Climbers vs. Sprinters



My buddy Vo2 tried to explain this to me, but I still don't get it ??? Why do some guys climb better and others sprint better? How do you know whether you are a climber or a sprinter?
If you sprint away from everyone on a hill, you're a climber. ;D

Doesn't it have something to do with genetics. i.e. fast twitch and slow twitch muscles.

I know I hate climbers, (the sods) and enjoy a good sprint, so I assume I would fall in the latter category. BTW, a 53 x 11 gear ratio is pretty cool for sprinting.
Its prity obvious in my opinion :). ITs physical. Spinters are realy muscey blokes that are built like a tank and can turn up the pace on the flat with less effort that climbers wich are built like...well GOATS ;) they dont have as much natural material so they are faster up the hills or mountains,. Sprinters can be also fast up hills.. small ones though. you then have those inbetween.
Sprinters have fast more fast twitch fibre (read big bulky) muscle which is great for intense effort over a short period.

Climbers have slow more twitch fibre which is wiry muscle which develops less power but can sustain it over a longer period.

You can change your fast/slow twitch make up but only a small amount - mostly genetic.

To be a climber you also need to be a masochist! I can't take the pain of cimbing - a big wussy I am. Sprinting is probably more painful for a short while but you're nicely distracted by trying not to crash.

Sprinters are 15 seconds of fame kind of people and will never feature in stage racing....woe is me.....
Its all about power! Sprinters and climbers both have the ability to press hard on the pedals for a period of time. There are two differences (1) how they apply the force and (2) the force relative to body weight.

During flat riding the only resistance that has to be overcome are those in the bike and body, and air resistance. Larger bodies (i.e. sprinters) can produce more power relative to their air resistance (i.e. frontal area) than smaller bodies and can therefore propel themselves faster on the flat. The smaller bodies of climbers allow them to use their power more efficently when climbing, as they have less gravity to overcome. During climbing it is the power to weight ratio that is more important as the effects of gravity increase and air resistance is reduced at the low speeds.

Climbers tend to be able to produce moderate power outputs for extended periods of time (i.e. good aerobic capacity and high lactate threshold). Sprinters tend to be able to produce massive power outputs for very short periods of time (i.e. high anaerobic capacity and good neuromuscular function) allowing them to accelerate very quickly.

Sprinters can climb well on short hills because they can produce enough power to get over the climb, but not much longer. Climbers need longer hills to take advantage of their high aerobic capacities, short hills are no good!

The ability to climb or sprint is partly genetic (i.e. big or small) and partly due to training! If you want to sprint faster do sprint training and if you want to climb faster increase your aerobic capacity, lactate threshold and do some climbing. Its good to look at your strengths and work on these during the season. During the off season, working on your weaknesses can remove any disadvantages that you might have.
Thanx guys, I get it now ;) ;D It's probable a good idea to be as balanced as possible.
It is generally accepted that there are two basic types of muscle fibers. Slow twitch (Type I) muscle and fast twitch (Type II) muscle fiber. Research is currently looking at the specific makeup of these fibers and the 'fast' and 'slow' categories are much simplified. It appears that the fast twitch fibers can be further categorized into Type IIa and Type IIb fibers.

Until further evidence is available however, these distinctions will help us discuss and understand how muscle fibers affect performance.

Human muscles contain a genetically determined mixture of both slow and fast fiber type. On average, we have about 50% slow and 50% fast fibers in most of the muscles used for movement. The slow muscles contain more mitochondria and myoglobin which make them more efficient at using oxygen to generate ATP without lactate acid build up. In this way, the slow twitch fibers can fuel repeated and extended muscle contractions such as those required for endurance events like a marathon.

The two fiber types generally produce the same amount of force per contraction, but fast twitch fibers produce that force at a higher rate (they fire more rapidly). So a lot of fast twitch fibers can be an asset to a sprinter when there is a limited amount of time to generate maximal force. The slow twitch fibers, on the other hand, fire less rapidly, but can go for a long time before they fatigue.

Fiber Type and Performance

The genetic component of muscle fiber type can not be overlooked when it comes to performance. Olympic athletes tend to be genetically blessed with large variations in fast and slow twitch fibers that perfectly suit their sport. Olympic sprinters have been shown to possess about 80% fast twitch fibers while those who excel in the marathon may have 80% slow twitch fibers.

Can you change your muscle fiber type by training?

This is a hard question to answer because good studies are just now being conducted. Currently, there is limited evidence to show that human skeletal muscle switches fiber types from "fast" to "slow" due to training. Researchers have demonstrated a fast-to-slow fiber transformation in animal skeletal muscle, and the human studies are showing similar outcomes. There is decent evidence that pure fast (Type IIb) fibers can transition to "hybrid" (Type IIa) fibers with chronic endurance training.

What can I do to improve my performance?

Keep in mind that genetic differences may be dramatic at the elite levels of athletic competition, but for the typical athlete, following the principles of conditioning will dramatically improve personal performance.

Following the principle of overload is the cornerstone of training. With consistent endurance training muscle fibers can develop more mitochondria and surrounding capillaries. In this way training improves your muscle's ability to cope with and adapt to the stress of exercise.

