Voluntary vs. Involuntary Muscle: Major Consequences for your Health

When it comes to maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle it is very important to truly understand some of the key difference in your muscle anatomy.

            Understanding the simple differences between the main two muscle categories will have dramatic effects on your health, body fat, energy, and overall sleep patterns. It is unfortunate that this simple explanation is not provided to more people and that the majority of health professionals tend to ignore that these classifications exist.

            In the health and fitness world most professionals spend their time promoting unachievable programs and unrealistic expectations. Many professionals including, personal trainers, doctors, nutritionists, physiotherapists, and chiropractors spend a lot of their time coercing and trying to convince their clients and patients to follow healthy diet and exercise programs without delving into the most important aspect of adherence to those programs.

            If we were to spend more time paying attention to one simple and important element that drastically affects your diet and exercise we could truly make an impact on our population’s health and fitness.

            In the anatomical and medical world there are really only two types of muscles in your body (all of you well versed in anatomy, lets not get picky, ok? For our purpose here there are only these two categories), voluntary muscle fibers and involuntary muscle fibers.

            Involuntary muscles are controlled unconsciously by your body every second of everyday of your life. These muscular contractions are what regulate, fuel, and sustain your body. Your heart is one of the primary muscles in this category. This muscle pumps the blood throughout your body and is responsible for delivering fuel and oxygen to your cells, removing wastes and byproducts, and helping to ward off disease and infections.

            Your diaphragm is another of the primary involuntary muscles that helps keep you alive. This muscle makes breathing possible as it causes the lungs on fill and empty to provide your body with fresh oxygen.

            The key points to remember about involuntary muscles are that you have no or very little control over them. You may be able to hold your breath for a short period of time but eventually your body will take over the regulation of this process again. But for our purposes we have no control over involuntary muscles. They simply control the majority of our vital functions regardless of how much attention we pay to them.

            The muscles that we are aware of generally consist of voluntary muscles. In general these muscles consist of skeletal muscle. These are the muscles that allow us to move our limbs and body as we consciously choose to. When you pick something up, walk, bend over, or throw a ball, your voluntary muscles execute your commands.

            There are many ways to utilize this aspect of our muscle system but we will focus on two primary mechanisms. The first is the conscious thought to flex, contract, or squeeze a muscle. Try it right now, flex your bicep. Easy and simple demonstration.

            The second way to activate the system is to ask your body to complete a movement. Reach over and pick something up right now, a cup or a pencil, whatever is around. While you did not specifically think of flexing your bicep, your body did that for you as a result of your desire to pick up whichever object caught your eye.

            These voluntary muscle actions all require conscious thought by the person completing the action, in our case, that is you. Walking, dancing, swimming, reading, sitting, having a beer on the back deck in the summer, are just a few of the infinite number of ways your voluntary muscle system will respond to you.

            You might be asking how understanding the difference between voluntary and involuntary muscle contractions can be the missing link in the battle against obesity and rising disease rates.

            Here is the answer, the solution to the ‘problem’ or the ‘epidemic’ sweeping our population.

            All of the actions that lead to obesity and inactivity are controlled by your voluntary muscle system.

            Anybody shocked? Appalled? Disagree with me? Think I am off track? Don’t know what I am talking about?

            Or maybe you understand what I am saying and agree with me. I leave the decision to you. Just think about a few more things.


            If you are not active and do not force your body to exercise it is your conscious decision to do so (or to not do so in this case). You, the individual decides to sit on your lazy butt and watch TV or surf the internet instead of participating in some kind of physical activity. You choose not to move and use the muscular system that was designed with that singular purpose. It was your choice.

            If you are gaining weight from eating too much or eating unhealthy food options it was your choice to put that food in your mouth. You had to physically pick the food up and put it into your mouth. No one else did that for you. You activated your voluntary muscle system and inserted the food into your mouth, you voluntarily chewed and swallowed it immediately after that. And that is the cold hard truth.

            As a fitness professional I no long spend my time coddling people. The facts are this: if you are not active and if you eat crap food YOU made the conscious decision to do so. It is not someone else’s fault, it isn’t something else’s fault. You control all the muscles that made the actions (or inactions) occur.

            I think all fitness professionals should take some time and step back to analyze their strategies for dealing with lazy and overweight people. I am not saying it is not a challenge to make better decisions, I know first hand that it is. Years ago I was 5’6” ( still am) and weighted 230lbs (I am not anymore).

            We should not make ‘easy’ programs that are barely better than nothing at all just so we can make exercise seem easier. We should not say that everything is okay in moderation when it is not.

            We should let people know that exercise needs to get your blood pumping, lungs working, and muscles moving. Everything is okay once in a while but, no, you do not NEED dessert every dinner. Your body doesn’t REQUIRE it, your brain does.

            And above all, we should teach the difference between voluntary and involuntary. Make all the excuses you want and come up with as many arguments you want to discredit what I am saying. The simple fact of the matter is that you control your actions. If your actions lead to inactivity and obesity it is your fault. Period.

  1. Paulo12 says:

    Great article Taylor. If everyone was to ‘man up’, and actually take responsibility for their own actions (as opposed to spending time and effort making excuses), the world would not only be a healthier place, but a better place to live. It seems as though people are willing to spend more energy finding excuses for making unhealthy choices, than getting off their ass, and actually doing something about improving their health. We, as fitness professionals need to start calling it as we see it, and must be brutally honest with those individuals who need it. Easier said than done at times, we can not start feeling sorry for people. If someone requires change, because their health is suffering, we must do everything in our power to ensure they are aware of the consequences of not changing their ways. Make sense?? I hope so. I realize that I’ve pretty much just given a synopsis of your artice, but a little positive reinforcement’s never hurt anyone. Hope all’s well mate. I’ll be in touch soon.

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