The Human Muscular System
in Athletic Performance

The human muscular system is the machinery that drives athletic performance. Among their functions, the more than 600 skeletal muscles generate skilled movements and produce energy for sport-specific competition.

Muscles have a specialized ability to contract. These contractions pull on the bones of the skeleton to cause movement. Movement can be very basic, such as moving an arm, or leg, or breathing; or they can create highly coordinated skills, such as swimming or throwing a ball.

Muscles maintain posture and body position. They are active just for standing, as well as to help stabilize your spine when lifting heavy weights overhead.

Muscles also maintain body temperature. When muscles contract they produce energy, some of which is converted into heat. Heat keeps the body temperature within the range for normal functioning.

The brain and nervous system are the conductors of the muscular system. Athletes make decisions to make particular movements to execute skills, and the nervous system transmits the signals to the muscles so that they generate exact amount of force in the right direction at the right time. Over time, precision improves as the athlete repeats and refines skills.

The human muscular system also works in concert with other body systems, such as the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, which supply oxygen and nutrients for energy.

Muscles do not work individually. They function in groups to generate efficient movement. For example, while the elbow flexors (biceps) contract when performing a curls (called agonists), the elbow extensors (triceps) extend (called antagonists). A synergist helps a larger agonist work efficiently. Synergists provide additional pull or may stabilize muscles.

To perform a single athletic skill many, many muscles work in concert. Simply walking requires around 200 skeletal muscles. It takes 40 muscles to raise one leg and move it forward. Imagine how many muscles are involved in sprinting or shooting a basketball!

To be successful, the athlete must not only learn to smoothly coordinate all muscles for all skills, he or she must also develop sport fitness that prepares the body to perform at its best throughout the competition. Training builds the right combination of fitness components as the muscular system adapts in specific ways to repeated activity.

For example, when the athlete adds resistances in training regimens, the active muscles adapt by getting stronger and larger. When endurance is built, the muscles use oxygen more efficiently and the blood supply improves. The human muscular system makes all the right adjustments to help the athlete improve sport performance.

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