Book Review: Exercise for Your Muscle Type

Author: Michelle Lovitt and John Speraw
Publisher: Basic Health
Publication Date: 2004

Have you ever dreamed of taking part in a marathon, but have trouble running the quarter mile to the bus stop? Maybe you have always wanted to develop muscle definition, and go from scrawny to brawny, but despite hard work you get few results. You may not be doing anything wrong. It is more likely because of how you are built. Due to your individual muscle makeup, your body may not be predisposed to be adept at some types of physical activities. And whether you want to get fit for health, or train for a particular sport, you will have more success if you choose an exercise program and level ideal for your particular muscle composition, as Michelle Lovitt, Sports Nutritionist and Exercise Physiologist, and John Speraw, University Volleyball Coach, explain in their breakthrough work, Exercise for Your Muscle Type.

Clearly we are all not built alike, but according to Lovitt and Speraw, most exercise plans treat us as if we were. Their research and understanding of physiology, molecular genetics and biochemistry led them to come up with an alternative to the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to fitness. The key concept of this alternative plan is that “each body possesses a unique combination of muscle fibres and understanding your muscle makeup can have a huge impact on your exercise program.”

Human skeletal muscle is made up of bundles of muscle fibres (myocytes). These can be broken down into two categories: slow twitch and fast twitch. These distinctions influence how muscles respond to physical activity, and each fibre type is unique in its ability to contract in a certain way. Slow twitch muscle fibres work with aerobic (oxygen) metabolism, fire more slowly, and can go for a long time before they fatigue. Therefore, these fibres would be important in endurance activities like running marathons. Fast twitch fibres use an anaerobic energy system (accessing energy stores from glycogen not oxygen). They generally produce the same amount of force per contraction as slow-twitch fibres, but get their name because they can fire more rapidly. However, they fatigue more quickly. A higher percentage of fast twitch fibres can be an asset when explosive, powerful movement is required, as in sports like basketball or volleyball.

Once the concept of muscle fibres is explained, the authors then take the reader through a process of determining a base level of fitness for a more accurate assessment of muscle fibre testing and various options on how to find out what your muscle type is. This is followed by a 12-week, comprehensive exercise plan for each muscle fibre type, including beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. And finally, because exercise and diet go hand in hand, the authors offer advice on how to combine your exercise plan with proper nutrition; including helpful and sensible 7-day meal plans for each muscle type program.

We all know how important exercise is to our overall health. Putting that knowledge into practise is often another matter. The endless options available don’t make the task any easier either. Moreover, it is often difficult to separate the hype from the truth of what works and what doesn’t. Exercise for Your Muscle Type is no faddy, quick-fix exercise program. Lovitt and Speraw understand that health and fitness is a life altering task that takes time, patience and commitment. They have taken an oft-ignored physiological fact, that of unique muscle fibre makeup, shown how crucial it is to achieving specific exercise goals, and created a well-planned, thoughtful and safe approach to exercise. Theirs is an exercise program that offers something for every body muscle type, fitness inclination and aspiration. Exercise for Your Muscle Type is, ultimately, a very intelligent way to get fit.

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Susannah Kent is a Toronto area Fitness and Healthy Lifestyle Instructor.

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