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Slow & fast twitch: same proportion in arms vs legs?
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By Gung-ho Gumby
Aug 4, 2011

During a training geek-out I had with Monomaniac, an interesting question presented itself: Do our forearms have the same proportion of muscle fiber types as our legs? Does all skeletal muscle have the same proportion of Type I and Type II fibers?

From what I understand, the amount of "fast-twitch" and "slow-twitch" fibers that you have is determined by genetics. This is why some people are genetically predisposed to being better at sprinting vs. endurance events, and vice versa. However, all the studies and muscle biopsies (I've had one, it sucked) are normally done with athletes who primarily use their legs (cyclists and runners).

I would think that the muscle fiber you are born with is quite relevant to climbing. I'm talking about "high recruitment" vs. endurance, pulling V-gnar vs. hauling a 100+ foot overhanging sport climb. I'm also pretty sure that Type I endurance fibers are highly trainable (i.e. anyone can make huge gains in endurance capacity over time, with training), whereas no matter how much recruitment training a person does, they will always be limited by the amount of Type IIa & IIb fibers they were born with.

Of course, most climbers gravitate towards a type of climbing because they like it, with their natural ability playing a part too. (I hope nobody out there has ever gotten a muscle biopsy of their forearm to help them decide whether they should be a boulderer or route climber... full disclosure: I had a biopsy of my leg as a volunteer subject of a University study.)

Anyone have any anecdotal evidence or relevant info/knowledge they want to share about this? (I find it an interesting topic to discuss in the realm of sports physiology. I'm not posting this to propose that I think genetics play the deciding role in climbing potential. That is simply false.)


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By AJS
From Boulder, CO
Aug 4, 2011
In the sea of Cortez - Baja California, Mexico

Interesting!

A quick google search has a lot of links for training fast-twitch (low reps, heavy weight) vs slow-twitch (high reps, lower weight) in a weight-lifting context. So, if those sites are to be believed, it seems that one can train either fiber type preferentially over the other. I guess that's not quite what you were asking about though -- you're wondering if your 'genetic ratio' of I to II can be changed through training. I've heard (sorry, can't find any references) that that's basically true: the ratio of the *numbers* of muscle fibers remains about the same from your genetics, but you can train to change the ratio of *strengths* in those fibers...

Slightly related: I've been helping a friend train for a 5k recently. He's been a distance runner/athlete for a long time, and I've been more sprints/power focused. We've been doing a fair bit of track workouts (sprinting) together and I keep telling him to keep walking/stretching after a sprint. I was told way back in high school track that fast twitch muscles get less blood flow to them, so you want to keep a fairly high heart rate and keep moving to help them recover. Is that true?


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By dorseyec
Aug 4, 2011

AJS wrote:
I've been helping a friend train for a 5k recently. He's been a distance runner/athlete for a long time


You are helping your distance runner friend train for a 5k? People train for 5ks?


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By Gung-ho Gumby
Aug 4, 2011

AJS wrote:
Interesting! A quick google search has a lot of links for training fast-twitch (low reps, heavy weight) vs slow-twitch (high reps, lower weight) in a weight-lifting context. So, if those sites are to be believed, it seems that one can train either fiber type preferentially over the other. I guess that's not quite what you were asking about though -- you're wondering if your 'genetic ratio' of I to II can be changed through training. I've heard (sorry, can't find any references) that that's basically true: the ratio of the *numbers* of muscle fibers remains about the same from your genetics, but you can train to change the ratio of *strengths* in those fibers... Slightly related: I've been helping a friend train for a 5k recently. He's been a distance runner/athlete for a long time, and I've been more sprints/power focused. We've been doing a fair bit of track workouts (sprinting) together and I keep telling him to keep walking/stretching after a sprint. I was told way back in high school track that fast twitch muscles get less blood flow to them, so you want to keep a fairly high heart rate and keep moving to help them recover. Is that true?


AJS, I didn't ask about changing the 'genetic ratio.' I'm pretty sure that is impossible, even with drugs (likewise, I can't provide any references). But you understood me correctly that each type of muscle fiber will respond to specific stimuli. I'm clueless about training on the track for 5k runs. From experience and some literature I know that anything more than light stretching immediately before and during max efforts is not a good idea.


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By AJS
From Boulder, CO
Aug 4, 2011
In the sea of Cortez - Baja California, Mexico

@ Eric: Yes, he's training for a 5k -- he'll be sub-16:00 for sure, maybe close to 15:00.

@ Gumby: My post was a bit convoluted, sorry. I didn't mean to imply that the 'genetic ratio' could be changed -- just meant to say, yes, you can change how much of your strength comes from slow or fast fibers by changing how you use the muscles. So, I would think that yes, definitely, different muscles (legs vs arms) could be easily trained for slow- or fast- twitch activities.

My 5k thread drift question was more about proper recovery methods for fast-twitch muscles in general, not just for 5k runners. Is it better to say, do a V-gnar move or two, then totally relax those muscles or do a more active recovery that involves 'shaking out', stretching or very easy movements?

Cheers,
Adam


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By Brent Apgar
From Out of the Loop
Aug 6, 2011
Me and Spearhead

I believe that the current scientific thought on the subject is that, yes, it's possible to train whatever ratio of fast vs slow fiber types to perform better at a given task but that the fiber types will remain the same ratio.
Though there is some evidence to suggest that w/ enough training that you can get some "intermediate" fibers to change toward a type I or II.
Interesting question about the arms vs legs though... my bet would be that forearms and calves would have similar ratios... though I have no idea if that's the case.

I'm going to be the pessimist on the genetics argument though. Genetics absolutely plays a roll in all athletic performance potential. I don't care what you take, how much you train or climb, some of us just aren't destined to climb V14.


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By James Arnold
From Chattanooga
Aug 6, 2011
Chew toyed

Brent Apgar wrote:
. I don't care what you take, how much you train or climb, some of us just aren't destined to climb V14.


That said, how many people truly live up to their genetic potential dya figure. I remember watching a piece on Ohno...

O wait, the interwebs rule...=

www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/16/apolo-anton-ohnos-gruelin_>>>

That's not the one, teh interweb sux... It was over here somwehere but now it silverlights you over to the london games it appears...

i.nbcolympics.com/video/assetid=5fe08242-6467-4d1e-b812-1788>>>

Maybe here? No, that's not it, either but it's ok. The video I saw had him leaping 4-6' from plyo ball to plyo ball (not supported and truly amazing to witness) and talking about "did I do everything I possibly could to improve today?"
...


(here's my point)--I know I sure can't make that statement=-==fcol, I haven't even drank enuf h20 to get properly hydrated, just an overcaffienated keyboard monkey as it stands...


Climbing is just scratching the surface of what other sports do for performance; take isokinetics for example...

www.steelersdepot.com/2009/01/video-of-s-troy-polamalu-iso-k>>>



If I were training, I would focus on Type II x and b muscle fibers, they seem the most appropriate for the hard climbing I'd like to do.

I know of at least 1 climber who has a trainer that does all kinds of stuff to increase her "puke threshold", or LT in sports circles...

Interesting question in the OP


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