How long does it take to strengthen my muscles?

Libby O'Sullivan

When I am helping someone to recover from an injury or to improve their strength, I am often asked “how long will it take for my strength to improve”? The answer to this question depends largely on why (and whether) the muscle is ‘weak’ in the first place.

Let me give you two examples.

Example 1

I have recently treated a lady recovering from knee surgery. She was in a brace and non-weight bearing for a period of time and, as a result, had weakness in her calves, quads, hamstrings and glutes. Through rehab, she has had a nice steady increase in the strength of all of these muscles over the course of 6 weeks and they continue to get stronger.

Example 2

I saw a lady just this week who has had some lower back pain. I tested her glute medius (an important hip stabiliser) strength and it was weak. But guess what? After performing a few simple techniques her ‘strength’ miraculously improved…IMMEDIATELY!

How does that work?

It all comes down to whether the muscle is truly weak in the first place. You might have been told before by your Physio / PT / Pilates instructor that your glutes / lower traps / hamstrings are weak, but what we are really saying is that they appear weak.

When a muscle appears weak, it has trouble activating. Now this might because it has actually wasted (as in the case of the lady in example 1 i.e after a period of bed rest, inactivity or post-surgery) But sometimes a muscle can’t activate because it doesn’t know how! Apparent weakness in a muscle can be due to poor motor control (i.e how well it listens and responds to your brain) or poor understanding of what you are meant to be doing.

So how can you have immediate improvements in your muscle ‘strength’?

A recent study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26981714) found that a short term activation training program (of just six days) was effective in improving glute med activation through improved motor control and less inhibition of the muscle. So if the muscle you want to strengthen is just inhibited and not wasted / truly weak, changes can happen very quickly. To get these improvements you need to ensure:

  • your starting position is right
  • your understanding of the muscle is accurate
  • you receive the right cues to activate the muscle
  • you reinforce it with lots of repetition

Let us help! GLOW can assess your muscles to determine why they appear weak in the first place. We can then teach you how to activate your muscles properly and give you the best program to improve your strength and get you back to doing what you love!