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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fast Twitch Fibers and Body Sculpting--are fitness enthusiasts missing out?

Is target-site-specific body sculpting possible?

Old fashioned stick twist exercises have been around for a very long time, however they don’t seem to be included in many popular programs and there are only a handful of “broomstick” and “swing stick” exercise videos posted on YouTube--none of which fully reveal the potential of stick twist exercises for dramatic fat-burning, body-sculpting results.

However, I have recently experienced remarkable personal weight loss results which I attribute primarily to very simple--but fast-paced exercises conducted with a newly designed exercise stick.  Since developing this stick-based exercise program, I have looked into the physiological systems that might explain its effectiveness and was surprised to discover a fundamental difference of opinion between training programs that claim to “sculpt’ fat from specific anatomical targets and other “experts” that claim that this is not possible--that body fat deposits must be reduced overall and cannot be reduced in specific target-regions (like the abdomen) by exercise.

My Theory Why Our Stick Exercises Burn Fat Fast! 

My hypothesis is that since the abdominal muscles are composed of a mixture of slow and fast twitch fibers that:
  1. the fast twitch fibers accelerate the twist and then rest between accelerations. and
  2. the slow twitch fibers decelerate the twist allowing the fast fibers to rest, burn off lactic acid, and recover.  
The result is that you can do a longer, higher repetition exercise without experiencing muscle burn and heavy breathing.  In turn, I believe that our fast-paced stick exercises offer the fat burning benefits of both prolonged aerobic respiration combined with the calorie gobbling action of the anaerobic, fast twitch muscles. 

Here I will describe a few simple methods of increasing the fat-burning, body-sculpting power of the basic stick twist workout.  These methods apply to both seated and standing positions, however I encourage you to experiment and develop your own program. You are welcome to post your questions and ideas in the comments section.


[Note.  Anyone with a problematic back should use caution and consult with their physician before attempting stick twist exercises such as those demonstrated here.]

The custom designed exercise stick used in the project is 72” in length, weighs 12 lbs and has a soft cushion pad in the center.  The cushion allows the user to pull the stick low below the neck onto their shoulder blades. This really tightens the ab muscles as you continue to apply downwards pressure on the stick which further tenses the abs during twist cycles. 

The stick has copper connectors that allow it to be disassembled and stowed in a carry case.  The metal fittings also give the stick more mass.. My workout regimen and approach to using twist stick exercises is presented here.

(Please note that I do not personally recommend standing, horizontal stick twists because of the amount of torque they place on the lumbar vertebrae.  Others may not have this issue or concern.)  Horizontal twists with the head fixed straight ahead and toes pointed inwards while sitting, however, allow the user to tense their abs and achieve remarkable fat burning results without stressing the lumbar vertebrae.  Many other variations of stick exercises are possible and I recommend that you develop your own program.

Could simple exercises like those demonstrated in the videos actually burn stomach fat faster than overall fat reduction?  Here I summarize the current thinking about spot-target body sculpting and conclude with the premise that it indeed may be possible, although more study is needed.  First, I will present a brief overview of muscle types and how various muscle systems function, then conclude with a discussion of the merits of stick twist exercises and their potential for target site-specific weight loss.

Background:  High Performance Muscle Systems

In mechanical terms,, muscles are the engines that apply force to the transmissions (tendons) connected to the levers (bones) that move and support our human form.  The biochemical systems that fuel and control our muscle engines at the cellular level are quite complex. Enzymes and raw materials must be delivered on time to precise locations and waste products removed or the engines will shut down.  

The following describes the steps involved in muscle cell contraction and relaxation to give you an idea of how much intricacy is involved in body motion. 

When a nerve impulse arrives, Ca2+ ions cause troponin to change shape, this moves the troponin+tropomyosin complex away from the myosin binding site. 
The myosin head can now bind to the actin filament and tilts it through 45 degree angle so the actin is pulled along, the myosin head tilts the ADP+pi are released allowing ATP to attach to the myosin head. 
The myosin head hydrolyses the ATP to ADP+Pi (presence of Ca2+ ions activate the myosins ATPase) the energy produced by this is used to detach the myosin head from the actin 
The myosin head now flips back to the cocked position and is ready to bind to the actin again. And once the muscle relaxes the troponin and tropomyosin complex covers the myosin binding site once more.  Source:

Keep in mind that this is only the procedure for a single contraction cycle in a single muscle cell.  Our body has trillions of muscle cells.  (Just consider the millions of steps involved in typing the 76 characters in this sentence.)

The on/off signals for contraction and relaxation are triggered by information conducted by efferent (send) and afferent (sense) neural networks so that muscle cell components contract and relax in a coordinated fashion.  The information processing required from cells to tissues to organs demand incredible coordination to produce the integrated grace of acts we mostly take for granted, like a ballerina soaring on tip toes and diving pelicans.

Muscle Types

There are three major groups of muscles in mammals:

1. smooth (involuntary, e.g. intestines)
2. cardiac (involuntary, heart)
3. skeletal (voluntary, e.g. biceps)

Types of Skeletal Muscle Fibers 

Skeletal muscle cells are classified by the type of muscle fiber.

