Weight Lifting Strengthens Your Nervous System, Too
The first few weeks of weight lifting may strengthen your nervous system, rather than your muscles.
Have you ever had frustration that you are not building a lot of muscle with weightlifting? I know I have been. But even though your initial workouts might not create much muscle mass, recent research suggests that you may be strengthening your nervous system, rather than your muscles. Today we look at how this occurs.
How can weightlifting optimize your nervous system function? New research offers some clues. We begin with some basic science. The brain regulates movement through two major nerve highways. These tracts travel from the brain to the spinal cord through these paths:
- the corticospinal tract, the dominant route
- the reticulospinal tract, responsible for controlling posture
To gain strength, you must utilize the more primitive reticulospinal tract. The corticospinal tract does not change with strength training.
New research showing how strength training affects nerves
Scientists trained monkeys to use one arm to pull a weighted handle. The researchers progressively increased the weight over twelve weeks. They simulated the brain’s movement-controlling region, motor cortex, and the two motor tracts described above. The researchers then measured the electrical response associated with strength training, finding:
- Over the strength training duration, the electrical response from stimulation of the brain and two major nerve tracts increased, reflecting more robust signaling.
- With three more months of training, stimulating the brain and reticulospinal tracts increase even more on the spinal cord side connected to the trained arm.
What can we conclude? The electrical outputs from the spinal nerve tracts got stronger with weight training. The central nervous system enhancement may be an essential element helping us to increase our strength.
This new observation may open a new avenue of research in the strength training field. Let’s end with some reasons why you should do some strength training.
- To maintain muscle mass (it naturally decreases with age)
- To drop your risk for falls
- To help with bone density
- To manage your weight
- To help with chronic conditions such as back pain, arthritis, obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression, and diabetes
- To help with balance
- To help with brain function
Please check in with a valued healthcare professional before embarking on a new strength-building program. Don’t forget the warm-up; I do some brisk walking or other aerobic activity for ten minutes. Having warm muscles can reduce your risk of injury.
I’m Dr. Michael Hunter. Thank you for joining me today.