Common Misunderstood Concepts in Fitness (PT. 3)



by Chere Lucett NASM-CPT, PES, CES

Myth #3 – Enhanced muscle development

Many times in the gym I hear the myth that certain exercises can increase “peaks” in muscles, or create enhanced definition in one part of a muscle being trained. Many professionals and consumers alike have voraciously declared that different exercises and special techniques will create the desired change in muscle definition such as increased peak in biceps, and defined “inner pecs,” or better lower abs. The truth lies in muscle physiology and frankly, changes in muscle fiber definition due to exercise is just a myth.

To begin, one must understand the All-or-None Principle. This principle states that once a nerve impulse is initiated, it travels along the entire axon without losing strength. Given this, when a muscle fiber is recruited, the entire fiber is activated, not allowing for a portion of the muscle fiber to increase in size or strength. Therefore, increasing “peak” in a muscle such as the biceps or creating definition in the inner pec, is not possible.

For those whose definition is enviable, we have to look to good genetics or pharmaceutical intervention. Our genetic potential is determined by our heredity, and while we can increase muscle mass through proper resistance training, some people were born with “lucky” genes.

For instance, many individuals have a “peak” in their biceps. This “peak” has been an object of desire for many and those who have desired it have trained endlessly to get it – with no avail. Those who are lucky enough to obtain that “peak” only do so because they have a genetic disposition for it. For the lucky ones, their biceps have a smaller muscle belly, with longer attachments (tendons) – creating that peak when they contract the biceps. Those with longer muscle bellies have shorter attachments and will never be able to obtain that “peak” under normal circumstances.

There is hope, however, for developing some muscles such as the pectoralis major, and latissimus dorsi or triceps and gastrocenemius (to name a few). The pecs and lats are muscles whose fiber arrangements allow for different portions of the muscle (not portions of the individual muscle fibers) to be emphasized in activity, while the triceps and gastrocnemius are multi-headed muscles which provide the ability to emphasize portions of the muscle based on the different origin and insertion points.

Misconceptions have run awry in health and fitness and while at one point or another we may have fallen victim to their notions, as professionals it is important to understand and dispell the myths with our clients. Even though we cannot spot train, or obtain that “peak” others have (if we were not born with it), each person has a unique genetic potential and through proper systematic progressions in training, we can reach that potential.

As our industry moves safely towards scientifically-valid information and evidence-based research, we move into a profession that can and will be able to enhance our clients’ lives and help them achieve their goals in the health clubs using sound science as our foundation.

(1) Brooks GA, Fahey TD, White TP. Exercise physiology: human bioenergetics and its application. 2nd edition. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company; 1996.
(2) Powers, SK. Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance. McGraw-Hill, NY, 2004.
(3) ACSM.
(4) Milner-Brown, Dr. Alexander. Basic Neuromuscular Physiology. Thousand Oaks, CA: National Academy of Sports Medicine; 2001.
Common Misunderstood Concepts in Fitness (PT. 3)
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