Aerobic training is so often pushed aside for high intense anaerobic workouts. The idea that just training anaerobically will develop the aerobic system is only somewhat true. Your anaerobic system relies on your aerobic system to function optimally and maximize its potential. Let me explain how it works.
The body has three energy systems:
- the CP (creatine phosphagen) system,
- the glycolytic system, and
- the oxidative system.
The CP system is used for all-out high intense short explosive bursts of energy lasting less than 10- 15 seconds. Think a 100m sprinter.
The glycolytic system fuels high-intense efforts lasting 15 seconds to three minutes. Imagine a 400m sprinter.
The oxidative system fuels exercise and training from three minutes to hours. Visualize a marathon runner.
Your CP ATP energy is 60% replenished in 30 seconds to one minute and 100% in 3 minutes. This is because the glycolytic system kicks on after 10-15 seconds from the depletion of the CP system. And while the glycolytic and oxidative systems work, the CP system can replenish and recover for more explosive bouts. But it all depends on your training and your aerobic base’s efficiency to replenish and recover energy effectively and maximally.
How the Aerobic System helps Anaerobic
Lactate is created by both the CP and the glycolytic system. However, it is mainly produced by the glycolytic. Understand that the more intense the workout, the more lactate accumulates. When lactate is produced, it produces muscular fatigue and decreases performance. As your workout intensity surpasses your aerobic threshold, it enters the anaerobic zone.
Firstly, aerobic training increases the number of mitochondria in your muscles. Mitochondria burn up lactate, using it as energy. The more mitochondria you have, the faster your lactate is cleared. Therefore, you can maintain a higher level of anaerobic performance by buffering lactate at a greater rate. By reducing the amount of lactate accumulation, you diminish fatigue effects that improve performance.
Secondly, mitochondria produce ATP. So, the more mitochondria, the more ATP you can make. The more ATP you can make, the higher you can boost and the more you can fuel your anaerobic ability and capacity.
Thirdly, and not to disappoint you, you can only increase your mitochondria through aerobic exercise.
And fourthly, aerobic training increases blood flow, capillary size, and oxygen delivery to your muscles. This process helps to boost the anaerobic threshold.
Training at a high intensity will improve your aerobic threshold somewhat. But it will most certainly not develop the components needed to maximize it.
Furthermore, anaerobic training will not increase the number of mitochondria or clear lactate. Fast-twitch muscle fibers create lactate, and slow-twitch fibers clear it and use it as energy.
Sport Performance Effects
Training hard does not matter if you cannot recover and adapt – the essential role of
the aerobic system. Think about training the strength of the aerobic system first, not the other way around, anaerobically. The aerobic system lays the foundation for the anaerobic system to build its power on top. The aerobic system is about sustainability.
Now think about repeatability. When the aerobic system is appropriately trained, you can recover faster through the aerobic system and do a higher amount of anaerobic work repetitiously. The ability to perform maximally or repeatedly, like with sprints, is determined by the ability to recover.
For example, your aerobic system is not conditioned if you sprint down the field and start sucking wind after the sprint. It will take more time to recover, and you will never fully recover because your aerobic base has a low baseline, is weak, and is deficient. On the other hand, if you sprint down the field and can continue to jog afterward, your aerobic system is strong.
Look at it like this. Your sprint ability is a ten, and aerobic is a 4. Your opponent’s sprint ability is also a ten, and their aerobic is a 7. Their baseline is higher, making the difference between anaerobic and aerobic small. A larger differential would show a dip in power because the aerobic system is weaker, making it less effective at recovering from an intense sprint.
Another good example is soccer players. They sprint down the field, and after the sprint, they jog and sprint again. This is repeated throughout 90 minutes of the game. If the aerobic base starts to fatigue at 60 minutes, the anaerobic system will also be less powerful.
Think of the aerobic system as a battery. When it starts losing energy, the machine it is powering does too and starts to move slower.
All the systems in your body work interdependently, especially regarding energy. As a result, they rely on each other to be efficient, effective, and functional.
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