Last month Dave D. submitted a question related to progress cessation, after three months of weight training. I promised to answer a question, that was submitted by another member, last month, to provide further solutions to Dave's question, which you'll find attached below this month's reply. Here is October's submission:
Anna - You have often mentioned muscle fiber recruitment in your classes over the years and how the different types affect the development of muscle. I've been changing up my exercises but I have not made much progress lately. What changes can I make to start seeing another growth pattern?
FYI, I am working with a trainer, however I just had a "big" birthday so perhaps that has something to do with it.
Thank you for your time.
Here is a quick tutorial on muscle fibres.
Slow Twitch (Type I) are slow contracting, slow fatiguing with a small diameter. They are efficient in maintaining posture and sustaining prolonged, low intensity activity such as distance running.
Fast Twitch (Type II) have been subdivided into several sub-classes, the most frequently mentioned being Type IIA, which are suited to fast, repetitive, low intensity movement, while also resistant to fatigue and Type IIB (or IIX), fast contracting, thick fibres. These are for high power output and recruited only where very rapid, very intense effort is required, as in field athletics and heavy weightlifting.
As we get older, we develop hybrid fibre types, which contain mixtures of slow and fast myosin isoforms (myosin plays a special role in determining the contractile characteristics of muscle).
Interestingly, these hybrid fibres are scarce in young people, who exhibit less than 5% of this variety. In older adults, this value rises to over 30% and becomes the dominant fibre type in the elderly. In the active, weightlifting, older adult, muscle is referred to as "mature", with the development of additional fibre types, and requires less frequent stimulation to sustain itself' - (Anderson et al, 2000).
It is a myth that muscle is developed more quickly in young people and lost more rapidly in older individuals. In fact, the opposite is true. After 14 days of rest between heavy, muscle loading workouts, younger individuals lost a greater percentage of their strength than their older counterparts (Tesch,1998).
I've often heard people referring to making, what they feel are, necessary program changes, in order to "shock the muscle". This comes from the idea that if you do the same exercises, repeatedly, your body will become more efficient at doing them and the exercises will require less energy and muscle effort than those which are newly introduced. This is true, however it has little to do with the exercises you choose and more to do with how you're doing them.
If you're pressing the same weight at the same speed in every workout, your progress will plateau, quickly. If you increase the weight, you will progress, but much more slowly than if you incorporate weight and speed variations, during both the concentric and eccentric phases of the movement, i.e., the pushing and the lowering, respectively in a bench press, for example. In fact, if you do a slow count bench press, lowing the bar for six counts and pressing for three, you would have to reduce the weight you're currently lifting, as it's much harder. The change in speed, not only the change in weight, significantly impacts the muscle fibre recruitment. You take away momentum and you recruit more muscle fibres as well as more fibre types, with increments of movement.
Let's say John can do 100 push-ups with an even beat of one second, going both down and back up. Chances are, he uses mainly slow and moderate twitch fibres (Type I and IIA) for the first 70, if he can do as many as 100. If the tempo of the push-up changes to a double count both ways, John may find he can only do 75, or less. This has mostly to do with which muscle fibres are recruiting and how resistant those fibres are to fatigue. The slow push up will likely use more Type IIA and IIB and produce more growth. You don't necessarily need to change the exercise, to change the recruitment pattern, and therefore start making changes to both strength and muscle development. At this point, the number of push-ups becomes irrelevent. This is true for all resistance training. Your muscles don't understand how many repetitions they're doing, just the level of stimuli they receive.
As an experiment, do your current resistance training workout, but slow down the speed of your reps, considerably. This is only one method to stimulate muscles toward positive gains, however it's a good one. Some of the best exercises for muscle development, are basic, and don't involve doing a one arm handstand, on a bosu, while doing a bicep curl with the other.
Communicate any concerns you have with your trainer. Your feedback will be much appreciated, as he or she is committed to making your workouts as beneficial as possible.
Thanks for your great question, S.T..