The answer to this question is definitely yes, to some extent. While most of us are not signing up for a $70,000 map of our genetic code that is now available through our ever improving ability to decode the genome, we can improve our own training tactics based on what we know. What are you better at or what seems less painful - fast, short distance sprinting, or long distance running? Would you rather do 5 seconds of maximal work, or would you rather do an hour of lighter, more repetitive work? Or would you rather a mix of both types of work-out?
All of us are born with two basic types of muscle fibers, Type I and Type II. Slow twitch or Type I muscle fibers are the fibers we call into action for long, slow, postural type of work, like sitting in the car for a long road trip, or going for a long, slow jog, or even running a marathon. These fibers don’t contain much oxygen, are slow to respond, and can act forever in comparison to Type II muscle fibers because they are great at optimally utilizing energy (ATP) for the long haul.
Type II muscle fibers are the red muscles you think of in red meat in chickens. They are considered fast twitch muscles, that respond quickly when needed, are full of oxygen, with a burst of energy, ready for quick actions like sprinting or benching a world record breaking weight once or twice, but have low levels of endurance. In no time at all, the energy and ATP are gone.
Some of us are born with a relatively even percentage of Type I and Type II fibers, which then can be modified by our earliest sport training, Olympic and other elite athletes tend to have a large distribution of one type of fiber or another. For example, an Olympic sprinter has a large number of Type II muscle fibers, whereas the Olympic marathoner has a large number of Type I muscle fibers.
Exercise science research has shown that there is only a one-way ability to convert muscle fibers. While Type II fibers can be converted into Type I fibers, once you lose Type II fibers, they do not come back. They remain Type I fibers, never to return to Type II usefulness again.
So what does this mean for the non-elite among us? If you have decided to become a distance athlete, biker, or swimmer for life, realize that being the fastest of the bunch at the pick-up games of basketball and the Quickie of the backyard flag football games may just be a thing of the past. Whereas, if you continue to play sports such as racquetball, kickball, basketball, tennis, hockey, and just playing tag with your kids in the backyard on a regular basis, you can still maintain your percentage of Type I to Type II muscle fibers as you continue to condition for distance events. However, if you are determined to become a distance event guru and you have been dabbling in some sprinting type events, if you drop the speedy moves, your gains in Type I fibers may well push you right to the efficiency level you need to improve your distance PRs this season.
Finally, any time you train for a specific goal or event, be sure to make your training sessions as specific as possible. No need to run 10 miles at a time for a 5K. You would do better developing a training base up to 5 miles, and then working on picking up your pace to gain a better time. If you are training for a weight lifting event, no need to run long distances at all. Focus on weight training, footwork, add some plyos for power, and watch your diet.
If you need help developing an appropriate work-out or training program, or perhaps you’ve suffered from injuries training for the same event in the past, our MotionWorks physical therapists are here to help. We are experienced in helping all types of athletes develop and modify training programs that are efficient and still include all the ingredients you will need to succeed at your event without being hampered by injuries. Call 920-215-2050 if you would like to set up a one-on-one sports assessment testing or program development session. Just one visit or multi-session packages are available.