Muscles aren’t about their size when it comes to performance. It is about the muscle fibers that make up the muscles!

Understanding the difference between slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers and how to train them properly is critical.

 

If you are looking to be able to strike harder, strength alone won’t result in a powerful punch.

One of the governing factors of punching power is developing the muscles properly to execute great technique. Unfortunately, muscles can be metabolically expensive to maintain.

Your body loses muscle weight when not being active and engaged. Therefore, it is important to train regularly to maintain muscles.

Working out also helps recruit muscle fibers, thus increasing muscle mass.

 

Are you looking to achieve your optimal physical ability to perform Martial Arts?

First, it is important to understand the biology of the muscles and the type of training you should undertake. This article explores both the biological and mechanical aspects of muscle building for Martial Arts. The difference between slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fiber development, plyometric training, and HIIT training

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Biology Behind Muscles: Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibers

Muscles generate all the power for locomotion or to execute a movement. Muscles are composed of muscle fibers.

They are separated into two types: slow-twitch (Type I) muscle fibers and fast-twitch (Type II) muscle fibers.

Slow-twitch muscle fibers can generate energy over extended periods. On the other hand, fast-twitch muscle fibers can produce massive amounts of ‘explosive’ energy in a very short period.

Fast-twitch muscle fibers are divided further into two sub-categories. Oxidative-glycolytic (Type IIa) fast-twitch muscle fibers and non-oxidative (Type IIx) fast-twitch muscle fibers.

 

Slow-Twitch Muscle Fibers
  • Also known as Type I muscle fibers
  • Slow fatiguing
  • Slow contracting
  • Small diameter
  • High number of mitochondria
  • Uses fat stores for energy production

 

Oxidative-Glycolytic Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibers
  • Also known as Type IIa muscle fibers
  • Considerable number of mitochondria
  • Taps into both fat stores and glycogen for energy production
  • Quick to recover and doesn’t get fatigued easily
  • Good for repetitive, fast, low-intensity activities

 

Non-Oxidative Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibers
  • Also known as Type IIx muscle fibers
  • High number of mitochondria
  • Large diameter
  • Fatigues quickly (Limited endurance capacity)
  • Capable of producing high intensity, large-power output

 

The fast-twitch: slow-twitch muscle fiber ratio is determined genetically.

No amount of exercise or training will change this ratio, but it is possible to convert type IIx muscle fibers to type IIa or vice versa. A typically inactive person possesses type IIx muscle fibers as they are metabolically efficient at rest but also allows reaction to stimuli.

This is what allows them to sprint a short distance or lift a heavy object during an emergency. When you exercise type IIx muscle fibers are converted to the more useful, longer-lasting type IIa muscle fibers. During a period of inactivity, they are converted back to type IIx.

 

Martial Arts require muscle to be an explosive force over a considerable time.

Type I fibers can generate a considerably small force over extended periods. Type IIx muscle fibers can generate a large, explosive force but over a considerably small period.

Therefore, the type of muscle fiber most suited for martial arts is Type IIa muscle fibers.

 

To increase the size and number of muscle fibers, it is essential to understand how different types of muscle fibers are recruited during muscle contraction.

Type I fibers are first utilized . If the power being generated by the slow-twitch muscle fibers are inadequate, Type IIx will be utilized.

Finally, type IIa muscle fibers are utilized.

 

Fast-twitch muscle fibers can be recruited by;

 

  1. Plyometric Exercises

Performing exercises such as punching workouts, box jumps and hill sprinting as quickly as possible. Such powerful, explosive movement requires strong, yet quick contractions. Therefore, fast-twitch muscle fiber recruitment is favored.

Explosive exercises integrated into a High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) program is one of the best ways to condition the body for Martial Arts.

 

  1. Training to momentary muscular failure

Muscle fibers will be utilized in sequential order.Ensuring that the fast-twitch muscle fibers are also being trained. Your muscles should be worked until you cannot perform another rep.

These exercises can be performed slowly, lessening the chance of injury.

 

 

Mechanics of Muscles

 

Plyometric Exercises

Plyometrics are exercises that generate forceful and rapid muscle contractions. These exercises can vary into an array of movements including hopping, jumping, sprinting and punching. One of the major reasons to do plyometric exercises is to increase fast-twitch (Type IIa) muscle recruitment, increasing the power generated by muscles.

The plyometric movement is executed in 3 phases. The phases are known as the Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC).

