Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Muscles Behind the Tour de France

I rarely watch TV these days. I have nothing against it, I just haven't made the time to watch it. That is, until the Tour de France started this year... What an amazing example of pure (for some not always pure) athletic talent. Despite the controversy of steroids and blood doping, the use of certain muscle fiber types is represented so well.


We have two main types of muscle fibers Type I (slow twitch) fibers, and Type II (fast twitch fibers). Type I fibers are used for repetitive, long endurance activity. They don't fatigue very easily and make the body seem leaner. Type II fibers are used for short bursts of energy. They are extremely powerful and also fatigue very quickly. They make the body look much thicker and muscular than Type I fibers.


                                         Type I Fiber      


                                                                                                                                              Type II Fiber


The cyclists in the Tour de France have to engage both types of fibers during their competition. Their hours and hours of competing every day requires constant Type I fiber use, yet they must also sprint! This requires Type II  fiber use. This style of sport is extremely intense and requires many years of training be done well.

Since we now know what our muscle fibers are specifically used for,  let's use this information for our workouts. How do we train? Power lifters engage in short bursts of energy. They primarily engage Type II fibers. Marathon runners require repetitive motion for long periods of time. They are going to mostly use Type I fibers. Cyclists require both! What do you want to focus on? If your goal is overall fitness... Do everything. You can lift weights one day, run longer distances that next day and then take it from there. This style of Cross-training is also the best way to strengthen our hearts and muscles.

In case you are wondering... Each of us is born with a specific genetic ratio of Type I:Type II fibers. Some of us are natural sprinters (more Type II fibers) and conversely, others are natural long distance runners (more Type I fibers). Even though we can never change our fiber type ratio, that doesn't mean we cant train the way we love. Through consistent exercise, all of us can still strengthen the specific fibers we choose to train. 

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Switching Up The Routine

When it comes to training, the redundancy implied from a "routine" doesn't always need to be applied. If you run the same 3 mile loop every day, your body will eventually become accustomed to it. The initial results you received from your runs will eventually taper out and plateau. Fortunately, there are ways to fix this. If you want to direct your workouts to receive constant results, varying your activity is vital.

This puts us in a predicament. What do to do now? Well, one option is to continue doing the same thing we were doing and not receive the physical benefits that we were once striving for. The other option is to try something new. When we change our workouts and "shock" the body, we respond to that activity more drastically. That "shock" response is expressed by what ever that activity demands; increase in strength, more endurance, higher VO2 max, etc. The best way to think about this physical phenomena is to view this reaction as a defense mechanism. I know, it sounds a little crazy, but it makes sense. Since our genetic code has not changed in thousands and thousands of years,let's think about what happened when we were trying to survive in the wild. If a human wasn't fast or agile enough to catch a dear for food, or maybe even pick up something up that was really heavy (perhaps rocks or branches for shelter) then that would result in compromising chances for survival. As a defense mechanism, the body naturally increases speed, agility or strength just in order to stay alive (whether it be catching that dear or picking up that rock). This theory still applies today.

Since we don't catch our own food anymore or build shelter, we can see our bodies physically react to our workouts. If we sprint as fast as we can or pick up a weight that gets really heavy,we are naturally going to get faster or put on more muscle in order to be prepared for the next time we are in that situation (same thing like trying to catch an animal or pick up heavy rocks for shelter).

However, if we don't lift weights that are heavy for us or don't run to the point of physical fatigue, we aren't going to reach those results....just a flat plateau. Since it is now officially summer (and the weather is now permitting), we have so many more options to vary our workouts. If you are just a runner, try some of outdoor pools for swimming. If you have just been lifting weights, go for a run in the park. Try running the stairs if you have just been doing even paced miles. You can even hop on a bike and put some miles on your belt. If you really enjoy variation, try multi-sport events such as a triathlon. Priority Fitness' trainer Chris will be doing his first NYC Triathlon this July 26th, Go Chris!! Varying your activity can also keep our minds from "plateauing". It's extremely important to keep our heads fresh and feel excited for all the different types of things out there.