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Olympic weightlifters have different muscles

Summary of a study looking at the percentage of different types of muscle fibers in female and male elite Olympic weightlifters.

Who

21 elite weightlifters (15 females, 6 males) with at least 2 years of national competition experience (USA).

Athletes were:

  • WCF - 6 world caliber females (Olympic or World team members)
  • NCF - 9 national caliber females (top 5 finishers at the American Open finals)
  • NCM - 6 national caliber males (top 5 finishers at the American Open finals)

Design

Cross-sectional study where 2-96 hours after competing in the 2017 International Weightlifting Federation World Championships or the USA Weightlifting American Open Finals biopsies were taken.

Outcome measures

  • MHC content (myosin heavy chain content) via SF technique from resting vastus lateralis muscle biopsy
  • the results obtained by HG technique are omitted in this summary, go to the original article (link at the bottom) if you want to learn about these.

Main results

Olympic weightlifters have different muscles Infographic

  • 102 ± 3 fibers per athlete were isolated
  • WCF were competing in sports for about 5 years longer than NCF and NCM, they were also older than NCF

Muscle fibre type analysis:

% of fibre type
MHC I
MHC I/IIa
MHC IIa
MHC IIa/IIx
MHC IIx
WCF*
% of fibre type
16.83
MHC I
6.17
MHC I/IIa
71.17
MHC IIa
6.00
MHC IIa/IIx
0.00
NCF*
MHC IIx
25.00
% of fibre type
4.11
MHC I
67.33
MHC I/IIa
3.33
MHC IIa
0.00
NCM*
MHC IIa/IIx
24.83
MHC IIx
3.33
% of fibre type
62.67
MHC I
9.17
MHC I/IIa
0.00
  • groups were similar in the distribution of different fibre types, but 90% of IIa/IIx fibers were found in heavyweight lifters. This may suggest the relationship between body mass and frequency of MHC IIa/IIx type fibers.

  • MHC IIa fiber type concentration in athletes was very high:

    • WCF - 71%
    • NCF - 67%
    • NCM - 63%
    • for comparison, MHC IIa % was reported at 30% in national level male soccer players, 52% in males training sprinting, 39% in natinal caliber male bodybuilders.
  • when results for all lifters were combined:

    • 23 ± 9% of fibres were I type
    • 5 ± 3% of I/IIa
    • 67 ± 13% of IIa
    • 6 ± 10% of IIa/IIx
    • no IIx or I/IIa/IIx fibers

Take home message

For a clinician
Olympic weightlifters have more IIa fast-type muscle fibers than any other athletes. Also, the percentage of muscle fibres increases with the experience and/or caliber (level) of an athlete (regardless of sex). Hybrid IIa/IIx fibers were mainly present in heavyweight athletes.
For a parent
Olympic weightlifters have more IIa fast-type muscle fibers than any other athletes. Also, the percentage of muscle fibres increases with the experience and/or caliber (level) of an athlete (regardless of sex).
For an athlete
Olympic weightlifters have more IIa fast-type muscle fibers than any other athletes. Also, the percentage of muscle fibres increases with the experience and/or caliber (level) of an athlete (regardless of sex).

Original article

Serrano N, Colenso-Semple LM, Lazauskus KK, Siu JW, Bagley JR, Lockie RG, Costa PB, Galpin AJ. Extraordinary fast-twitch fiber abundance in elite weightlifters. PloS one. 2019 Mar 27;14(3):e0207975.

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