Sprint faster. Be more explosive off the line. Increase agility and quickness. These common goals cannot be achieved without the development of fast-twitch muscles. What are fast-twitch muscles, you ask? The difference between fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscles has a lot to do with the intensity of movement sustained over time.
If a person were to hold an abdominal plank for a two minutes, for example, or do a wall sit for five minutes, they would be developing and using (mostly) slow-twitch muscles. When it comes to slow-twitch, think endurance.
Fast-twitch muscle fibers, on the other hand, are activated by high intensity movements sustained in short bursts. Examples include sprints, burpees, and quick lateral movements. Many activities, such as boxing and basketball, incorporate both slow-twitch and fast-twitch fibers.
How to Build Fast-Twitch Muscle
In many ways, building fast-twitch muscles is about diversifying your workouts. The idea is to introduce activities that force the body to recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers it might not otherwise use. Here are three tips to help you do just that:
- Expand your strength training – Resistance training is an important cornerstone of most fitness regimens. Incorporate more fast-twitch movements by performing reps at a faster rate, or working in exercises like power clean and snatch.
- Sprints and agility drills – Straight sprints can be quite boring. Try adding changes in motion to your sprint routine, such as there-backs or three-point agility drills. Sprint up and down a flight of stairs. Incorporate resistance bands or perform explosive movements underwater. You can also recruit new muscle fibers by borrowing from sports you don’t even play, but that rely on good agility, such as football, soccer, and gymnastics.
- Work in some plyometrics – Plyometrics are all about quick, powerful expansions and contractions of a given muscle or muscle group. The burpee is a classic (and timeless!) example. You might also consider explosive bodyweight exercises such as jump squats, split-squat lunges, or plyo push-up. Military training and crossfit programs are famous for incorporating plyometric exercises, so start there if you need ideas.
Pushing the Boundaries Safely
You’ll notice that building fast-twitch muscle fibers often requires pushing your body beyond the limits you are used to. While beneficial in many ways, this also introduces increased injury risk.
Athletes of the highest levels often perform these exercises in controlled environments, or under the supervision of certified professionals. Tools like the AlterG® Anti-Gravity Treadmill can be used, for example, to limit injury risk and body-weight impact during highly strenuous sprinting exercises.
Regardless of how you choose to build fast-twitch muscles, remember that no workout regimen is exclusive of your diet and sleep regimen. Your ability to perform these workouts without injury, as well as to recover properly after taxing workouts, is just as important to building fast-twitch muscle fibers as the exercises themselves.