They make our bodies strong. They stand for power. Yes, without them our bodies would be useless. Everything you need to know about our muscles.
The most important thing first: Without muscles, the human body would collapse. Because even when we relax and just stand or sit around, we are active. We constantly use many different muscles just to keep our heads, arms and back in a specific position. When we sit in front of the computer for a long time, our necks and shoulders are often tight.
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They keep us warm
Our muscles also serve to keep us warm. Every movement, every workout produces heat. When we train intensively we can also generate too much heat, which our bodies have to actively get rid of again as this is the only way to avoid overheating. We then start sweating. Most of the energy used by a muscle is converted into heat, and only a little is converted into movement. That is why we want to move a lot on cold days in particular. Even shivering when we are cold is a muscle movement designed to generate heat.
They are our basis of life
Muscles carry out essential tasks that humans hardly notice and usually also cannot influence actively. The most important, the heart, keeps our cardiovascular system going. But humans also need their muscles for every breath they take. The diaphragm has to contract for fresh air and oxygen to reach the lungs. And muscles are crucial for our digestion. Everything we eat or drink is transported through our bodies by the smooth muscles in the intestinal wall (see smooth musculature). The urinary bladder also consists mostly of muscles. They help us to empty the bladder.
A gateway to the outside world
We would be unable to speak without the muscles in our tongue, larynx and diaphragm. Not to mention non-verbal communication by way of gestures or body posture. It would even be impossible to glance up or to give a wink.
When we are sad, happy or angry: We use our mimic muscles to express all our feelings. Even when we do not wish to give away our inner feelings.
And humans have much for which to thank our fine muscular movements, such as smiling, not least of which is our social environment.
Heart, striated and smooth muscles
Did you know? Humans have three muscle types: heart musculature, skeletal or striated musculature and smooth musculature.
The heart muscle is a unique type of muscle. For good reason, as it is the only muscle in the body that works without a break and - normally - never tires. It works completely independently, controlled by the vegetative (autonomic) nervous system. It cannot be controlled arbitrarily. Its main task is to pump our blood, which is enriched with oxygen and nutrients, through the entire organism.
The smooth muscles are found, among others, in the bowel, bladder, womb and artery walls, i.e. in all internal organs controlled by the vegetative nervous system. In contrast to the striated muscles, we cannot consciously control the smooth muscles.
The striated muscles, also called skeletal muscles, are the best known because we can see them with the naked eye. The cross striation of the skeletal muscles, however, can only be seen under a microscope. In contrast to the smooth and heart musculature, we can arbitrarily control the skeletal muscles. We not only need them to move, eat and drink and to talk. The facial muscles are also cross-striped.
How does movement work?
Neuronal signals are needed for movement. These signals are transmitted from the motor centres of the brain through the neural pathways to the skeletal muscles where they trigger the most diverse of movements created by an interplay of bones, joints, muscles and tendons. All muscles work by shortening their length. As no muscle can lengthen again by itself, they usually need the help of other muscles. As a result, muscles are always arranged in antagonistic pairs: When one muscle contracts, the other muscle stretches. When we work out and contract our bicep, the muscle fibres pull together and the arm bends at the elbow. To relax the bicep again we use the tricep. When the tricep contracts, the bicep relaxes. Humans always need several muscles to move a body part.
Musculoskeletal system: Walking is complex
Many of our movements are automated and seem quite effortless. But those who have watched a child learning to walk can appreciate that this is a very complex process. In addition to countless joints, we also use some 200 skeletal muscles in order to put one foot in front of the other.
Strengthening after training
Did you know? Your muscles only strengthen after your workout when the muscle fibres thicken during the rest period. When muscles are trained and strengthened, new cell particles called mitochondria are created which deliver energy to the muscles. At the same time new blood vessels form around the muscle fibres, and these increase our stamina.
Born to move
A prehistoric man will likely be quite unable to understand our explanation of what a runner is. He would probably be totally unfamiliar with the idea of sport as something to enjoy in your free time. He would also be amazed that so many of us spend our days in a sitting position. Whether as hunter or hunted: For our Stone Age ancestors, movement and muscle power were matters of life and death. Today we have hardly any natural enemies left, but we still have the bodies we need to hunt or to flee. From an evolutionary viewpoint, we have therefore been born to move a lot.