How well do you know your Muscles?

VR1118L_01_Human-Muscle-ChartWe may complain when we strain them or boast about how we work
out to build them, but how often do we stop to consider just how amazing our
muscles are
? They’re what allow us to move, lift and manipulate objects; they
pump our blood and help us digest our food; they let us express ourselves by
talking, writing or smiling; they help us to see and they enable women to give
birth.

As the engines of the body, muscles turn energy into motion.
But, of course, there are different muscles for different tasks, just as there
are different motors for different vehicles. Each type of muscle has a specific
role in the body.

There are three types of muscle in the human body:

  1. Perhaps the most specialised is cardiac muscle which is only found in
    our heart. It is dedicated to making short involuntary contractions at
    intervals (so we don’t consciously need to think about what it’s doing), which
    makes it ideal for pumping blood around our
    V2052M_01_Muscle-Tissue-Chart bodies, even when we’re asleep. It
    is also capable of huge feats of endurance and consistency: a human heart beats
    approximately three billion times during a lifetime. Heart muscle can stretch
    in a limited way, like smooth muscle, and contracts with the force of a
    skeletal muscle.
  2. Smooth
    muscle
    is responsible for contractions in our blood vessels, digestive
    system, airways and, in females, the uterus. Its speciality is its ability to
    stretch and sustain tension. It also contracts on an involuntary basis, meaning
    that our nervous system controls it automatically. Normally, there is little we
    can do to stop such contractions, as any women entering labour will
    testify! 
  3. Skeletal
    muscle
    is what most of us recognise as muscle: it’s what we go to the gym
    to build and what enables us to run, jump, eat and grasp objects. As their name
    suggests, skeletal muscles are attached to the skeleton and their function is
    movement. Because skeletal muscles only pull in one direction, they are grouped
    W63315_03_4D-Pro-ReAction-Trainer
    together in pairs around the framework of our skeleton: when one of the pair
    contracts, the opposing muscle relaxes; thus, one muscle moves the bone in one
    direction and the other moves it back the other way. We’ll all be aware that skeletal
    muscles usually contract voluntarily: when you think about contracting them,
    your nervous system tells them what to do. They can make a short, single
    contraction (twitch) or a long, sustained contraction (tetanus). Occasionally
    they contract involuntarily, for instance when we experience cramps or spasms.

Because our muscles are such important mechanisms for our
bodies, they have evolved into incredibly sophisticated organs. Not only are
they moderately efficient at turning stored chemical energy into kinetic energy
(there is also huge heat loss, as anybody undertaking strenuous exercise will
know) they are incredibly resilient and capable of modification. For instance,
they grow in size when we exercise them and they can heal themselves when they
are damaged.

Humans have a high capacity to expend energy for many hours
doing sustained exercise.  Research tells
us that skeletal muscle burns 90mg of glucose a minute in continuous activity,
generating approximately 24W of mechanical energy along with some 76W of heat
energy.

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