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How to Build a Superhuman Athlete

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Muscle Strength

Independent of genetic advantages, though, all athletes depend on rigorous training to get them to the Olympic level. Many sports hinge on muscle mass -- baseball, rowing, even tennis (have you seen the size of Serena's guns?). But the most obvious of all would be weightlifting.

According to the International Weightlifting Federation, the current women's world record holder for the clean and jerk (lifting a barbell from the floor to chest-level, then jerking it above their heads) in the +75kg class is Gonghong Tang of China, who lifted 182.5 kg at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. That's 402.3 pounds -- roughly 50 pounds more than the average weight of an adult female grizzly bear. And for someone who's 5'8" and 265 pounds, that's certainly a feat.

Boiled down to the simplest terms, muscle strength is dependent on two factors: the weights you're lifting and your body's response to the exercises. But which of these components is the primary determinant?

A 1999 study suggested that the mechanical load was the primary factor, since the amount of weight lifted had a strong correlation with rapamycin (commonly known as mTOR), which regulates cell growth and proliferation. Moreover, a 2008 study in The Journal of Physiology showed that while hormones certainly play a key role in the size of our muscles, it's really the chest flyes and triceps dips that'll increase mass, not your bodily response to it.

The short answer: The more weights you lift, the stronger you get.

In fact, Cutti is a proponent of weight training for any athlete, regardless of whether you're a runner or a wrestler.

 

And you should still be diligent when out of the gym, too: "Nutrition plays a huge component in building the proper muscle density," says Cutti. That third set of bicep curls isn't going to get you very far if you're still chowing down on doughnuts.

 
Next:  Muscle Endurance

 

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