Muscles, whose chief job is to contract and relax, are required for body movement. Everything from opening the mouth to walking to breathing and speaking is powered by muscles. These bundles and bands of fibrous tissue generate the heat that warms the body. There are 630 active muscles that comprise 40 percent of the body’s weight. As you can imagine, there are a multitude of ways to strengthen the muscular system through exercise.
It's simple. Better functioning muscles equal a better functioning body, says Lani Muelrath, author of "Fit Quickies." But with so many muscle types wielding different purposes, any number of exercises can enhance the muscular system. If you see strength, as in bigger, more powerful and contoured muscles, strength train. Fold at least two sessions into each week, increasing up to three. Body weight, dumbbells, resistance bands -- all these can provide the resistance needed to build muscle. "You want to progressively overload the muscles, so they have the adaptive response of becoming stronger," says Muelrath. Heavy weights are not required, she adds. You know you're stimulating muscle growth if the final reps of a set of eight to 12 is tough to complete.
Using the muscles regularly by doing aerobic exercise has been found to reduce the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, certain cancers and osteoporosis, says psychologist Dennis Kravetz, who wrote "A Sound Mind in a Sound Body: Live Long, Live Healthy." He adds, "A weak muscular system results in lost mobility, and getting winded with little exertion. Aerobic exercise ups stamina and ability to move around." It works large muscles in arms, legs and hips in a repetitive, rhythmic fashion and is effective when done at moderate or higher intensity for 10-plus minutes. Moderate-intensity exercises include brisk walking, doubles tennis and pushing a lawn mower. Higher-intensity vigorous exercise includes jogging, running, basketball, singles tennis, swimming and cycling.
According to the American Council on Exercise, an ideal fitness program should include strength training, aerobic exercise and flexibility work. Stretching muscles involves holding them in a pose for 15 to 30 seconds as you focus on breathing normally. As it is with strength training, a solid stretching program will target all the major muscle groups so that they all can develop. Without maintaining flexibility, movement can become stiff and restricted. Stretching keeps muscles, and therefore movement, fluid. Examples of flexibility exercise include tai chi, yoga, Pilates and any sort of stretching.
Remember that a well rounded fitness program that will result in a strong and healthy muscular system should include aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility work, all of which improve and enhance muscles in unique ways. Before starting any exercise regimen, consult your doctor. Warm up for five minutes before beginning an exercise to loosen up the muscles, and cool down for five minutes after completing your workout. Warmup and cool-down moves should be gentle and simple, such as walking in place, rolling the head and shoulders gingerly in circles, or swinging the arms from side to side diagonally across the body.
- The Franklin Institute: Muscular System
- Fit Quickies; Lani Muelrath
- Centers for Disease Control: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
- American Council on Exercise: Three Things Every Exercise Program Should Have
- Functional Fitness: Top 5 Benefits of Stretching
- A Sound Mind in a Sound Body: Live Long, Live Healthy; Dennis Kravetz
Julie D. Andrews is a writer and editor living in New York City. Her articles have appeared in print or on the websites of "Prevention," "Glamour," "Fitness," "Shape," "Cosmopolitan Latina," "Elle" and "New York Magazine."