Rowing for long distances or hitting something short and fast, the questions are, how do you improve at either of those goals, and is training muscle fiber types your secret to success?
The short answer is you are physiologically a combination of three primary muscle fiber types that share the brunt of the work we ask of our bodies:
Note: “Oxidative” refers to how fast your body can create energy in the presence of oxygen in the working muscles of your body.
No, we’re not talking about the classic lowrider cars. Instead, this is about your Type I or “slow-twitch” fibers.
The “twitch” refers to the speed at which muscle fibers contract, i.e. slow. The brain and nervous system easily send messages to these muscle fibers to tell them to contract, making them perfect for those longer distance sessions AND working on your technique.
The rowing phrase “go slow to get fast” refers to rowing with a low stroke rate for sustained periods, allowing the body to develop that flow-like state of the rowing stroke.
Fast twitch fibers have a thicker protective sheath surrounding them, so the nervous system has a greater difficulty sending signals to them. However, they make those muscle fibers contract fast when they get there!
Suppose you want a 2km personal record or the ability to maximize a workout involving multiple disciplines. Here is where Type IIa fibers shine and simultaneously allow you to maintain a high contraction speed and force produced.
A great example is the Crossfit workout Jackie (1000m row, 50 thrusters and 30 pull-ups). Of course, you won’t win this event on the row portion, but your type IIa fibers are going to be the ones powering that 1000m row and then hitting higher gears as you get into the thrusters and pull-ups.
Want to know how to crush Jackie? Check out this blog for the perfect guide How to Win Jackie Every Time.
Fastest to contract and able to exert large amounts of force, your type IIb or slow twitch fibers allow you to work on your repeat sprint ability for short distances or time. I’m thinking of those fabulous 100m or 20-second repeat sessions as these fibers are mainly anaerobic but also quick to fatigue.
The limiting factor with rowing at these higher stroke rates is maintaining form and technique. So that “go slow to get fast” phrase I mentioned earlier is why spending lots of time at lower stroke rates allows you to get to this higher range and not fall apart when fatigue creeps in.
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