Fiber type alone is a poor predictor of performance, even among elite endurance athletes. There are many other factors that go into determining athletic success, including mental preparedness, proper nutrition and hydration, getting enough rest, and having appropriate equipment and conditioning. Thanks

Here is a nice slide show that explains to you the differences > Click here

and you can read another article here
Good explanation VO2, I'll try and find my muscle biopsy photo's to post into this string. They are stained for types I and II.

There is a big difference between track sprinters and road race climbers. I would suggest that road race sprinters are closer to climbers than track sprinters in almost all aspects of their physiology. As they have to undergo lots of endurance training.

Overload is very important, the specificity of the overload governs the specific physiologic adaptations that occur in the muscles and body.

When % contribution of type 1 and type 2 are measured, do you look at % of surface area or % of fibres?
I just wondered, a lot of people say that climbers are "thin" people while your sprinters are more the bullish type. I have read the posts about the types of muscle fibres but would still like to know if your build really has such a big influence on being a sprinter or a climber.

Vo2 probably knows that I'm not your typical small build person 8), but I still prefer to do climbing and, not blowing my own horn, I have dropped a few friends which are thin (and strong) climbers. Is this because of the compisition of my muscle?
That slideshow reminds me of high school Biology ;D they just didn't go into that much depth. Man, this is getting interesting.
Post those pics, 2LAP. Would make for some interesting viewing.

Type I (slow twitch) muscle contains more mitochondria than Type II (fast twitch) muscle. Type I fibres normally appear white and are larger than Type II fibres, which normally appear more red.

For those of you that wince at the thought of a biopsy, here's a quick and easy way to determine whether you have ST or FT muscle fibres:

  • First, do a quick stretch and warm up
  • Then, find a smooth wall. Stand next to the wall so that one shoulder is touching the wall and raise up the hand closest to the wall. You don't need to reach as high as you can — just hold your arm up parallel and in contact with the wall. Have someone make a mark at your finger tips
  • Now measure the distance from the floor to this mark. This is your "base height"
  • Place chalk powder or something similar on your finger tips on your dominant hand (e.g. right handers, use right hand). Stand next to the wall again, allowing room for you to jump. Jump up as high as you can and mark the wall with your chalked fingers. You can use your knees as much or as little as you want, and you can swing your hands for momentum. Just make sure you take off from a stationary position
  • Rest a while between attempts and continue until there is no more improvement in the height of your jumps (this reduces the learning effect).
  • Measure the distance between your highest jump and your "base height".
  • A score over 60 cm shows higher correlation with fast twitch (type II) fibre preponderance, and a score under 60 cm a higher correlation with slow twitch (type I) fibres. So for example, if your score is somewhere in the 40 cm range, you could assume you climb better than you sprint.
Obviously there are factors that influence this method, like your degree of fitness and the type of training you have been doing, but it's a general indication. Give it a try.
The reason sprinters tend to be big is so that they can develope more force. The force developed by a muscle is related to the muscle's cross sectional area. Climbers tend to have a compromise between force development and body mass, so will be thinner (i.e. less muscle cross sectional area). I guess EWEP that you are quite well trained any well trained sprinter will beat an untrained climb up a hill! As a sprinter you will also be able to put in greater bursts of effort or jumps than your skinny friends on the flat or up a hill!

Your talent may be because of the composition of your muscles, but is probably much more to do with your training history. Even Armstrong would be a bloater if he didn't train, however both his genetic make up and training interact to make him a world leader!
Blinded by science!

Excellent thread with really good info - thanks all - I've learnt plenty.
I agree Eldron, you can always count on the guys who posted here to give you invaluable information.
And then there are few of us that just can't seem to drop into our 39's even in a long endurance climb. Sometimes I wish I could spin!

I am definitely a sprinter...and I have "afterburners" that allow me to chase, and catch, if I do fall off on a climb. BUT, training has immensely improved my climbing and at my last race I stayed at the front of the pack on the 9.5% grade climb! I will never be a twig so I concentrate on controlling my breathing and heartrate when climbing to keep my pace steady. Losing 10 lbs helped too; fewer curves swinging back and forth whilst I stand to climb :)
I did Vo2's test yesterday evening... First jump = 58.6 cm, Second jump 63.3 cm, looks like I'm a type II man.
According to the test as per Vo2 (I sound like a docor ;) ), I have more fast twitch than slow twitch. (Got up to constant 75cm and highest = 81cm). So this must mean that I do practive my hills enough. I must say that I do agree with crankin, I can sustain a high cadence (95 +) over a long endurance ride. I don't have a problem of riding at 98rpm - 103rpm over 40km. Does this mean that I have more fast twitch muscle?
Don't catergorise yourselves chaps - you could be an out and out sprinter, out and out climber or ANYTHING in between!

I went through a phase of 'IM A SUPREME SPRINTER' and eventually phased myself out on the hills - letting the team 'climbers' do the business on the bumpy races (letting them down really).

Hang on to the bunch as long as possible and if you're there at the end give it everything in the sprint.

If you think you suck at climbing you will! If you think you're too weak for a sprint you'll never find out!

Be a cyclist!
Eldron I hear what you're saying. To me it's just an easy way to see how I should adapt my training plan to become a more balanced cyclist
Eldron is 100% right. Don't clasify yourself.
Ride the road, don't let the road ride you.