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Masters runners: strength train to maintain your fast-twitch muscle fibres

Distance running is great for your slow-twitch fibres, but if you want to maintain your fast-twitch fibres you need to hit the gym

We often refer to distance running as a predominantly slow-twitch muscle activity, but that doesn’t mean that our fast-twitch muscle fibres aren’t important. This is especially true if you’re aiming for a new PB or, if you’re a masters athlete, you’re trying to decrease the rate that you slow down with each passing year. A recent study showed that if you want to maintain your fast-twitch muscle fibres (and thus your speed) as you age, regular resistance training is a must.

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The authors of the study pointed out that reduction in the size and function of your muscles is a hallmark trait of aging, and this is even more pronounced in your fast-twitch fibres. Their goal was to examine the potential benefits of lifelong endurance exercise on both fast and slow-twitch muscles. To do this, they recruited several men and split them into three groups: lifelong exercisers (all of these men were in their 70s), lifelong non-exercisers (also in their 70s) and young exercisers who were all around 25.

The results

The researchers found that the slow-twitch muscle fibres of the lifelong endurance exercisers were larger, stronger, faster and more powerful than the young exercisers and the non-exercisers. This proves that lifelong endurance exercise provides significant benefits for slow-twitch muscle fibres. The same cannot be said for the fast-twitch fibres, of which very little benefit was observed in the lifelong endurance runners.

This suggests, as the researchers conclude, that if older runners want to maintain the size, strength, speed and power of their fast-twitch fibres (and thus prevent age-related decline in running performance), they need to include other exercise modalities in their training. The authors of the study recommend strength training as the best way to maintain these fibres, along with myotherapy, which is a type of sports massage.

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The bottom line

Regardless of your age, there are so many benefits to strength training that to leave it out of your training would be a huge missed opportunity, but it becomes even more crucial as you get older. So if you’re a masters athlete who’s not ready to slow down, make time to hit the gym. Your body (and your race times) will thank you for it.