Training

The Fast-Twitch Athlete – A Gift and Curse for CrossFit


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Being fast-twitch dominant is a blessing for sports that rely on high power output. I almost feel invincible when it comes to training for these sports. For example, I played football and ran track my whole life, and dominated both naturally. As a wide receiver and a short distance (100m and 200m) sprinter, I was the fastest and most explosive athlete on the field.

I can run fast, jump high, my power output is staggering and my explosiveness is enormous – I try to be humble, but those are simply objective facts. However, being fast-twitch dominant has also been my curse.  For example, I’m unable to sustain a run longer than 800m without my calves or hamstrings tightening.

“Fast-twitch (Type IIa & IIb) muscle fibers are the ones that develop force and relax rapidly, thus having a shorter twitch time than slow-twitch Type I fibers. Type II motor units are characterized as more fatigable, having lower aerobic power, more rapid force development, higher actomyosin myofibrillar ATPase activity, and higher anerobic power than Type I motor units (Essential of Strength Training and Conditioning).” The GIFTS of being a fast-twitch athlete are: speed, agility, impulse and power. All of these attributes allow me to be successful and different from most athletes because of my “ability to achieve high movement velocities and accelerations that involves high RFD as well as force application across a range of power outputs and muscle action (Essential of Strength Training and Conditioning).” If I’m playing a sport that requires explosiveness and speed, my Type II fibers allows me to separate myself from everybody else. I’m able to run a 4.30 second 40 yard dash, a 10.3 second 100m sprint and a 21.2 second 200m sprinting, vertical leap 41” cold, broad jump 11’7″, power clean 355, power snatch 275, hang power snatch 305 and standing vertical box jump 60″. Now, most of my abilities are God-given, I have to admit, but I can not deny what science says. I may not be the best at longer distance runs, but I can probably smoke you off the blocks.

The average football play last about 4-6 seconds. if extended, 15 seconds. That’s my cup of tea. All I have to do is run a route full speed for a short period of time. I’m unstoppable. A CrossFit WOD lasting between 5 and 10 minutes is also right in my wheelhouse. I’m able to sustain high speed, high velocity and high power output for about 5 minutes. My body is built to withstand 0-6 seconds, 6-30 seconds and 30- 2 minute exercises of extremely high (95-100%), very high (90-95%), and high (80-90%) intensity events. These times allow my primary energy systems of phosphagen and fast glycolysis to fuel my best possible performance. However, The 30 second – 2 minute duration is something I’m struggling with in my training right now. Actually, I’ve struggled with this since I started sports. Conditioning for anything that exceeds 25 seconds is a weakness of mine. This is where being fast-twitch dominant becomes my CURSE.

As I stated before, fast-twitch Type II fibers have lower endurance than Type I fibers.  They come out fast but are unable to keep up the high levels of force output. Multiple runs over 25 seconds apiece pose a threat to me. It’s almost like it’s hard for my calves and hamstrings to understand that I need to run longer than 25 seconds consecutively!  It’s *literally* a pain in the ass.

Now, I’ll give you one or two 400m runs full speed, but that will be it. After that, my eyes are blood-shot red, my heart’s coming out of my chest, and my hamstrings are on fire!

Athletes that are slow-twitch Type I dominant are known to run longer distance but have lower power output, but they may make great Crossfit athletes, especially for longer WODs where there’s a heavier reliance on oxidative energy systems.

During Crossfit WODs, anything over 10 minutes poses a huge problem for me. Because of the speed of my power output and explosiveness, my heart rate speeds up faster than most. I get tired faster and my muscles tighten up earlier than most peoples’ do. CrossFit has shown me that vulnerability, which is a good thing because to be great, you can not be invincible.

You must acknowledge that you have weaknesses and that you’re working on them to make them your strengths. Ever since I started training at Dogtown my conditioning has improved significantly. I’m not saying “lets go run 4x400m runs.” And if you try to rope me in to something like that, you’ll be running alone!

What I’m saying is that I now know how to pace myself and not do everything 100%. Its the football mentality in me. I was trained to go 100% at all times, but now 75-85% is my range.  It has to be, or my Type II fibers will churn out too much lactic acid and slow me down. To be the best that I can be is the deciding factor to achieve perseverance. Of course, keep in mind that fiber types aren’t everything.  From SportsMedicine.com:

“Fiber type is part of a great athlete’s success, but it alone is a poor predictor of performance. There are many other factors that go into determining athleticism, including mental preparedness, proper nutrition and hydration, getting enough rest, and having appropriate equipment and conditioning.”

In the end, it still comes down to your work ethic and who you want staring back at you in the mirror. The battle may be partially with my body and muscle fibers, but the battle also lies within me. I’m the one that has to lay down the ground work and finish it off smoothly. This curse is something that’s meant to be conquered and made into a blessing.

James Townsend is a freak. Plain and simple, no exaggeration or embellishment, he is the .1% of .1% when it comes to speed, strength and explosive power. A former track star and NFL Wide Receiver, James is taking his 455 bench, 45″ vertical and 4.30 40 speed to CrossFit and the powerlifting platform

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