Incorporating resistance band training into a workout is one of the easiest ways to increase speed and agility. There are many reasons why athletes should be turning to resistance training more often; the simple reason being that it is an extremely easy way to turn your everyday workout into a high-intensity training plan.
Skeletal muscles are made up of muscle fibers or primarily type 1 fibers (known as “slow-twitch fibers”), and type 2 fibers (known as “fast-twitch fibers.”) Every individual - athlete or not - has fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers in their bodies. Slow-twitch fibers engage first in every activity you do, and fast-twitch fibers jump in when the load is beyond the capabilities of the slow-twitch fibers.
What most people don’t know, is that we can learn how to train fast-twitch muscle fibers to achieve maximum athletic performance.
How do you know if you have more fast or slow-twitch fibers? Without actually examining your muscles microscopically, you can't know for sure. It's believed that if you enjoy endurance activities like long runs you likely have well developed slow-twitch fibers, and those who enjoy team sports that need bursts of speed or explosive actions likely have a larger proponent of fast-twitch fibers.
What are the differences between slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers?
- Slow-twitch fibers are used when an athlete is performing an exercise at up to 25% capacity. These slow-twitch fibers are what allow Olympic marathon runners to set records and compete at a high level.
- Are aerobic fibers which means they use oxygen to fuel muscle contraction.
- Create their own power (through oxygen metabolism.) Slow-twitch fibers can sustain force for an extended period, but cannot increase their force once engaged.
- Are the first to engage when a muscle contracts. If they can't handle the load, fast-twitch fibers then engage to boost power in the muscle.
- Are also called red fibers because they contain more blood than fast-twitch fibers.
- Can be trained and strengthened by doing more reps with lighter weights, and limiting recovery time between sets.
- Fast-twitch fibers are used once an athlete gets over the 25% threshold slow-twitch fibers can manage. This is put on display when an athlete is sprinting, maxing out on the bench press bar, or even jumping up to grab a rebound while playing basketball.
- Are responsible for the size and definition of your muscles.
- Create much more force than slow-twitch muscles, but also fatigue more quickly.
- Are activated only after slow-twitch muscles, and provide a boost of force when slow-twitch fibers cannot perform adequately.
- Have a higher density in muscles that generate movement in the body.
- Can be strengthened by resistance training with heavier weights for fewer reps and longer recovery times.
Great athletes tend to have fast-twitch muscle fibers that are bigger and are firing faster than that of their competition. Although athletes can’t increase the number of fast-twitch muscle fibers they have - that's determined by genetics - they can train them to be stronger so that when they are called upon in competition, they are ready for action.
How to develop fast-twitch muscles:
Improving fast-twitch muscles requires explosive movements or heavyweights. Because the fast-twitch fibers tire easily, fewer reps with heavier resistance and longer recovery times are the best way to engage and build up the fast-twitch fibers in your muscles.
Adding resistance by using equipment like bungee bands can help target specific muscle groups. For example, most bungee bands offer 360-degree rotation so you can work every angle and the weight resistance of the bands can be as high as 80 pounds. These types of bands are great for helping you get over the 25% threshold needed to engage the fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Resistance bands in general are great when you are trying to activate fast-twitch muscles during exercises that would typically only train the slow-twitch muscle fibers. Bands allow athletes to increase the intensity of their warm-ups and workouts while performing natural motions for their bodies (high knees, lateral steps, etc.).
Good warm-ups to use before quick-twitch workouts:
If you are looking to get the best results with your fast-twitch muscle training we suggest starting with a good warm-up. Warm-ups get your muscles primed up to really do some muscle-building work.
These types of warm-ups work best when you are only doing a few reps at a time. While pushing yourself with resistance bands, you should engage your muscles to the max for a short set and rest between each exercise.
1. High Knee Drive
2. Karaoke Steps
3. Lateral Hops
Fast-twitch muscle workout
If you are looking for a workout you can do anywhere, these exercises are a must. Using a resistance band for these drills for fast-twitch muscles will really help you break past the 25% mark and push your muscles to work those fast-twitch fibers.
- Lay a band on the floor.
- Place one foot in the middle of the band. Pick up the ends of the band and bring up your arms. Be sure that the bands are behind your arms and stand up straight.
- From a position of your feet being shoulder with apart, step one foot back into the lunge will bringing your hips down.
- Bring your leg back and repeat for several reps and both sides.
This will force your muscles to work harder, beyond the initial 25%, engaging more of the fast twitch fibers, and giving you a more intense workout. Be sure to increase your rest time between reps to allow sufficient recovery and relaxation of the muscle fibers.
- Lay the band on the floor.
- Step both feet onto it and pick up the ends.
- With your feet shoulder-width apart, squat down and bring your arms back up so that your hands are at about shoulder level and the band is tucked behind your arms.
- Stand up straight.
- With your arms staying in the same position, squat back down and then stand again. Repeat for several reps.
Basic squats can be taken to the next level with workout bands as well. The band will increase the burn on your activated muscles. This allows fast-twitch fibers to engage well. Again a few great reps per set, with a longer recovery time will really target those fast-twitch fibers.
- Lay down with your stomach on the floor.
- Bring the band around your back.
- With your hands about 20 inches apart, so that your forearm is perpendicular with the floor.
- Anchor the bands under your hands so that you can feel the tension in the band across your back as you lay on the floor.
- Press your self up into the push-up and come back down. Be sure not to come all the way back down to the floor as it will engage your shoulder muscles rather than your chest.
- Stay strong in your core, and do a few small sets with excellent form, resting in between.
Fast-twitch muscle workouts for speed
Sprint training is also an excellent segment to add to fast-twitch muscle workouts for legs. Sprinting up hills, or pushing your speed to the max for short intervals, or pulling/pushing a sled can all greatly improve the response of the fast-twitch fibers in your legs and buttocks. Even for endurance runners, training the fast-twitch leg fibers will give better response off the block, and helps make each stride more explosive.
Fast-twitch muscle drills with bands
Now that you have seen how to strengthen fast-twitch muscles, put these exercises together and you should quickly see results (even if subtle) in your speed and agility. These exercises will put your muscles through a high-intensity workout to ensure that fast-twitch fibers are being utilized.
Through short powerful reps with heavyweights, and using bands to increase resistance, your workouts will require a muscle output beyond the threshold of slow-twitch muscle fibers. Learning how to train fast-twitch muscles will mean better overall performances for athletes who routinely need bursts of speed and energy for their sports.
Training fast-twitch muscles with resistance bands could be the thing that gives an athlete an edge over their competition!