Exercise for your Muscle Type

We always danced as youngsters, and so we took our long, lean muscles for granted. We just assumed that long, lean muscles were in our DNA. …And so as we got older, we branched out and tried new things, one of them being running. We lived in Connecticut at the time, and we would run all over the town, hills and all. To our surprise, and what seemed like overnight, our legs were BULKY!! Those “dancer’s legs” were all but gone – WHO KNEW? So, we stopped running in hilly areas, and our legs morphed back into the legs that we grew up with. At that time, we wondered why, but didn’t quite know…

And then we started studying about muscle fiber type.  All of us have two types of muscle fibers, conveniently called Type I, or fast-twitch fibers, and Type II, or slow-twitch fibers.  In the simplest terms, the fast twitch fibers are most responsible for strength, and the slow twitch fibers are responsible for endurance.  If you tend to bulk up, then it is likely that you have a higher percentage of fast-twitch fibers.  Athletes who have a higher percentage of fast-twitch fibers are typically your sprinters, jumpers,or defensive tackle.  On the other hand, if, no matter what you do you can’t build muscle mass, then you most likely have a preponderance of TypeII fibers.  Athletes who exemplify a higher Type II fiber percentage are your endurance athletes:  marathon runners, Tour de France cyclists, and cross country skiers.

So how does this relate to Pilates?  Well, armed with the knowledge of what muscle type you think you are, you can choose exercises that will work with your natural tendencies, not against them.  Now, truth be told, if you think you are predominantly a Type II fiber gal/guy and you are TRYING to build muscle mass, then Pilates alone is NOT going to do that for you!!!  Pilates will, however, strengthen your core, get your biomechanics in line, and get your smaller, stabilizing muscles behaving properly so that you can lift more with less effort while reducing the risk of injury.  Mat exercises like One Leg Circle, Hundreds, BreastStroke and Roll Over, and Reformer exercises like Arms Pulling Straps, Lean on the Short Box, Long Stretch and Leg Circles, to name a few, are great for tapping into those deep muscles and stabilizers that will help you lift more, jump higher and throw further.  Your muscles may not increase in size past a certain point, but they will be functioning optimally.

The great benefits of Pilates are also found for our Type I individuals.  Because Pilates focuses on the concentric (muscles shortening, as when you lift the weight in a bicep curl, for example) and eccentric (muscles lengthening, as when you lower the weight with control coming out of the bicep contractions of the muscles equally, muscles get strong along the full length of the muscle, not just in the belly of the muscle.  With the mat exercises, simply focusing on straightening the knees fully is your secret to escaping the muscle bulk in the legs.  (Click here to read more about straightening the knees fully!)  For the abs, exercises like the Roll Up and Roll Over will focus on concentric and eccentric control.

The reformer, however, is our FAVORITE piece of equipment for creating longer looking, lean muscles, as with virtually every movement you are targeting strength and flexibility simultaneously.  Be it Offering, Leg Circles, “Doggiebesque”, or Side Splits, you are always working on the two contractions equally.  If you do not have access to a reformer, however, do not fret!  The stretch band (or exercise band, flexband, etc.) provides just enough resistance to build strength without sacrificing flexibility, and the elasticity of the band keeps the emphasis strikinigly similar to that of the reformer.  If you don’t have a stretch band, an exercise band or a flexband on hand, then tubing will also work.  Just make sure that you choose a tension that allows for full range of motion!  (You should be able to straighten your limbs fully).  Keep your eyes peeled for how to choose the right tension for an exercise band!


January 14, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings.

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