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Ask Me Anything: Speed

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    Azercord this is an excellent question to finish this thread with. Generally we all have, largely, the same muscle fiber consistency which (generally again) is broken down into 50% fast-twitch action fiber and 50% slow-twitch action fiber. In principle this means we are all equally capable of being fast when we need to and being durable when we need to. In practice however this is not so. Especially when we take into account that genetics play a role on the consistency of our fast-twitch action fibers.

    Since we are talking about this and before I break them down it will be useful to explain this for anyone who doesn't know or is not sure about it. The body's skeletal muscles consist of slow-twitch action fiber and fast-twitch action fiber in roughly equal percentage. Slow-twitch muscle fibers are more efficient at using oxygen to generate more adenosine triphosphate (ATP) fuel for continuous, extended muscle contractions over a long time. They fire more slowly than fast-twitch fibers and can go for a long time before they fatigue. Fast-twitch fibers use anaerobic metabolism to create fuel, they are better at generating short bursts of strength or speed than slow muscles. However, they fatigue more quickly. Both types of muscle fiber produce exactly the same amount of force per contraction. But because they have different firing rates and also different thresholds for activation they engage when we perform different types of tasks. For instance, sprinting, engages predominantly fast-twitch action fibers with barely any activation of the slow-twitch action fibers the same goes for lifting heavy weights. Long-distance running on the other hand requires slow-twitch action fibers which are more efficient when we take deep breaths to oxygenate the bloodstream.

    Now, fast-twitch action fibers come in two different flavors. Type IIa and Type IIb. It's easiest to visualize them as going from fast to fastest as we go up the scale (collectively they are known as Type II muscle fiber). Type IIa can use perform both aerobically and anaerobically while type IIb are pure anaerobic performers with lightning-fast action. Genetics predispose us to a certain muscle fiber composition. Exercise and conditioning, in turn, activate specific methylation processes which, in turn, activate or deactivate gene activity in a process called gene expression. This, in turn, explains why exercise creates epigenetic changes in us that can reverse the effects of ageing or differentiate us from other, very similar humans.

    Epigenetic changes have limits, though scientifically we have not yet explored these. We could, maybe, train a bodybuilder to be really fast and still maintain muscle mass (the essence of conditioning) but he will never be a world-class sprinter without sacrificing some muscle weight. A good example of this from the world of sport is former world-class British boxing champion Carl Froch who could run six miles in under 40 minutes. At 6ft 1 and 180lbs that is nothing less than jaw-dropping speed.

    This brings us directly to your question. To answer it I would have to ask "what is it you want to do?" If it's to get a little bit faster I'd say you're there already with your lifting. If it's to sprint faster then you'd have to train differently. The latest studies show us that performance gains are always sports specific. You can't be a truly fast sprinter without undertaking sprinting-specific training to build up neural responses and muscle memory, perfect form and condition the parts of the body that get tired to work longer. Similarly, if you want to be able to lift large weights efficiently you need more than just strength. You have to lift large weights until your neurone and muscles adapt to the task.

    You play to your strengths when you want to see progress and evolve in, again, a task-specific goal you find easy and really like. You mix and match when you want to challenge your body to adapt further and your neurone to evolve but you do need to keep in mind that there are limits to how far you will get without having to actually change what you do. As an example, when competing in Tae Kwon Do we trained with sprinters and ballet dancers who kicked our butt. We became faster and more flexible as a result but we didn't even get to 1/20th of the speed or agility of sprinters and ballet dancers. Just like they couldn't fight in a martial arts contest.

    I really hope this answered your question. I am going to close this thread now, but if there is a follow up you need me to add in my answer please PM me and I will add it here. Stay safe and thank you everyone for taking part in this. I hope you will be able to reference it in your answers to new people joining The Hive whose fitness journey and knowledge is only just beginning.