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Fast-twitch versus slow-twitch muscles: how do you train for both speed and endurance



  Exhausted mature man running uphill on gym treadmill

Better with long clogs on the treadmill than sprinting? It can be your genetics.


Steve Prezant / Getty Images

Have you ever seriously set out to train for a marathon, but do you find yourself much better in short sprints? Your inability to become a master of endurance can actually be due to your genetics, not to laziness.

It appears that everyone is born with different amounts of the two main muscle types, called slow-twitch and fast-twitch. You may have seen some people call this online pseudoscience, but the research supports this. Slow and fast muscle twitches work in very different ways and are responsible for various athletic functions. But don't worry – you can train to change the amount of slow versus fast twitch muscles you have, so all hope is not lost for your future marathoning career.

What is the difference between slow and fast muscle twitches?

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Sustainability training uses slow muscle twitches. Angela Lang / CNET
Muscle fibers can generally be divided into two categories based on how quickly they produce tension, although all fibers generate the same amount of strength. Slow muscle twitches contract more slowly (hence the name) and can work for a long time without losing energy. Fast muscle twitches are stronger, but they get tired faster.

When you do aerobic endurance activities – think of long-distance running, cycling and swimming – you rely on slowly vibrating muscles. They are more efficient in using oxygen to generate ATP, the energy that our cells use to work.

More explosive movements – sprinting, jumping and heavy weightlifting – use fast-twitch muscles. Rapid muscle contractions contract with the help of an anaerobic process, which means that they do not use oxygen. They also produce lactic acid, which is why you get that burning sensation in your legs after a hard sprint.

Are there other types of muscle fibers?

There is actually a third kind of fiber, aptly called "couch potato" muscle fibers. They are also called superfast muscle twitches and are even stronger than normal speed twitches, but they get tired much faster. When you start exercising, these fibers will turn into the more useful fast twitch. Conversely, if you have spent a little too much time on the couch, they return to the couch potato status.

See the fibers of the couch potato as an evolutionary fail-safe – even if you are generally inactive, you need their rapid bursts in an emergency situation.

Of which type of muscle do I have more?

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Explosive body 9 fibers9

As a general population, our muscle fibers are distributed about 50/50 across the center, but there is a fairly large variation between each person. There is no exact way to tell which type you have more, unless you are a top athlete and participate in some scientific tests. But you can make a pretty good guess by thinking about what kind of activities you are naturally better at.

For example, I like slow cardio for long periods. I can't sprint to save my life, but I'm always on a 10-mile walk. I dare to assume that my distribution is properly weighted for muscles with a low pull.

Your baseline distribution is determined by genetics. So, if you've always wanted to complete an insane endurance event, but naturally seem to be better at lifting heavy weights, you should blame mom and dad.

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Mix a long clog on the treadmill with some sprints.


Westend61 / Getty Images

The short answer is yes, and the medium answer is also yes – but researchers are unclear about the exact science behind the phenomenon. Our muscle fiber distribution seems to change every day and scientists have no formula for which intensity of which activities produces an exact result.

However, it has been generally observed that concentrating your workouts on endurance or explosive movements results in an increase in slow or fast vibrating muscles, respectively. So, if you've been beating hard on the treadmill lately, the percentage of your muscles that is slow is almost certain to grow.

For optimal overall muscle growth, you want to do both types of fitness training – after you finish a long, slow jog, don't forget to do some sprints or body weight exercises. [19659033] Training for slow-twitch

  • Long, simple sessions on the treadmill. Spice it up with a few podcasts, YouTube channels or Netflix.
  • Go for a walk with your dog in the neighborhood until you are both exhausted.
  • Go for a swim in your local lake or swimming pool.
  • Lift lighter weights for 12 or more repetitions, or do body weight exercises.

Training for fast-twitch

  • Sprint, jump rope or HIIT cardio.
  • Run or power up a hill as quickly as possible. [19659035] Explosive kettlebell movements.
  • Lift heavier weights for three to five repetitions.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a doctor or other qualified health care professional for any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.


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