Developing Speed for Table Tennis

Extracts from Seminar. Dr Larry Van Such

We have all heard of fast and slow twitch fibres in muscles -- in almost every sport the secret to improving your athletic skill is to make your muscles not only stronger but also faster. Fast muscles give you a big advantage in almost all sport related skills but especially in fast reaction sports.

The fast twitch muscle fibres are responsible for giving the athlete his speed, agility, quickness, and power. Fast twitch fibres are up to 10 times faster than slow fibres. In most muscles, these fibres are intermingled. However, there is usually a predominance of one or the other. In skeletal muscles like those found in the arms and legs, the fast twitch fibres dominate. Fast twitch fibres allow for powerful forces to be generated over a relatively short period of time. Because the fibres are intermingled it is not possible to isolate out a single fibre type during a muscular contraction. All of the fibres contract together, though at times one class of fibre may be dominant during the contraction.

You cannot condition your muscles for speed in the same way you condition your muscles for strength. With isometric training, a muscle opposes some form of resistance and is contracted to a certain length and then held for a certain period of time, usually 10 seconds or more. There are no repetitions required in isometrics as in weight training. The advantage of this type of training for muscle speed is twofold.

• By forcing your muscle to hold a position without changing this for a certain length of time, your body will begin to recruit more and more motor units to help maintain this contraction. Motor units that are rarely exercised within a particular muscle are now brought into use, perhaps for the first time.

• By limiting the amount of time the muscle holds a position, fast twitch muscle fibres can be conditioned for their natural ability of speed and quickness – something that is rarely achieved when using extensive repetitions in your workout routine. While the muscle is held in position against resistance the motor units that are recruited are forced to contract continuously, time after time, until your muscles achieve a state of maximum intensity, safely and effectively. The end result is that the entire muscle matures very quickly.

The resistance band is an outstanding product that has a very unique physical property known as a variable elastic potential. This means that the more you stretch the band the more force you will have to apply to maintain the resistance level. The amount of resistance found within an elastic band is therefore a function of its length when stretched. When the length of the band changes, even if by a small amount, the resistance level changes also.

When holding a position, the resistance band is stretched and is exerting a significant amount of force back into your muscle. After a few seconds, your muscle will naturally start to weaken. When this happens, your muscle will begin to recruit more and more motor units to help keep the arm/leg in a fixed position. When your muscles start to shake keep holding the position.

1. With each ongoing recruitment pattern of motor units a muscle’s weakness and lack of coordination is instantly exposed on a much deeper level than normally experienced. This forces the muscle fibres to immediately get stronger and quicker and with more precision than before. The result is that the muscles are conditioned to contract faster with increased strength, coordination and responsiveness. The athlete will start to notice the difference in his/her athletic performance, often in just a few days.
2. A second benefit of this training strategy is that the muscle does not get a chance to adapt to the force of the resistance and plateau, or level off, at the level of resistance applied. ‘Muscle confusion’ is the term often applied to the idea of keeping the muscle guessing as to what force to expect and this promotes ongoing muscle development.
3. Thirdly, the mass of the muscle typically does not increase with this type of training, which, if it did, could potentially offset speed gains. So, whenever you are able to increase a muscle’s strength and coordination without adding any additional body weight, your speed and quickness will automatically improve.

These are just some of the reasons how and why this type of training works and why athletes often see dramatic results in their sports performance in a short period of time. However many so-called speed training experts, trainers, coaches and athletes never take certain aspects into consideration. When you mention isometrics, they immediately think of using weights for resistance, this won’t work for speed; and, when you mention resistance bands, they immediately think of performing repetitions with them, which again, won’t work either.

Isometric training with weights won’t help you get faster and using resistance bands with a weightlifting strategy (that is, performing repetitions with them) won’t work either. It’s ONLY the combination of isometric training with resistance bands that makes muscles contract faster.

The interesting thing is that when we look into a lot of the different so-called speed training programs on the internet or in books or articles, practically all of them are very similar to strength and endurance programs. Some of them are almost identical. You have to ask yourself, if there are two different fibre types in the body with two different functions, wouldn’t you think there should be at least two different ways to train your muscles?

This is what makes isometrics with the resistance band so vital to speed training. Because the fibres that produce faster muscles respond to this type of training. Fast twitch fibres won’t respond to weight training and they won’t respond to plyometric training. In fact, when you do these types of exercises, you are literally re-training and re-programming your fast twitch fibres to behave like slow twitch fibres. Not only will they not make you faster, they will probably in fact make you slower.

This is why you will always feel wiped out, totally exhausted after doing plyometrics and weight training. These routines strip your muscles of their elastic contracting ability which makes even doing the simplest routines afterwards such as washing your hair or brushing your teeth almost impossible. However, after you train with resistance bands you will immediately start to feel lighter, faster and more responsive. This is the complete opposite of what happens after using strength training programs.

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