Aerobic and anaerobic exercise: all systems go

Posted: Sunday, January 09, 2011

Editor's note: "Focus on Fitness" is a Clarion feature with healthy lifestyle advice from local and national health and fitness experts. Check here weekly great information and tips on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Always consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

The energy system used by the body during exercise depends on the intensity and duration of that exercise. The more intense the exercise the shorter the duration limit of the system. Exercise of a longer duration must be of a lower intensity. Shorter duration activities use the anaerobic systems while the aerobic system is used for those of a longer duration.

High intensity short duration exercise usually involves resistance exercises, plyometrics or sprinting. These exercises depend on energy that is stored in the muscles. There is enough energy stored in the muscles for about ten seconds of very high intensity exercise. This is considered an anaerobic energy system since oxygen is not utilized to produce the energy. If you want to increase your strength, speed or vertical leap you must participate in exercises that train this energy system.

Strength training is effective in part because it makes you stronger. Stronger arms and legs will help you run faster and jump higher. In addition strength training increases the number of fast twitch muscle fibers and morphs fast twitch muscle fibers to super fast twitch muscle fibers. This training effect is specific to the muscles worked so it is important to participate in a full body strength-training program. This balances strength, which helps prevent injuries related to an imbalance of strength between muscle groups.

Plyometric exercises are explosive high impact movements. While they utilize the same energy system as resistance training they have a different training effect. These exercises train the neuromuscular system to fire more quickly which improves function and performance. Stair hopping is an example of a plyometric exercise. You can find other exercises online or in books that will help you develop a program to fit your needs. This is high impact training and care should be taken to avoid overuse injury. Participation in a strength training program will reduce the risk of overuse injury.

Sprinting, especially when done up hill, is one of the best ways to train the quick energy system. As you train the quick energy system your body will become more efficient and the duration of your sprints will lengthen. It is also important to maintain a high level of aerobic fitness since this system plays an important role in recovery from high intensity exercise.

The next energy system is called glycolosis and is also anaerobic in nature. Weight training, plyometrics and sprinting will utilize this system if their duration is over ten seconds. Glycolosis provides energy to the muscles through a complex series of chemical reactions and is good for about 90 seconds of intense exercise. Training this system may be where the "no pain, no gain" slogan came from. I have heard athletes describe this type of training as "puke drills" which is a good description. Any exercise that lasts for 30-90 seconds and brings you to exhaustion will work this system.

It is important to allow the body to recover between sets of high intensity exercises. A good rule of thumb is a 1:1 ratio, if your set takes one minute, give yourself one minute to recover before the next set. For sets lasting 30 seconds or less allow a 2:1 ratio. The number of sets you do is dependent upon your fitness level and goals. It is advised to do very high intensity exercise 2-3 days per week.

The aerobic energy system utilizes oxygen and begins to kick in at about 2 minutes. It is in full swing at about 5 minutes. To best train this system you must continue exercise beyond five minutes so finding the right pace is important. Too easy and you do not stress the system, too hard and you kick in the anaerobic energy systems resulting in exhaustion. You need to exercise at a high enough intensity to elevate your heart rate to 70-80 percent of your maximum heart rate. Your maximum heart rate is determined by subtracting your age from 220. At about 15 minutes of exercise hormone sensitive lipase and lipoprotein lipase are released by the body. These chemicals mobilize fat cells at storage sites and increase the uptake of fat cells into muscles. This provides an energy boost and is sometimes called your "second wind."

Endurance activities are perfect for training the aerobic energy system. The length of your training sessions need to be at least 20-30 minutes but may be much longer depending on your goals.

Remember, for all energy systems training effect is specific to the muscles being utilized. Choose exercises that stress the muscles you will be utilizing in competition or in recreation and cross up your training to make sure all systems are go and a variety of muscle groups are trained. Training effect comes into play with systems also. Well-trained athletes are better able to utilize all energy systems, which enhances their performance. Cross training is effective because it helps ensure all systems are ready to go and a variety of muscle groups are worked.

Charlie Stephens is a retired P.E. teacher and owner/operator of Kenai Sport & Train, Inc. He can be reached at

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