Twitching muscles & fat burning in workouts

Written by angela brady
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Twitching muscles & fat burning in workouts
There are several types of muscle "twitch". (B2M Productions/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Burning fat isn't the only reason to exercise, but for many people, it's so important that the fitness world is regularly turned upside-down by the newest fat-burning hype. One recent fad focuses on the link between muscle twitching and fat burning. Proponents might be talking about one of several types of "twitch" that relate to muscles.

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Muscles and Twitch

The word "twitch" can has several meanings when it comes to muscles. Most commonly, it refers to fast- and slow twitch, the two kinds of muscle fibers that perform very different jobs. In heavy-lifting circles, the discussion actually might be about muscle "quiver", which the training bodybuilder is constantly trying to work past. In sports medicine journals, the "twitch" can mean a cramp and can be a sign of inadequate preparation and impending injury. No matter which "twitch" is being referred to, it can be an important component when you are trying to lose fat.

Fast-Twitch Muscle

Fast-twitch muscles are the bulky, powerful muscle fibers responsible for speed and explosive power. They are able to contract quickly, but because they use anaerobic respiration to turn glycogen stores into fuel, they tire quickly. For example, a sprinter relies on fast-twitch muscles to cover the track and leap hurdles, and a power lifter uses his fast-twitch muscles to raise the barbell from the floor over his head. The fast-twitch muscles are responsible for strength-based fitness. The stronger you are, the harder you are able to work out, which translates to increased fat loss.

Slow-Twitch Muscle

Slow-twitch muscles are the endurance muscles. They contract at a slower speed than fast-twitch muscles, but they are able to operate at a steady pace for long periods. Slow-twitch muscles allow ultra-marathoners to run 50 miles without collapsing. They function during aerobic activity, when the heart rate is between 50 percent and 70 percent of the maximum, and because they have the time to utilise oxygen to produce fuel, they tend to burn fat. This is why distance runners generally have a low body fat percentage: not only do they train hard and eat right, but their training also takes the form of sustained, moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Their bodies use fat stores as fuel.

Muscle Quiver

Some people report feeling their muscles twitch during exercise, when what they are really feeling is more of a quiver. This usually occurs during resistance training, when the fast-twitch muscle is stressed with a new movement or a heavier weight than normal, and is fatigued after several repetitions. The quiver is caused by the Golgi tendon reflex, which is your body's safeguard against injury. When your body senses potential injury, it signals the muscle to relax because a relaxed muscle resists damage. When this occurs while you are lifting a weight, your muscle is trying to relax while you are forcing it to contract, resulting in a quiver. While this reflex might be useful in a trauma situation, it can hinder weight training. As long as you stay within your abilities and lift safely, you can lift past the quiver without injury. This helps assure that you are fatiguing your muscles enough to tone them, which also can assist fat loss.

Muscle Spasm/Cramp

If your muscle twitch happens during a sustained activity like running, it can turn into a cramp. Cramps usually affect the large slow-twitch muscles in the leg and are a sign of fatigue, dehydration, and inadequate stretching. When your twitch becomes a cramp, stop what you're doing and gently stretch and massage the area until the cramp subsides. Prevent cramps by stretching thoroughly and staying hydrated. If you are exercising for more than an hour, or if the weather is very warm, drink a sports drink to replace lost electrolytes, which also contributes to cramping. Cramps usually go away within a few minutes and should not hamper your fat-loss efforts.

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