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How your body gets stronger for crossfit and powerlifting

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Jun 13, 2015 11:35:00 AM


How your body gets stronger for crossfit and powerlifting


The most obvious outward indicator of strength are big muscles. While bigger and heavier people on average are more likely to lift heavy things than smaller ones you will also see small people performing astonishing feats of strength. This is due to an often overlooked fact of neural adaptations in the muscles and in the nervous system itself which make your muscle contract faster and harder and less likely to fail when performance is being called upon.

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How your different types of muscle grow 


The first thing to understand is that there different types of muscle. Some muscles are involved in supporting the inner workings of your body, like your heart and the muscles transporting your food down into your stomach once you consumed your food. All of these muscles are not being actively contracted by your conscience and perform their tasks automatically. You can train them indirectly by putting stress on the very systems they support, as for example extensive running and cycling most likely will lead to a bigger heart, but essentially these are not the muscles we are thinking about when talking about strength.

Strength in the sense of lifting more weight more often is more related to the 650 skeletal muscles of the body, which you can directly activate or deactivate by performing movements in which they are incorporated. When you are in the gym you wear and tear the fibers of the muscles also known as myofibrils. Your body repairs the broken strands by fusing them together and creating bigger strands of muscle. To form these new strands protein is being used. This happens not in the gym, but after, when you rest.

If you want to grow your muscles can do this by lifting more weight over time and out them under greater tension. Muscle tension will change the chemical make up of your muscles to increase strength. Another effect is sarcoplasmic hypertrophy or also called the pump. This happens when your muscles swell due to metabolic stress which makes the muscle larger, but stimulates limited to no gains in strength. You will find more details about muscle growth here.


Stimulation of the nervous system


This is the part which I think gets often overlooked except by crossfitters. Usually powerlifters and bodybuilders do not really challenge themselves to learn new movement patterns which are out of their comfort zone. While understandable it could leave out improvements in the following areas:

Spinal neuron excitability
Synaptogenesis within the spinal cord
While adaption of soft tissues as mentioned above is well documented and commonly known these two effects get overlooked. New research shows that when you learn new movement patterns or observe these it will activate your Spinal neuron excitability, which expresses with how much efficiency your spinal neurons fore, and Synaptogenesis within the spinal cord, which means that there will be more connections established between the neurons within your spine. 
So strength training alone does not necessarily make you more healthy and fit, as it does little for keeping your brain excited, but learning new movement patterns does. This will also have beneficial impact on your performance in lifting weights and growing muscle, as you can exert more control over the movement and the muscles will also contract quicker and more efficiently as the efficiency of your spine to send information to your muscles will increase.
This is why I personal decided to learn the pistol squat and work on being able to do an elbow level. This will keep me challenged will still continuing with my German Volume training performing 10x10 sets of compound exercises. Also switching between Deadlift variations like the conventional, sumo and stiffed legged deadlift can help to build these neurons. 
Without a stable and mobile spine the brain will not allow the body to unfold its full potential, which you certainly want to do when lifting heavy weights. The better your spine works the less likely it will be that you will execute a certain movement with bad form. This is why gymnastics based exercise can help you to perform better in powerlifting and why crossfit has a point in implementing these movements in their workouts.



Rather than just hacking away at weightlifting or powerlifting templates doing more and more of the same over years, change the routines within weightlifting training up to keep it exciting and learn new motor skills like handstands, planks, skin the cats or the iron cross to keep all around fit and maximize pound for pound strength. Also keep yourself hydrated as research has shown that lack of hydration will affect muscle tissue and brain tissue performance and therefore will make you less fit.


Further reading

On Strength

On powerlifting


Topics: Can marathoners be good crossfitters?