This brief review attempts to summarize a number of studies on the delineation, development, and distribution of human skeletal muscle fiber types. A total of seven fiber types can be identified in human limb and trunk musculature based on the pH stability/lability of myofibrillar adenosine triphosphatase (mATPase). For most human muscles, mATPase-based fiber types correlate with the myosin heavy chain (MHC) content. Thus, each histochemically identified fiber has a specific MHC profile. Although this categorization is useful, it must be realized that muscle fibers are highly adaptable and that innumerable fiber type transients exist. Also, some muscles contain specific MHC isoforms and/or combinations that do not permit routine mATPase-based fiber typing. Although the major populations of fast and slow are, for the most part, established shortly after birth, subtle alterations take place throughout life. These changes appear to relate to alterations in activity and/or hormonal levels, and perhaps later in life, total fiber number. Because large variations in fiber type distribution can be found within a muscle and between individuals, interpretation of data gathered from human muscle is often difficult.

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