This month’s comic is inspired by questions about muscles. How do I get toned muscles without bulking up? What exercises will give me a long, lean physique? While our muscles are pretty awesome and do a lot of cool stuff, they aren’t capable of the kind of transformation promised by fitness industry buzzwords. I like to think of exercise as a kind of communication with your body. When you ask your muscles to do certain things, then they make the changes necessary to prepare for those tasks. But when the Insta-gurus and thinspirational quoters of the world create the desire to change in ways that are not scientifically possible, how are we supposed to set realistic goals?
Here’s some clarification on what your muscles can and cannot do.
Muscles CAN stretch:
Touch your toes. Knead out that knot and stretch. When your muscles are able to move in their full range of motion, you’re more likely to move well without compensating somewhere else.
Muscles CANNOT lengthen a limb:
I know this sounds silly, but somehow the Insta-gurus and the thinspirational quoters have convinced us that a muscle, stretched across the length of a bone, can somehow be persuaded through exercise to be a different length. It cannot. Unless you change the length of your bones, your muscles will remain the same length.
Muscles CAN grow:
After a workout, your muscles look for protein to build up the wear and tear they’ve experienced. It’s as if they say to themselves, “Oh we do this now? That’s cool, let me just make sure I’m better prepared for next time.”
Muscles CANNOT tell the difference between tone and bulk:
Although your muscles can grow bigger, there’s no difference between the muscle growth of a physique subjectively called “toned” or subjectively called “bulky.” If you can see muscle definition in someone’s body, then that body has a low body fat percentage. This applies to big and small bodies. In terms of exercise as communication to your muscles, there’s no way to tell them, “I want you to grow, but don’t be bigger.” In short, your muscles are tone-deaf.
Muscles CAN increase your metabolism:
All your organs burn calories to function. The more healthy living tissue you have, the more energy you need to keep on keeping on. The more calories you burn in a day (for example, by having more muscle), the more fat is burned off to create more energy, which means the fewer calories are stored as fat.
Muscles CANNOT turn into fat:
Nor can a fat cell undergo a cellular transformation and turn to muscle. It’s as likely as your eyeballs turning into a set of ears because you’re a very good listener. It can certainly feel like exercise has put muscles where your fat has been, and it can certainly look like your high school quarterback’s rippling chest magically turned to a beer belly by your ten-year reunion, but I promise that tissue cannot change from one kind of cell into another.
Muscles CAN grow strong by practicing feats of strength:
Just like any other skill, you get better as you practice. If your muscles practice lifting heavy things, they’ll get pretty darn good at it and you’ll be able to lift even heavier things.
Muscles CANNOT grow strong by practicing feats of endurance:
Lifting light weights with many repetitions can give you a solid lactic-acid burn, but recovering from this kind of challenge will not help your muscles perform feats of strength. That’s why if you never lift more than the weight of a grocery bag in the gym, carrying groceries home never feels any easier.
As much as we’ve reviewed our bodies’ limitations, I hope this information inspires positivity when considering what you CAN do through exercise. Don’t let the latest buzzwords convince you to chase the physiologically unattainable or fear the scientifically impossible.
Thanks for visiting Funnies for Fitness! If you have questions that you’d like sketched out, email me at Funniesforfitness@gmail.com
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