Satellite Cells: A Secret to Massive Strength Gains
Confused on how to gain muscle mass, you are wondering if your training should be more strength-oriented or more bodybuilding related. There has to be some secret. There has to be a way to get as YOKED as those individuals that are real-life HULKS (without pharmaceuticals of course). Is there a secret method? Is there a means to stimulate more strength and growth than we know? Possibly....find out more today!
What’s the secret?
The secret is not necessarily a secret but instead a poorly known and misunderstood aspect in physiology. When I first got into strength training research, I remember reading about “satellite cells” and that they were going to be the key to massive growth in strength and size. At the time, there were a few studies on satellite cells but their total mechanism was not entirely known.
They were discovered in 1961 and since that time, they have slowly gotten to be further researched, to the point that satellite cells are now classified as stem cells. To fully understand how they work, we need to dive slightly into some physiology.
Each muscle fiber contains strands within the muscle fiber, these are known as myofibrils or myofibers. These myofibrils contain sarcomeres that have actin, myosin and protein titin. In short, this leads to the sliding filament which becomes responsible for moving myofibrils which then sparks muscular contraction.
Where are they? Are they fake like the boogie man?
As muscles contract and undergo various levels of mechanical loading, it is important to understand that muscles are known as Post-Mitotic. This means that muscle needs a stimulus to formulate an adaptation. By undergoing mechanical loading or by participating in resistance training, we are capable of putting a stimulus on the muscle fibers, leading to a damaged site of the fiber and forcing a type of “renovation” upon the cell.
The renovators can be known as satellite cells, which are housed under the basal lamina, just above the sarcolemma. Dr. Peter Zammit has provided us with the absolute best imagery to show the existence of these incredible stem cells that our body uses to recover. While they’re housed, they communicate with the body and notify the body of physiological changes and potential needs to be activated.
How can they be activated? How does this ISH work?
Satellite cells are known to be “quiescent.” Meaning, they essentially are hibernating until a stimulus is provided to activate. Each satellite cell contains myonuclei which has all genetic coding needed to enhance adaptation. As resistance training occurs, hormones signal and communicate with satellite cells to be recruited to renovate and heal the location of the damage. This leads to proliferation.
As satellite cells are activated and then proliferate, they undergo “chemotaxis.” They cross into the muscle fiber and enter the site on the myofibril location. As they get to the myofibril, they ultimately donate their nuclei, leading to hypertrophy of the myofibers, making the muscle denser and ultimately stronger.
Chemotaxis is the best evidence behind myofibrillar hypertrophy. There is SOME evidence in birds that MASSIVE stretching can lead to hyperplasia (adding of muscle cells, not just the adding of muscle size) but this has yet to be fully proven out in humans.
Learn more about MyoFibrillar Hypertrophy
Is it possible to increase the cell reservoir?
From anecdotal evidence and SOME research, there seems to be a reason to believe that by the age of puberty, the human body has established its reservoir of satellite cells.
Over the years in strength, I have noticed a few key aspects behind various athletes. Individuals that grew up participating in more manual labor, individuals competing in a variety of sports OR individuals who focused on one or two sports that hit the energy system development of all three energy systems, seemed to increase strength the fastest. What’s that mean?
If an individual grew up on a farm or did laborious jobs from a young age until the age of 14, their body prepared for a LONG labor-intensive life. They would need strength and mobility in various angles, various positions, they would need a strong grip and stability. Think of a 7-year-old pushing a wheelbarrow with firewood, or a 10-year-old carrying bags of feed, 12-year-old wrestling down a pig. All of these types of movements require serious strength and stability and force the body to prepare for long, intense life. This develops a massive cell reservoir.
The second group is the athlete who grew up playing 7-8 different sports. The Patrick Maholmes type athlete. Baseball, basketball, football, soccer, swimming, wrestling, skating, gymnastics, all various sports that require slightly different physical adaptations. The athlete knows their body well and adapt quickly. This sets up a massive reservoir of satellite cells because the organism doesn’t comprehend the difference between farm work or all the various joint angles in their given sport.
The third group is the group that has focused on one or two specific sports their entire life. Think of Michael Phelps, Pyrros Dimas, Jordan Burroughs, MONDO and the greatest ever, Simone Biles!
These athletes adapted to their specific sport needs from a VERY early age. Burroughs focused almost entirely on wrestling his entire life from a VERY young age. Simone Biles is the most dominant athlete in the history of the world. (Phelps has more medals but Biles is UNBEATABLE). Biles has adapted to gymnastics and the requirements her sport has put on her body over the last 16 years.
Sports like wrestling, swimming, pole vault, wrestling, these are all unique sports with intense adaptations. Biles and Burroughs are built like brick shithouses, Phelps is built perfectly for swimming. All three of them have adapted perfectly over the years to the specific tasks their sport demands.
These types of athletes adapt quite well, especially gymnasts and wrestlers. They work in various energy zones and require more mobility and incredible joint stability!
Satellite Cell Comprehension
When it’s all said and done. There are a few keys you can do to enhance satellite cell recruitment.
1. Train through LONG ranges of motion. Very lengthened muscles undergo tremendous stress, leading to a greater mobilization of hormones to stimulate recovery via satellite cells.
2. Use 6-10 sets on major lifts.
3. Use varying speeds to force different adaptations.
4. Participate in regular mechanical loading (4-6 days a week).
5. Sleep well to enhance satellite cell renovation.
6. Make sure when you have kids, they do A LOT of something (farm work, manual labor, various sports or a lot of one specific sport).
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