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Speed Report: Fast Twitch for Football Speed - Can it be Produced?

by: Dale Baskett
Football Speed Specialist
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Muscle fibers are made up of two different types of fiber composition, slow twitch fibers and fast twitch fibers. Skeletal muscles are made up of numerous individual muscle fibers called myocytes. Each myocyte contains many myofibrils, which are strands of proteins that can grab on to each other and pull. This shortens the muscle and causes muscle contraction. Of course, contraction can be very fast and dynamic or slower with endurance capabilities. When we think about football speed we naturally desire athletes with fast twitch capacity.

Human muscles contain a genetically determined mixture of both slow and fast fiber types. Athletes can have an abundance of one type or a balance of both.  A balance between both is common and fairly standard. The abundance of fast twitch is what every football player desires but only some possess.

How Does It Really Work

The food we eat has carbohydrates, fats and proteins; theyíre used as fuel for muscle action. The body coverts those into an ďenergy currencyĒ called adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP). There are two mechanisms that produce ATP, aerobic and anaerobic pathways. Aerobic means with oxygen, anaerobic means without oxygen. The slower the contraction, the easier it is to maintain an oxygen supply as you exercise. On the other hand, the faster the contraction, the oxygen supply is not keeping up so your system is literally running on stored fuel thatís been produced in the muscles. As you continue to exercise, the fuel is depleting rapidly and causing a lactic acid spinoff as a by-product. At a certain point of continued fast contraction, the lactic build up will fatigue the contraction process and drain the ATP tank. This is the point where coaches often go too far with over-working the system that requires a balance of intensity and proper recovery. A 1-6 or even 1-8 ratio of work to rest recovery is necessary when you train for speed development. Recovery is the answer for replenishing the system to allow high end contraction to be consistently rapid over and over again. 

Can There Be a Shift in Fiber Types

Coaches love speed and it can either be recruited or taught. If taught, you must understand that rest is the focal point for training for speed. High end contraction is what it takes to be fast at the end of the day. Letís go back to energy systems for a minute, aerobic and anaerobic. This is where energy systems are used adequately or abused. To train fast is mandatory for training the nervous system sufficiently.

Letís look at the possibility of fiber transfer. Can training play a roll in this scenario? Itís not entirely understood and research is still ongoing. There is some evidence showing that human skeletal muscle may switch fiber types from slow to fast or fast to slow due to training. This type of training is called specificity. High contraction and proper rest are critical to the process.

If you do an aerobic, slow endurance type of training, youíre not going to improve your speed. The results will be harmful to producing fiber-type changes. On the other hand, if high intensity and high recovery is part of your program, youíll find your players running faster as the training progresses. Iíve included some drills that will help improve limb speed as your fiber shifts.

Fast twitch can be produced to a more prolific degree by training. The other thing that must accompany this transition is training the mechanical methods of the program as much as possible. The faster the contraction combined with accurate mechanical function, the better the results will be.

Diagram 1: First zone will be a full on-burst sprint to the first cone, second zone athlete must stay tall and slightly forward over the foot strike coming down each step as they decel. Quick limb frequency means arm/leg cycle rotates as fast as is possible. Limbs are short front to back and momentum is very minimal (very reminiscent to a jog speed with high limb frequency). Next zone, release into a full burst again, decel at the next zone, then finish last zone with a burst. The aspect of high frequency works the nervous system when we integrate a sprint effort for force and quickness assertion. The remainder of the drills will be geared rather closely to this type of activity with new patterns.

Diagram 1.

Diagram 2: Sprint on an angle to a plant that transitions to a lateral run. Second step of lateral transfer to a quick arm/leg cycle pattern of turnover. Maintain rhythm to the next change. Plant to a sprint once again, transition again to lateral, following same procedure as before. Finish with plant burst to straight sprint.

Diagram 2.

Diagram 3: Quick limb cycle sprint weave but donít over-rotate the arm/leg cycle front to back, Switch to lateral and decelerate dramatically. In third zone there is a short rotation of limbs with high frequency and rhythm. Finish with another quick sprint weave.

Diagram 3.

Diagram 4: Begin with quick limbs short again and fast in first zone. At next zone, decel down, even though velocity will not be very fast coming in. Plant to a 45-degree angle with a short sprint, then plant to lateral and immediately close down momentum. Limbs  again are a short high frequency with low level velocity. Finish with a burst sprint straight ahead.

Diagram 4.

Diagram 5: Begin again with high frequency limb quickness and minimal momentum forward. Decel to a crawl speed then go back to high frequency again as in zone one. Finish with an electric and aggressive sprint. All of the zones are lineal on this drill. Focus is on limb speed changes as is the case on all drills. Focus is also centered on sustaining high and intense frequency when called for. Thatís how we  transcend potential twitch transfer.

Diagram 5.

Fast Twitch Drills

The drills to the left are designed to enhance twitch characteristics as well as tap the nervous system for heightened neural engagement. Itís important that youíre aware that your athletes will transcend to new quickness by the feedback they feel when performing high twitch muscle contraction. If they can feel the frequency speeds collectively at work and maintain sustained rhythm, they will  begin to adapt to the new neural motor processing that will take place. Reps should be no more than two each with a high recovery 1:8 work to rest ratio, if there is to be a potential twitch transfer.   

Coach Baskett began his career as a football speed coach in 1979. During the last 34 years heís consulted and trained hundreds of coaches and thousands of athletes nationwide. In the last year he has worked directly with high schools in California, Texas, Minnesota, Kansas, and Pennsylvania. Over the last few years he has also consulted with Texas Tech, Ohio State, USC, University of Washington, and the University of Mount Union. You can reach him directly for more information or if you have specific questions on your training program. Coach Baskett is at and 858-568-3751.


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