NAMTPT Blog Spring 2024: Muscle; The Gripping Story of Strength and Movement by Roy Meals

Stand in a doorway and press the backs of your lowered hands into the frame as if to make it wider. Press for at least 30 seconds, then step away. What happens to your arms? They magically rise weightlessly. This is officially called the Kohnstamm phenomenon, but we don’t really know why. This, and much more is from the new book Muscle by the orthopaedic surgeon Roy Meals, following his previous book Bones: Inside and Out. Its 250pp explore taxonomy, history of muscle anatomy, physiology, deep chemistry told in layman’s terms, a chapter each on skeletal, smooth and cardiac muscle, plus muscle conditioning, culture, disease and dysfunction and some other strange (good) stuff.

Leonardo da Vinci was one of the most curious men in the world and each day he would write a list of questions that he needed answers to –  e.g. why is the sky blue? how do heart valves work? what are seashell fossils doing high up mountainsides? One I particularly remember from Walter Isaacson’s wonderful biography is; describe the tongue of the woodpecker. The answer to this is in the book, and it may explain why woodpeckers don’t get migraine headaches.

All the following information is not mine; it is piece-Meals extracts from the book (sorry).

Ten thousand steps? Where did that come from? Seems that a Japanese clockmaker invented a pedometer for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The name of said pedometer in Japanese characters translated as 10,000. Ten thousand steps will take us nearly two hours to accomplish. Research has shown that if you do merely 2.7k steps, that’s a good enough baseline. Risk of mortality drops 12-13% for every 1k more steps you make (All iPhone users have a step counter built into their Health app). Ten thousand steps should go the way of drinking 8 glasses of water, the food pyramid, don’t exercise straight after eating, and us flushing lactic acid out of muscles.

The book has a chapter with some interesting views on conditioning muscle. We all know that warming up precedes exercise, followed by stretch. But stretching prior to exercise may weaken the muscle. Cooling down with walking or light jogging has been found to do little to improve later athletic performance. Try telling that to the Tour de France riders. There is also uncertainty as to the physiological benefits of massage, ice baths, compression garments and foam rolling, but Meals states there may be psychological benefits and placebo effects.

Many tennis players now grunt when serving or hitting ground strokes. Although quite annoying, it has been proved to improve the velocity of their stroke by 5%. Take the stairs! Studies have shown that London double-decker bus conductors outlived the same buses drivers. Each flight taken adds 10 seconds to your life. Take 36 flights a week and you will reduce mortality by 18%

What you will also find in this book are references to Sylvester Stallone, Jim Thorpe, Jack LaLanne, Erasmus, Maureen O’Hara, Arnold Kegel, and Tom Brady. The book explains things going wrong with muscles like growing pains, morning stiffness, DOMS, stitch-in-the-side, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, compartment syndrome, and rhabdomyolysis to name a few. It is very informative on tendon transfers and muscle transfers, the author’s specialty.

What you won’t find is any reference to fascia, titin, lateral force transmissions, intramuscular pressure gradients, tonic and phasic muscles, trigger points, referred pain zones, and myofascial pain. That must be for another book.

Cheerio for now,