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By:Alex Borja

Everyone has certain attributes about them that allow them succeed in life. Some are tech savvy while others do very well in business practices and are skills that these people have developed over time because they discovered a natural talent. This holds true with personal health and fitness goals as well. We are not all create equal and as such we should not all perform the same fitness routines. If this were true you would see an overflow of athletes come to be, not by chance, but by routine workouts. This is obviously not true and the odds are still very slim that any one person will make it into a professional athlete position. This is not to say however that we cannot play to our own strengths and maximize our potential. That’s what successful people do.

These next couple of lines might end up disappointing a couple of athlete bound people. Athletes are not made but rather born. Every person has their genetics determined for us prior to birth. What we were given is what we got and more than likely that means your shot at making the big leagues is slipping away. Don’t feel bad, most of us aren’t professional athletes or big time fitness models and are perfectly happy. Aside from this cold fact, there are ways us “normal” people can greatly enhance our health, fitness, and wellbeing.

Depending on your genetic makeup from traits passed down from your mother and father you may succeed at one skill or ability and fail miserably at another. I am going to explain three main categories of genetic makeups that you may have been given to determine how you should exercise. Keep in mind that this is not simply black and white. There are variations and plenty of gray to cover the gaps.

So where does this difference occur in our bodies? Genetic makeups of our muscle fibers are what determine our ability to either be what I like to call a “runner” or a “sprinter”. Have you ever seen a guy be able to run miles on end without looking like exhaustion had ever taken place? He is the runner and is good at long distance exercise. How about the guy who naturally seemed to be very strong without much exercise? He is the sprinter and excels at power activities. This is due to their ratio of muscle fiber types.

This is the golden ratio which tells us what our personal fitness strengths are. There are type I and type II muscle fibers that are composed of this ratio. There are actually many more types of fibers but for the purpose of this article I will explain these two basic ones. Type I fibers are highly aerobic, have a slow contraction rate, and resistance to fatigue is high. Type II fibers are highly anaerobic, have fast contraction rates, and resistance to fatigue is low.

What does this mean to those who primarily consist of these fibers one way or the other? You will either be naturally gifted at running long distances or creating huge burst of power in a short amount of time. Here are a couple of examples that will help shed some light. Lance Armstrong rides his bike in the Tour De France for long periods of time. His body is highly efficient at utilizing oxygen and delivering them to his muscles which are composed of primarily type I fibers. This gives him an edge against the average Joe as this heavily type I favored ratio between the two fibers lets him exercise for longer, steadier bouts without reaching exhaustion.

On the other hand a power lifter composed of primarily type II muscle fibers is the exact opposite. He would get tired very quickly riding on a bike and because of this does not enjoy aerobic activities such as running. He will play to his strengths and is excellent in producing large burst of power and energy. This comes at a price though as he will only be able to keep this level of power for a short amount of time. How long might you ask? Well that all depends on the exact ratio of type I: type II fibers which brings me to my next point.

The average Joe is not entering the Tour De France or becoming a world class power lifter so where does that leave him? He like most of us, is somewhere in the middle of the two types. Sadly we cannot change our muscle types from type I to type II fibers and are stuck with what we got. We also cannot create more muscle fibers either (or at least is not proven yet). What is scientifically possible is to enlarge the fibers that we already have called “hypertrophy” or decrease the size by not using those muscles for given periods of time. This is to say that a marathon runner that wants to become a power lifter may become a lot stronger by training, but will never reach the level that a person born with type II fibers will have or in other words will never reach his “true” potential should he have been born with more type II fibers. The person born with the fibers will always have the advantage and hence why some people are good at cross country running and others at shot putting.

Let’s get started in deciding what type of person you are. Are you good at running or sprinting? Do you like to participate in aerobic activities or at lifting heavy weights? Discovering what type of fiber is predominately in you will help shape your fitness routine. This is true regardless of whether you want to be a runner or a sprinter. Perhaps you find yourself more so on the side of the runner and you desperately want to become a big buff guy who can bench over 300 lbs. While you may pursue this goal you must accept that you are naturally good at the opposite so reaching goals will take extra effort and extra long. It does not mean it will be impossible, just take a lot longer with a very dedicated mind set. It will take time to build up your “weakness” but what type of goals you have are totally up to you and I support them fully regardless.

If you find yourself not sure whether you’re a runner or a sprinter because you don’t feel you excel one way or the other, don’t feel bad. The most common ratio of fibers come from this type. But you have to think being balanced is not such a bad thing--as long as you don’t plan on becoming a professional athlete anytime soon. For the everyday fitness guru or the recreational gym member, being balanced can be a great thing. It means you get to train in a variety of ways to improve yourself to your full potential. You have the makeup to play all kinds of sports and be descent at them (coordination and practice permitting) rather than be superb in one while bad in another.

For those of you who are primarily one type or the other and want to train to your strengths, I will show you how. Types of training to engage in with a tipped ratio favoring type I fibers should workout aerobically in any activity. You can run, bike, swim, or do anything that’s going to be for a longer period of time at a lesser intensity. Weight lifting activity is encouraged to be in the aerobic zone as well. Performing 2-3 sets per muscle group at 10 or more repetitions will let your body keep some strength while progressing your type I fibers in reaching your fitness goals. Remember time is the key with type I training. It must be longer than type II and therefore will be done at a lesser intensity.

Predominately type II fiber individuals will find that the opposite should be done to train to your strengths. Weight lifting with heavy weights for 1-8 repetitions and 2-3 sets per muscle group should improve you. Remember to take long rests in between sets as your exercise bouts are much more intense than your type I friends. You can do sprinting or other high intensity cardiovascular exercises to improve the type II fibers in your legs while maintaining somewhat your aerobic capacity as well. Higher intensity and shorter time periods are the keys with type II muscle fiber training.

So hopefully you have found or at least thought of what type you may lie under. Perhaps you’re the runner, maybe the sprinter, or maybe neither. To the average Joes out there, you are not alone and can greatly improve yourself in both categories. This article isn’t meant to sway your fitness goals and passions, but rather inform you of why you may not be seeing fast improvements and to keep pushing on--because results will come. Playing to your weaknesses can be done, but will take hard work, dedication, and a lot of patience. Improvement will be seen no matter which type you are and want to become. Keep your dreams alive and work hard and let your body do the rest.

How to Train to your Strengths
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