It’s where you’d least expect it.
Have you ever wondered where the strongest muscle in the human body is? The truth is, there are a few different candidates depending on how you look at it. There is no one answer to this question since there are various ways to measure strength. There is absolute strength (maximum force), dynamic strength (repeated motions), elastic strength (ability to exert force quickly), and strength endurance (ability to withstand fatigue).
Due to the complexity of defining strength, we’re required to observe multiple categories and crown various champions. Here is a breakdown of the three winners — all extremely different in nature, but each deserving of a spot on the podium in their own way.
The king of endurance and elastic strength.
It’s pretty hard to argue against your heart for this category. It beats about 100,000 times per day, 35 million times per year, and approximately 2.5 billion times in the average lifetime. It never gets a rest day, or even a coffee break. Despite this, it has the uncanny ability to withstand the pressure of our circulatory system, and support the ever-changing demands of our tissues.
The composition of cardiac muscle is unique to skeletal muscle in that each cell has a single nucleus and contains intercalated discs. These discs allow for the heart to have an intrinsic rhythm without external stimulation. This means that every cell can work in synchrony to produce a heartbeat without you even having to blink.
It’s a true work of art.
The leader of maximal and dynamic strength.
The soleus is the muscle that can pull with the greatest force. Located in the calf, it plays a key role in locomotion. The soleus has the capability to produce great dynamic and explosive strength during jumping activities based on its position and composition.
Without it, you wouldn’t be able to walk or run! It’s also an important player in keeping the body upright. If not for its constant pull, you would begin to fall forward at all times. It’s certainly in the runner-up discussion for the ‘most valuable muscle’ award.
The ultimate champion.
The strongest muscle based on its weight (or relative size) may come as a bit of a surprise. No, it’s not your quads, pecs, or glutes. The muscle that takes the crown is the masseter (or jaw muscle), based on its unbelievable ability to snap the jaw shut. It is a thick and rectangular muscle originating at the cheekbone.
Being a mastication muscle, it elevates the jaw powerfully to support chewing. It can close the teeth with a force as great as 55 pounds on the incisors, or 200 pounds on the molars. 200 pounds of strength for a facial muscle.
It looks like we have a winner.
Bonus facts about your muscles.
What’s the largest muscle in the body?
The gluteus maximus, also known as the buttocks, is the biggest muscle in the body. It plays an essential role in keeping the body upright, extending the thigh at the hip, and externally rotating the leg. If you ever go on a hike, you’ll be sure to feel them about halfway through.
What’s the smallest muscle?
The stapedius muscle in your ears takes the cake. It has the unique job of stabilizing the smallest bone in the body: the stapes of the inner ear. This helps to control the amplitude of incoming sound waves. They are triggered by abnormally loud noises and ensure that the mechanics of your inner ear dampen the blow. You have these two little guys to thank for not going deaf when you’re twenty.
What’s the strangest-looking muscle?
The sartorius muscle is a thin band of tissue that runs over your quadriceps. Its name comes from the Latin word sartor, meaning tailor. The hypothesis for the name origin comes from the location of the inferior portion of the muscle being the “inseam” of the inner thigh that tailors commonly measure when fitting trousers. Another theory is that the muscle closely resembles a tailor’s ribbon. It just so happens to be the longest muscle in the human body as well.
What’s the busiest muscle(s)?
No, your eyes don’t just move on their own. They have a team of 7 extra-ocular muscles that work tirelessly to support your most important sense of vision. In one hour of reading, they will make as many as 10,000 coordinated movements. Many of these rapid eye movements take place during the dreaming phase of sleep.
What’s the ‘newest’ muscle?
The tensor vastus intermedius is the most recently discovered muscle. In 2016, researchers found an additional muscle belly on the quadriceps region. The TVI muscle lies between the vastus intermedius and vastus lateralis muscles of the thigh. This discovering is so groundbreaking that we may need to pull out the dictionary to change our name of this region to the ‘quintceps’ muscle.
The debate of the strongest muscle in the human body is a tricky one, as there are multiple ways to judge strength. Based on relative size, however, the crown goes to your trusty masseter muscle within the jaw. At the end of the day, we should just appreciate the vast diversity within our musculoskeletal system. Whether it’s the tiny stapedius in your inner ear or the gargantuan gluteus maximus, each muscle has a critical role in our life-long battle for optimal functioning and equilibrium.
“The human body is the best work of art.” — Jess C. Scott
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