 

Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC)

 

The three phases of muscular contraction involved are;

 

  1. Eccentric phase: The lengthening/stretching phase of the muscle as it is loaded and tensioned.

 

  1. Amortization phase: The brief pause that occurs at the peak of the Eccentric phase, before the Concentric phase begins

 

  1. Concentric phase: The shortening/contracting phase of the muscle to complete the plyometric movement

 

Working out doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the gym four times a week. Instead, you can work out at home.

Listed below are a few speed and power building body weight exercises you can try at home.

 

Plyometric Push-ups

 

Plyometric push-ups are a great way to improve the power generated from the upper body. This form of push-ups can be a little difficult to execute for beginners.

So, make sure that you can perform at least 30 push-ups in one go before trying plyometric push-ups.

 

Muscles worked:

  • Anterior Shoulder- Deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Pectoral
  • Abdominal
  • Obliques
  • Scapular Stabilizers- Rhomboids, Rear Delts

 

 

the difference between slow twitch fast twitch

How to perform a plyo push-up:

 

  1. Begin in with the push-up position with hands on the floor.
  2. Keep your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and with the feet together.
  3. While keeping the back flat, slowly lower yourself to the ground.
  4. With one explosive movement, push up and away from the floor, bringing the hands off the floor.
  5. Land with the hands on the ground.
  6. To add difficulty; try clapping while in the air.

 

Box Jumps

 

This is one of the classical plyometric exercises for the lower body. This helps in achieving quicker footwork and allowing the execution of proper lower body movement to add maximum momentum to a punch.

There are many variations of box jumps. I add them often to my weekend runs. You can find a bench, table, or sturdy ledge that will support you.

A great workout for Martial Artists!

 

Muscles worked:

  • Glutes
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves

 

the difference between slow twitch fast twitch

the difference between slow twitch fast twitch

 

How to perform the box jump:

  1. Stand in a balanced position.
  2. When you’re ready, drop into a squat and explode up from the ground.
  3. Focus on landing “softly” and “balanced”.

 

HIIT

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a short, intense series of exercises, with a recovery phase before repetition. HIIT training brings heartbeat, cardiovascular and aerobic levels to near optimized levels.

Increasing metabolism, aerobic performance and lowering body fat levels. It also increases aerobic levels, improves handling of stress and decreases insulin resistance.

HIIT coupled with plyometric exercises can elevate your body to its peak physical conditions.

A few of the advantages of HIIT training are;

  • Increase in agility, speed, and explosiveness
  • Increase in peak power output
  • Greater endurance
  • Improved fat reduction
  • Greater metabolic capacity

 

The main aim of following a HIIT program is to recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers.

It is best to follow a body weight HIIT program. It not only recruits Type IIa muscle fibers, it also improves body coordination and balance.

Since HIIT workouts only take 15-20 minutes, it can be done even on the busiest days.

 

Muscles suffer mechanical damage during HIIT.

Therefore, it is important to get adequate rest before training again. Training 4 times a week provides maximum results.

The amount of rest required can differ according to each individual. A person’s fitness level, sex, diet, medical history, and age are all factors.

You don’t need an instructor to get a HIIT workout plan. There are many HIIT workout plans throughout the internet. There are also several free HIIT timers you can download on your phone.

Muscle & Strength has five HIIT workouts you can choose from here.

Choose the best HIIT workout plan for you.

 

If you want read further on learning how to punch harder you will enjoy this article here.

Do you have a favorite HIIT workout that you enjoy doing?
Tell us why you started a HIIT workout.
Was it to lose weight or performance?
How did you see them impact your results?

4 Comments

  1. Hi, wow this is a great explanation. As a dancer I find I have to execute both fast and slow twitch muscle fibres; I’ve always gravitated more towards slow twitch I believe, so it was interesting what you said about the role genetics has to play.

    Fast twitch muscle fibres are needed for popping and locking in hip hop, so this is definitely something I’d like to develop more. Also I never knew what this type of push up was called- plyometric. Now I finally know what it is! Really great article, I especially liked the demonstrations as I feel like that massively helped me understand what you were describing. Thanks so much 🙂

    1. Natalie,
      I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on this article.

      Understanding how the body works can increase our abilities tremendously.
      At least me personally it helps me a lot with my training.
      I look back now and I used to do a lot of workouts and activities that probably were not as beneficial to me as I believed they were at the time.

      “Work smarter not harder” I believe applies to our workouts and training as well.

  2. Wow I had no idea about any of this, but reading your post has certainly helped me to find tune my own workouts. I’m definitely going to try and incorporate Plyometric push-ups. I’d love to do the box jump too but I’m not sure my strength is there yet 🤪 . Maybe I’ll start with a low step & make my way up to the table like you !

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