''Your nervous system becomes more efficient at delivering electronic signals to your muscles to contract. You are able to recruit more muscle fibres, tense your muscles more and then low and behold you are able to lift more''

If strength is neurological because muscles alone are just strings, devices of meat awaiting to be activated by the nervous system then theoretically our bodies don't actually become stronger, we just learn to do what was already in our limits more and more efficiently, right?

This might suggest that maximum strength was already set and defined by the day we were born from our genetics and levers and only awaiting to be activated through years of training or adrenaline shots. Correct me if I'm wrong.

If this is true, then how come athletes that weight 140-160 kilograms with around 40% body fat are incredibly strong, is their strength due to the amount of calories or is there an advantage in being so fat?

1 Answer 1


Those seem to be several questions at once.

Physical strength has both a neurological as well as a morpholocical component (1). It is true that resistance training allows you to activate a higher percentage of your muscle fiber ("Neural Adaption"). However, actual strength, as in being able to move heavier loads, depends on the absolute amount of activated muscle fiber. This is the morphological part of strength ("Hypertrophy"). To display the maximum amount of strength, you need to have both much muscle tissue and also be able to recruit a high percentage of it.

As a matter of fact, neural adaption takes place a lot faster than building additional muscle tissue(2):

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This is why you'll notice an incredibly quick rate of progression despite not seeing any changes on the weight scale when you start to regularly work out for the very first time.

In a way, individual maximal strength is indeed limited by one's genetic potential. But the difference in peoples' potential mainly stems from the body's response on training in terms of muscle mass (3).

Regarding obese athletes - These usually compete in the highest weight class of their sport. This is because the additional fat doesn't impede your performance (bench press), or even has a slight beneficial effect (squat, snatch) (4). Looking at the other weight classes, you'll barely see anyone seriously competing with a bodyfat above 15%, as the ability to compete in the lower class strongly outweights (no pun intended) the benefit of extra fat tissue.

(1) Folland, Jonathan & Williams, Alun. (2007). The adaptations to strength training: Morphological and neurological contributions to increased strength. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 37. 145-68.

(2) http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/neuromuscular-adaptations-to-strength-training

(3) https://www.strongerbyscience.com/genetics-and-strength-training-just-different/

(4) Why is it beneficial for powerlifters and heavy weight olympic lifters to not have low body fat?

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