TTP reader Patrik brought up a very good point in a comment to my vertical jump post of a few days back. For those who may not have seen the comment, I’ll include it below, along with my reply to Patrik’s comments (in red). But first, you might be wondering why the differentiation between skill and athleticism is is at all important for your everyday TTP’er. Isn’t this a concern for only the competitive athlete, coach and/or recruiter? Well, the short answer is no; however, a little more explanation is required (which was pointed out to me by Patrik) to justify this answer. Here was Patrik’s comment, separated by my replies:
Interestingly (and again, that serendipity thing has come into play), I ran across this short video clip, courtesy of Elite Track of Dan Pfaff discussing the differences between strength, power, and skill, and the fact that strength and power are not necessarily correlated with particular event skills. I always advise young athletes (my own son, a high school baseball player, in particular), never to think that the weight room (in general) and/or strength and conditioning (in particular) can take the place of, or compensate fora lack of, skills training. Done properly, though, an intelligent strength and conditioning program can certainly enhance acquired skills and, given two athletes with a similar skill level, can make the difference between time on the field and watching the action from the bench — the difference between the medal podium and the loneliest place of all — dreaded 4th.
Now, let’s make sense of all of this for the deckplate level, fitness/health enthusiast that most of us are (or aspire to be). How does this in any way apply to us?
My premise — the TTP premise — has always been this: A high percentage of fast-twitch muscle fiber (in relation to slow-twitch fiber) within an individual is desirous due to the fact that it is precisely this fiber type that represents the metabolic “big engine” that will induce, under the correct dietary influence, a rapid and (more importantly), sustained fat loss. It is also my premise that an individual is at his or her healthiest and fittest when they have achieved the highest peak, anaerobic power output they are capable of. Taking this idea of the correlation between Peak Anaerobic Power (PAPw) and overall health a step further — and noting that it is precisely fast-twitch muscle fiber concentration, in conjunction with an efficient central nervous system (CNS) that is responsible for this power output — it should (and in my experience, does) follow that as an individual’s PAPw trends upward, that individual has both increased their bodily fast-to-slow muscle fiber concentration ratio and reduced their body fat concentration. To what degree each of these variables has tracked is hard to say — but really, in the short term, does it matter as long as the long term goal is achieved? What we really need, though, is a simple tool to allow us to more adequately quantify our progress. Of course, the “mirror test” or “pinch test” is probably most applicable in the early stages of one’s health/fitness quest, but what to do after that has played out? This is where the vertical jump test comes into play, with the reasoning behind that being as follows: a better vert. = an increased PAPw = either an increase in fast-twitch fiber concentration or a decrease in BF %, or both = a healthier, more fit person as compared to that same person at the time of previous testing.
I suppose if there is a leap of faith (pardon the pun) to be made here, it is that a more anaerobically powerful individual is necessarily a fitter/healthier individual. And though I cannot “prove” this assertion scientifically, I can say that the results of all of my study, and all of my to-date empirical knowledge supports this hypothesis. This powerful state, in my opinion, is the most natural, (and healthiest expression, i.e., phenotype) of the human genome.
Patrik, though, does make a salient point in his comment. He rightly points out that the skills aspect of my preferred power testing method (the vertical jump) might be preferentially influenced while the athleticism component (correlated to fast-twitch fiber concentration and CNS efficiency and, therefore, the “health/fitness factor”) might very well remain stagnant — or even decrease — and, therefore skew the outcome (or, more importantly, our interpretation of the results). He is absolutely correct, of course. However, this is another reason (actually, the over-riding reason) that the vertical jump (or, CMJ) is the preferred, non-invasive (i.e., as compared to the muscle biopsy) method of testing for relative fast-twitch fiber concentration within an individual. In a nutshell, the test is technically, rather easily mastered. Hell, there’s just not that much to it, and any betterment in the vertical jump that can be attributed solely to skill improvement is scant compared to improvements attributed to actual improvements in raw athletic ability.
As an interesting aside to the issue of muscle biopsy testing, I’d like to mention the recently-made-available ACTN3 Sports Performance Test ™. Basically, this test is a measurement of the natural propensity of an individual to preferentially maintain and/or acquire fast-twitch muscle fiber. Why is this important? Well, this takes us back to the correlation between fast-twitch muscle fiber prominence in an individual and that individual’s ability to generate a high PAPw, and the correspondence between a high PAPw output and success in power dominated sporting events. The old East German sporting machine would have certainly appreciated such a test. It would be interesting to see a study comparing the vertical jumps of people who tested high on the ACTN3 scale vs those who tested low on the scale. I’m not normally a betting man, but I’d be glad to place money on the outcome of such a study.