involve them shoveling massive plates of food.

Excess muscle mass, excess food, excess growth hormone  

The fact that excess muscle mass negatively impacts longevity is backed up by data on growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which both play an intricate role in the aging process. Research suggests that lower levels of growth hormone and IGF-1 result in increased longevity. For example, mice, worms, and flies that are genetically engineered to be deficient in GH or IGF-1 live nearly 50% longer.

Research also suggests that the overexpression of growth hormone in mice, worms, and flies causes up to a 50% shorter life span, mainly due to kidney and liver dysfunction. Ultimately, the key is to find the sweet spot for growth hormone rather than constantly suggesting your body to grow bigger and bulkier. Also, in the same way that having too much muscle mass increases antioxidant needs, so do excessive levels of growth hormone and IGF-1.

Longevity is more heavily correlated with muscle quality, not quantity

Research suggests that pure muscle mass does not increase longevity. Instead, longevity is strongly correlated with muscle quality and the ability of the muscle to support daily functional activities such as walking, sprinting, and lifting heavy stuff, all of which positively impact insulin resistance, fat-burning rates, and mitochondrial density, mobility, muscle fiber type, and strength.

A bigger muscle is not the same as a better muscle

In simple terms, the greater the amount of force a muscle can produce for its size, the greater its muscle quality. In addition, higher quality muscles developed for performance rather than size also have increased mitochondrial density and more energy-producing capacity per kilogram of muscle. So, next time you do the 6 Minute Workout, make sure you keep the score higher than the previous time, at each repetition.

And don’t worry about never achieving the bulky bodybuilder’s physique. The healthiest muscles are those found on a small, wiry, powerful physique with modest size but a high force-producing potential and the ability to summon significant amounts of power and speed. To build these muscles, you have to recruit more muscle fibers, enhance nerve-firing speed, and optimize speed and power. Rest assured: This is exactly what you get in 6 minutes on the AURUM machine.

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