“Your NASA for cryin’ out loud, you put a man on the moon, you’re geniuses! You-you’re the guys that think this shit up!”

This is the first of a two part article on the science behind lifting. This article started how most other articles start, curiosity (with a  mix of ADHD). Our friends at Strength Villain posted their second challenge which consisted of a favorite of the Club and those we train with. A 50 rep squat test, (for more details on the Villain challenges check out the site, it is a great read) the sheer mention of such things makes women faint and men soil themselves. Anyways, while discussing the challenge’s parameters they mentioned “Quadzilla” himself , Tom Platz. Who is Tom Platz? Rather than look at you with you scorn I educate you. Tom Platz was a highly successful bodybuilder in the 80’s who possessed maybe the best legs the sport ever saw.

Now that is a quad sweep. Anyways, Tom Platz’s leg workouts were legendary and unorthodox, focusing on high reps and heavy weights. His love of the squat and amazing legs lead to his comparisons with another great of the iron lifting sport, Fred “Dr. Squat” Hatfield (I could regal you with stories of the Doctor but that is another a story). Their competition came to a head at a “Squat Off”, an event so beautiful that I cannot put it into more words (we really need a poet on call in the Club). Anyway the exhibition was broken into two seperate events, the first being One Rep Max squat. Platz reportedly got 765, Dr. Squat put on 855 and easily won the event. The next event was a herculean challenge, a Max Rep 525 “Squat Off”. Dr. Squat went for 11 reps, and Platz did well watch for yourself.

That was no Bullshit right there (love Kaz in the back stepping up to spot on rep 23). How did Platz get smoked in the one rep and than dominate in the max rep, especially when he and Hatfield were about the same weight? Is there a reason why two people of relatively similar size can be so dramatically stronger in the same lift but at different rep counts?

Lets look at the physiology of muscle fibers. There are two main types of muscle fibers, slow twitch muscle fibers (aka Type I or red muscle fibers) and fast twitch muscle fibers (aka Type II or white msucle fibers) which itself can be broken down further into 3 additional types (IIa,IIb, and IIx). Slow twitch muscle fibers fire more slowly and are more efficient at utilizing oxygen to create ATP. Because of this, slow twitch muscle fibers can go longer before fatiguing and hence are used for endurance events. Fast twitch muscle fibers fire faster (wow big shock) and use anaerobic metabolism to create ATP. Because of this anaerobic nature the muscles fatigue much quicker but create more strength in a shorter amount of time and are primarily used in explosive events. Of the 3 subsections of fast twitch muscles fibers, IIa is a mix of fast and slow fibers and IIb and IIx are the classic explosive muscle fibers.

All that science hurt my head, but lets apply this knowledge to our question. A person predisposed to have more Type II muscle fibers will be more explosive than than person who has more Type I muscle fibers. He/she will have a greater vertical, 40 yard dash, or one rep max but may be lacking in the long run. Let’s break it down further, a person with a greater propensity of IIb and IIx fibers will have an even greater advantage in short explosive endeavors while a person with more IIa fibers will have an advantage in endeavors require intermediate usage of the explosive fibers. Take 100m and a 400m track atheletes for example. The 100m sprinter explodes out of the gate and muscles fatigue quickly at the sheer power they are exerting while the 400m sprinter is still activating his muscles fibers in an anerobic state for the speed required of the event but his/her muscles fatigue less quickly due to different muscle fibers allowing them to keep their pace in the longer event.

Platz and Hatfield both had a great deal of Type II muscle fiber overall as evidenced by their strength output. While training and conditioning of the muscles does play a factor in your results it is pretty safe bet that Platz had more Type IIa muscle fiber as displayed by his legendary high rep squat totals and Dr. Squat a greater deal of  Type IIb  and IIx fibers as evidence by his world record powerlifting squats.

This analysis seems fine and dandy, but can we translate this to the real world and not just  two atheletes at the apex of their sport ? Part two of this series on this will examine an actual examples of different muscle fibers in action with members of Old Country Barbell itself.


Posted by: Nickay

13 Responses to ““Your NASA for cryin’ out loud, you put a man on the moon, you’re geniuses! You-you’re the guys that think this shit up!””

  1. southwellj Says:

    This is probably one of the most intriguing posts to date.

    Question, and I swear this isn’t a play on “I want long, lean muscles”, can a person change the composition/ratio of these various muscle types? Or, is it genetically determined and you just work with what you have? From what I’ve read (in the past five minutes) it would appear that you’re basically stuck with what you have. However, I’d be curious as to what your thoughts are.

    Great post!

    • The literature currently is pretty clear that a person’s muscle fiber breakdown is something they are born with. A person born with 50% Type I and 50% Type II muscle fibers will always have 50% Type I muscle fibers and 50% Type II muscle fibers.

      A person’s individual muscle’s fiber breakdown though does not take into account the size of themuscle fibers. Through proper training, a person can atrophy (lessen) a certain muscle fiber while causing the other fiber to hypertrophy (get bigger). A person who focuses on strength training with low rep counts will increase the size of the Type II muscle fibers in a given muscle while lessening the size of the Type I fibers and thus gain more strength and vice versa with endurance

    • Sorry one more thing. When me and Z were discussing this topic he said “You need to work to increase the efficiency of the muscles you have.” This simple sentence explains better what a person should take from research on muscle fibers than anything else I saw in my research.

      • Hey guys, I’m currently in an exercise phys program up here and the research we’ve been pointed to lately suggests that a person can not change their existing Type 1 and Type 2 fibers to the other form. However what they are seeing (mind you only in rats), is that a person can change their Type 2 fibers to become more or less oxidative (2a–>2b–>2x).
        That’s just one Canadian’s understanding though 😛

      • Those sneeky Canadians with all their crazy idea’s and mutant rats!

        But that’s actually really interisting Chris. My real question about that is this? Do the rats wear single or two-ply lifting suits? Or do they do all of their training raw?

        Lol, joking aside that’s pretty cool. I feel like new things in our field are coming out all the time. I got a couple Iron jockeys in here that have pay grades way above mine(Nickay is actually a lawyer lol), and I love some of the stuff they bring to me. I look forward to hearing more about that as the info comes out. Glad you posted boss!

      • Here’s one you can look at more in detail.
        But they tested a bunch of chicks, so how reliable is that really?


      • Good point, better check the Rat results again lol, I’ll be checking this out.

  2. Great post Nickay. It makes a guy wonder how well regular 50RM back squat training would translate into endurance sport performance doesn’t it?

    • In my mind one of the biggest benefits of volume training is the mental aspect. Yes you can train your legs to do things. But you have to have the thought process to go there. You tell your legs 2 more reps, no wait scratch that 17 more.

      It’s quiet a barbaric out of body undertaking. I know jacking out big numbers under the bar has helped give me more confidence in other things. From vomit inducing named workouts to when I ran my marathon(stupid). I’m pretty sure in Sparta 50RM squats was the final test in the Agoge.

      • I think we can agree then that endurance likely improves with brutal high rep training. It would be hard to decipher whether your endurance improves because your legs are more capable or if you are more capable of dealing with the discomfort of that performance. I suppose it doesn’t matter but IF you did need to know my proposed study design would include a LONG blinded C2 test and a strong pain killer.

      • I’ve actually blind folded myself on a rower before… No ball gag or anything, but there was sight restriction. Dark time in my life, involving some nonsense called “ergomania.”

  3. Bring in the Gimp!

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