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Fast Twitch Muscle Fibre Development for Falls Injury Reduction in the Ageing Population

Written by Gabriel Pisanu, Exercise Physiologist at Croydon Park. Article from July 2018.

Fast Twitch Muscle Fibre Development for Falls Injury Reduction in the Ageing Population

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Over the past few weeks, I have had a long think about how I can make my programs more variable and challenging for the senior clients I work with, while still using evidence-based practice. The focus of a more senior client’s exercise program should consist of general strengthening, balance, and proprioception to assist with the prevention of falls. I then came across a great research paper last week which helped me question that in the event of a fall, what other factors can be addressed to reduce the risk of injury should a fall actually occur? One of the key variables I am now programming is the rate of force production or “power” to develop, maintain or slow the degradation of fast twitch muscle fibres.

Muscle Fibres and Training

In each individual, a genetically determined ratio of fast to slow twitch muscle fibers are present. To put it simply, fast twitch muscle fibres allow for quick and powerful muscular contractions and are less fatigue resilient, while slow twitch muscle fibres allow for repeated lower level muscular contractions and are highly fatigue resilient. The ratio and total number of fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibres can be manipulated through training, up to a genetically predisposed extent. This is why some people are better at short duration, high-intensity activities (e.g.; 100m sprint) while others excel in long duration, lower intensity activities (e.g. marathon running).

When accounting for the above information, it starts to become obvious that fast twitch muscle fibre development must be important in falls injury reduction. If you are reading this article right now and you have experienced a fall, were you expecting it? Did it happen slowly? Or was it all a quick blur? Chances are you were not expecting to fall and it all happened so fast you wonder how you ended up on the floor.

This is why fast twitch muscle fibre development is so important! It gives you a greater chance of reacting to an unexpected stimulus and recruiting muscle fibres quick enough to break a fall.

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So how exactly can you train a more senior client to increase fast twitch muscle fibres, without increasing risk of training injury?

  1.  By ensuring a postural correction phase of programming occurs first. This includes addressing common postural compensations when performing fundamental movements such as becoming knock-kneed during a squatting movement.
  2. By ensuring a general strength phase has been performed. In order to produce power and develop fast twitch muscle fibres, you need to be strong. If you have conditions such as Osteoarthritis, it is crucial these joints are supported by strong muscles. A general strength phase consists of full body, multi-joint exercises with a challenging weight (often, this can mean bodyweight) for 8-10 repetitions.
  3.  Once postural compensations and general strength have been improved, it is up to your exercise physiologist to determine whether your body can cope with a power/fast twitch fibre based program. This can consist of movements such as assisted jumping, but also changing up the tempo of muscle contractions from controlled to a more explosive movement. Research has shown that the intention of moving a load at a faster rate can improve muscular power and thus, fast twitch muscle fibres.

It is vital for a senior to be involved in a falls prevention program which includes managing injury risk in the event that a fall should occur. I cannot express how important it is to ensure the right steps are taken to be integrated into a fast twitch muscle fibre development program, as attempting this type of training too early can increase your risk of injury.

If you are an individual who has experienced injury as a result of a fall, contact your nearest Optimum Health Solutions studio today for an initial assessment to determine how our Exercise Physiologists can prescribe a falls injury prevention program for you!

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