Power starts with the movement of muscles. The human body contains over 400 muscles that are divided into two classes: smooth and striated. Smooth muscles perform the involuntary functions of the body, such as circulation and digestion. Striated muscles may be voluntarily contracted, such as muscle groups in the arms and legs. If a muscle is stretched, it will contact more forcibly than it would had it not been stretched. However, the stretching must immediately precede the contraction. Muscles contraction is the source of power.
Power depends upon
- Softness (elasticity) of the muscles and ability to change from soft to hard and from hard to soft in a split second (soft during advance, hard at contact, and then soft on retract).
- Coordination of all muscles and joints in direction of movement with the right sequence and timing.
- Correct timing of muscle contraction-expansion in relation to timing of the movement of the joints.
Striated muscles are composed of two types of fibers: slow twitch and fast twitch. Slow twitch fibers are used in activities that must be sustained over a long time, such as distance running. They have a high capacity for aerobic energy production and can remain active for a long time while producing relatively small amounts of lactic acid. This is important because lactic acid build-up in the muscle tissue causes the muscle to fatigue and eventually stop working. The ability to maintain low levels of lactic acid means an increased capacity for work. People who have a high percentage of slow twitch fibers excel at endurance activities.
Fast twitch fibers are used in activities that require explosive power for a short duration, such as sprinting or sparring. They have a great capacity for anaerobic energy production, which allows them to produce intense power and speed of contraction; however, this also causes them to accumulate large amounts of lactic acid and fatigue quickly. People who have a high percentage of fast twitch fibers excel at activities that require explosive power.
Therefore, to develop sparring abilities, it would seem best to increase the percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers in your body. Unfortunately, this is not possible. The ratio of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers is determined early in life and cannot be markedly changed. Studies have shown that distance runners have high percentages of slow twitch fibers and sprinters have high percentages of fast twitch fibers but that the activity in which they participate is not responsible for these percentages. Instead, it is believed that some people participate in endurance sports because they naturally excel in this area. In the same respect, people who are naturally fast tend to participate in sports that require speed and power.
Although you cannot change the ratio of muscle fibers, you can improve what you have. Slow and fast twitch muscle fibers are generally intermingled, with a higher percentage of fast twitch fibers. Through training, you may improve the metabolic efficiency of either type of muscle fiber. Muscles generate power by contraction.
Contraction is determined by the types of muscle fibers used and the firing rate of the neurons within the fibers. The voluntary contraction of a muscle begins with the smallest units of slow twitch muscles. These motor units (muscle fiber groups) have the lowest response threshold, create the least amount of tension, and are the most resistant to fatigue. As muscle tension increases, more motor units are recruited from the larger fast twitch fibers. As tension continues to rise, fewer motor units need to be activated because the large fast twitch units contain more plentiful and more powerful muscle fibers. However, because these large fibers are the ones that generate peak tension in the muscle, they fatigue quickly and require more recovery time. For example, whether you walk one mile or sprint one mile, you use the same basic muscle groups over the same distance. However, walking requires less tension in the muscles and therefore relies on the low threshold-low tension motor units so fatigue is slow to develop; whereas, sprinting requires maximum muscle tension on every stride. When muscle fibers must produce maximum tension repeatedly over long periods of time, they fatigue sooner.
Contraction speed is determined by the rate at which the skeletomotor neurons stimulate the muscle fibers. The more frequently the neurons fire, the more tension that is produced within the muscle. At peak tension, the neurons fire so rapidly that the muscle fiber is unable to relax from one stimulation to the next, resulting in generation of maximum force.