Fiber Types

Back in Chapter 3, "What Goes Where and Why," we told you about the different muscle fiber types—fast-twitch and slow-twitch—and their different characteristics. Remember that it's the fast-twitch fibers that have the greatest potential for size and strength gains, so if you were to build a perfect weight lifter, he or she would be chock-full of fast-twitch fibers. The problem—if in fact this is a problem—is that you can't choose the fiber type that you're born with (ditto on the length of your limbs and tendons). While weight training can modify a muscle fiber's characteristics, the fact is that you can't make a fast-twitch into a slow-twitch or vice versa.

If you went to the lab to construct the perfect weight lifter, you'd use lots of fast-twitch muscle fibers, short arms and legs, and long tendons. When six-footer Jonathan accompanied Deidre to her powerlifting meets, he felt like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at a jockey convention. At a bicycle race he looks like one of the herd. (This may explain why he went into bicycle racing rather than competitive lifting.) Nevertheless, he lifts diligently in order to improve his cycling performance. On the other hand, Deidre, who carries 122 pounds of sculpted muscle on her 5-foot, 3-inch frame, has the ideal muscle type and body for hoisting prodigious amounts of weight. Did she have to train like a Trojan to become a world champion? Definitively yes. Could she have been a comparatively good cyclist or basketball player? House money says no.

Your next question might be: If you can't change these things, why even bother discussing them? For the simple fact that knowing about these variables can help prevent unnecessary frustration in the weight room. As we mentioned earlier, everyone can get stronger from weight lifting, but each person responds differently even if the stimulus is the same.

Now that you know about some of the things we can't alter, let's talk about some of the things we can. Luckily, no matter what your genetics, height, or body type are, the body is an amazing machine that adapts beautifully when called upon. If you run a lot, your legs will respond; if you swim or kayak a lot, the upper body snaps to attention. The same is true of lifting weights: lift right, lift often, and the gains are there to be had.

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