Type I Slow Oxidative (Slow Twitch)

· slow contraction speed
· functions in aerobic conditions
· slow myocin and ATPase activity
· high myoglobin content
· low glycogen levels stored in muscle
· red in color with many capillaries and mitochondria
· do not grow larger in response to training
· fatigue resistant, promotes endurance

Type IIa Fast Oxidative Fibers (Faster Twitch)

· moderate contraction speed
· functions in either aerobic and aerobic conditions
· moderate myocin and ATPase activity
· high myoglobin content
· moderate glycogen levels stored in muscle 
· red in color with many capillaries and mitochondria
· grow larger in response to training
· moderately fatigue resistant

Type  IIb Fast Glycolytic Fibers (Fastest Twitch)

· fast contraction speed
· require anaerobic conditions
· fast myocin and ATPase activity
· low myoglobin content
· glycogen storage high, but rapidly depleted 
· white in color with few capillaries and mitochondria
· grow larger in response to training
· fatigue quickly

The Special Case of Abdominal Muscles

In addition to Rectus abdominis, I am including the Transversus abdominis, as well as the Internal and External obligue abdominal muscles in my use of the term "abs." Abdominal muscles are comprised of an approximately mixture of Type 1 and various subcategories of Type 2 fibers which endows them with both strength, fast response and moderate length of duration with little fatigue.  “The rectus abdominis (i.e. the "six-pack" muscle) actually is comprised of roughly equal amounts of fast-twitch (strength-related) and slow-twitch (endurance-related) fibers.”  Source

This is important in body building because Type IIa fibers are more plastic (Source) and through exercise their characteristics can be made more like those associated with fast twitch or slow twitch t that emphasize speed and strength, e.g. plyometrics.  Source

Perhaps the hybrid, multi-fiber-type makeup of ab muscles is a consequence of their role in respiratory ventilation (Type I fibers) as well as 275,000+ years of evolutionary adaptation to escape predators enabled by fight or flight reflexes...plus, the ability of abs to quickly tense and protect internal organs from blows (Type II).

Stick Twists and Body Sculpting

Many fitness professionals claim that it is not possible to use exercise to eliminate specific fat deposits.  For example, according to fitness trainer Brad Schoenfeld,

 ...spot reduction is a physiological impossibility. No amount of sit-ups, crunches or leg raises will strip away abdominal fat-it just doesn't work . Abdominal exercise only helps to develop the muscles of the abdomen; if a layer of fat obscures your midsection, you'll never see the underlying muscles, regardless of training frequency.  Source
However, if there is a circumstance that supports the concept of body specific-target fat loss sculpting, it may be the abdominal muscles.  This is because the abs possess both fast and slow twitch fibers--which may also explain the apparent fatigue resistance of abdominal muscles to rapid pace exercises, like stick twists.  In addition, the fast twitch muscles have internal glycogen reserves which fuel contraction through glycolysis  Source
Muscle cell glycogen appears to function as an immediate reserve source of available glucose for muscle cells. Other cells that contain small amounts use it locally as well. Muscle cells lack the enzyme glucose-6-phosphatase, which is required to pass glucose into the blood, so the glycogen they store is destined for internal use and is not shared with other cells.  Source
This suggests that it may be possible to perform localized, target-specific body sculpting employing exercise programs conducted at the very edge between aerobic and anaerobic environments resulting in targeted fat loss. 

During stick twists, it seems that the neural information system transmits a command to the relaxed, opposing muscle groups to initiate contraction in anticipation of the contracting muscle group completing its cycle and relaxing.  In other words, each sharp twist to the left is countered somewhat by the opposing group of ab muscles that twist to the right and the cycle is smoothed and not an abrupt tendon stop to tendon stop motion.  If this is shown to be accurate, then the abs are actually burning more calories than might be predicted based upon a pure stop to stop model.

Not only do abs possess both slow and fast twitch fibers, they are also in close proximity to the generous fat deposits in the stomach region to fuel Type IIb fiber contraction.  Therefore it seems that the glycogen energy sources located in closest proximity to the abs underlying stomach fat deposits would be tapped first as intra-muscular sources are depleted.  This thesis needs testing and may prove incorrect.

It has also been reported that fast twitch fibers  are less efficient and therefore burn more energy than Type 1 muscles. 
Fast, explosive reps burn more calories than the typical slow, controlled reps you’re used to doing in the gym, say researchers from Ball State University (Muncie, Indiana). They believe that because fast-twitch muscle fibers are less energy-efficient than their slow-twitch counterparts, they burn more fuel during exercise.  Source
During anaerobic conditions, the Type II fibers produce lactic acid that inhibit muscle contraction.  
However, long-term training causes neovascularization within the muscle, increasing the ability to move waste products out of the muscles and maintain contraction.”  Source
Therefore, long-term exercise programs featuring stick twists may increase the number of capillaries in Type IIa fibers making them more like Type I fibers.  In any case, I have found that fast-paced stick twist exercises are an effective weight loss tool and highly recommended.

Check out our newest exercise stick.


If you are a fitness instructor or enthusiast, you may wish to add stick twist to your workout program.  The controversy to determine if target-specific fat reduction using stick twist or other exercises is practical, would be a good further research area (if it hasn’t already been done).  Setting up experimental controls might prove challenging due to the integrated nature of most exercise programs.  Comments, corrections of misunderstandings or errors on my part, suggestions and new ideas are most welcome and will be published here.

For more Information, visit the 
New-Humans Metamorphosis Club

This blog may be reproduced as long it is attributed to:

Ron S. Nolan, Ph.D.

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