When it comes to skeletal muscle, our bodies contain different types of muscle fibers. Generally speaking, there are slow twitch and fast twitch fibers. Slow twitch are more geared towards endurance and low force activities like a marathon run while fast twitch are more geared towards fast, high powered, high force and shorter duration activities like a sprint. Different muscles throughout the body will generally be composed of more of one than the other. Furthermore, different people will genetically have more of one than the other.
While fast twitch can technically be divided to multiple different subsets, the two main subsets agreed upon by most are type a and b; with type a known as fast twitch oxidative. Fast twitch oxidative fibers have some good potential for good force and power output while still having the capability to assist with endurance activities. Through specific training, we can manipulate them to develop their oxidative potential to a certain extent. (or manipulate them the other way if that is the goal). By developing this oxidative potential in the weight room, these fibers can benefit an endurance athlete to a greater extent outside of the weight room. In addition to this, while most endurance athletes seem to grasp the concept that slow twitch fibers are utilized heavily with their runs or their bike rides, many don’t realize that they can be developed and trained in the weight room. How do we do this? The answer is Tempo Lifting.
While there is more than one way to do this, I will discuss a method we have been using with a former elite long track speed skater now turned competitive cyclist. I took a lot of this specific programming idea from sports scientist legend Yuri Verkhoshansky and his “Special Strength Training Manual for Coaches” and adapted it how I needed to for the task at hand.
Using the Yoke Squat as our main exercise, we will do the following for the first and key part of the training session on one day in the current programming phase.
In 1 series, he’ll hit a set of 15 to 20 slow tempo squats (currently 3 seconds down and 3 seconds up) to tap into his slow twitch fibers and get some hypertrophy out of them, followed by a set of 20 to 25 explosive squats to tap into his fast twitch oxidative fibers in order to prepare his body for the pace changes that can occur in a race. This is done for 3 series in his current program. There is 90 seconds rest between sets and 3 to 4 minutes rest between each series (of 2 sets). The weight for the explosive set is lighter than the slow tempo set.
To hit the oxidative fibers, we need enough resistance to require the body to utilize the fast twitch fibers (need to tap into their larger motor neuron) but also enough time with that resistance to tap into the oxidative side of things. The multiple series of the high reps with enough resistance and the explosive nature of the reps is a recipe to make this happen. So within these series we accomplish a few good things that are race specific:
1. We get some slow twitch hypertrophy (muscle growth) to help with their resiliance during the course of the race
2. We get some fast twitch oxidative development to help the slow twitch fibers on their journey and to help with the turbo boosters that will be needed at various points of the race
3. We train our bodies and muscle fibers to be more resiliant, stronger and more adapative to the tempo, intensity and pace changes that will inevitably occur through different stages of an actual race.
He follows this up with prowler pushes used in a similar manner. Trip 1 is slower paced followed up immediately by Trip 2 at a sprint pace. This is done for 5 to 6 sets. This is then followed by different accessory exercises such as glute ham raises and static inverted row holds.
His other lifting day in the program is focused on max strength and speed strength, which are also very important to any endurance race enthusiast though also often overlooked. He then has multiple bike days where we will develop specific energy systems and their subsets depending on the stage we are in leading up to the race. We can cover more on these other qualities in another article.
The goals for this article are to make you aware that we can develop and train slow twitch and the oxidative capability of type a fast twitch fibers in the weight room to help performance in that next race. Check out the videos below of Liam hitting his squat sets.
Explosive/Fast Twitch Oxidative Squats
Are you getting the most out of your race performance? Train with a purpose!
Note: It is essential that you have a decent strength training base built up before diving into something like this. You should know how to squat with proper movement/form and should have a decent level of general strength built up. Also, Liam is an elite athlete and can handle the workload and volume discussed. Those at a lower training level might not need as much. This is where the individual coaching comes into play 🙂