The Aerobic/ Oxidative System and Training Implications

The final energy system we will cover is the oxidative/ aerobic system. This is the system we use primarily throughout the day. Most of us are at a low level activity during the day, sitting at a desk, writing a blog post, driving to work etc. These activities are low intensity in nature compared to repeated hill sprints. Because of the relatively low energy demands, your body has time to deliver oxygen to the working muscle, and the rapid anaerobic generation of ATP is not required by the phosphagen or fast glycolytic system. 

Training this system does not mean you get to sit on the couch all day! Activity with a low enough intensity that can be sustained for over 90 seconds is when this system really gets to work. After a couple minutes, your body should have reached a steady state of work. This means your oxygen consumption and heart rate have both leveled off, you are officially in the groove! There are a few different ways to train the oxidative system: Long slow distance, Pace training, Interval training, and high Intensity Interval Training. 

Long slow distance (LSD) training is a form of aerobic conditioning that is low intensity, but the distance you complete is longer. Heart rate should not exceed 80% of your estimated max or what’s known as conversational exercise (you can talk without struggle). The distance completed during conditioning should be longer or at least the duration of training should be longer than the race. People often use this form of conditioning to allow active recovery between intense bouts of training, while still receiving the benefits of training the aerobic system like: improved cardiovascular function, thermoregulatory ability, increased mitochondrial energy production, enhanced fat usage as a fuel source, and increased aerobic capacity of working muscle. All this means is that you become more efficient with energy production, and blood flow. However, using this training technique too often may detrain the body’ ability to kick into high gear towards the end of a race, or cause the athlete to perform a slower pace during their race. 

Pace training requires you to perform at the intensity of your race. You are pushing yourself to your lactate threshold (the point at which lactate starts to accumulate). Steady pace training is performed at lactate threshold for longer durations. This provides the athlete with the appropriate amount of stress in order to prepare them for their competition. Interval pace training shortens these bouts, and provides a short rest between each bout of activity. The goal is to get the body familiar with pace they need to run at in order to compete. This type of training improves the lactate threshold, and running economy. 

Interval training places the intensity of the intervals at or slightly above the athlete’s VO2 max (volume of oxygen consumed) which is related to the max heart rate. The individual bouts of exercise are shorter, but as mentioned previously, the intensity is through the roof. The work to rest ratio is around 1:1-3 depending on work time and goal of the session. The work time is anywhere between 30 seconds and 5 minutes. What this allows the athlete to accomplish is more time training at peak levels, compared to steady state at the same peak level. The allotted rest time gives the athlete a chance to recover, replenish energy storage and do it again. Increased VO2 max and improved anaerobic metabolism are benefits seen from this type of training. 

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is performed at or above max capabilities for short bouts, followed by rest. The rest durations are the key variable that must be prescribed correctly in order to get the most out of the session. Rest periods that are too short will cause the athlete to fatigue rapidly and injury could follow. Rest periods that are too long will remove the benefits of performing intervals. There are long form and short form intervals, and each side of the spectrum should be taxed in order to see improvements anaerobically and aerobically. This type of training will allow an athlete to have an improved final push at the end of the race. 

A hot topic of conversation is whether or not to combine aerobic training with strength training (concurrent training). From poking around the rabbit holes of research articles and textbooks, there has been consensus around one topic. Aerobically dominated athletes such as runners, cyclists, rowers, etc. all show enhanced performance when adding strength training to their program. This is due to improved strength which improves the efficiency of the activity. Flipping to the other side of the spectrum is where things get hairy. Power dominate athletes like football, baseball, and hockey players seem to shy away from aerobic conditioning. People fear that the effects of power and strength training can be negated from aerobic conditioning. There have been studies that suggest it all depends on rest time between sessions. People have seen benefits of concurrent training when allowing at least 6 hours between the two types of training. In my opinion, having the ability to recover faster from sessions allows a greater volume of training to be completed. The aerobic system is an enhanced recovery machine when trained correctly based on needs. If an athlete has a solid aerobic base, the other two energy systems can only benefit from enhanced recovery ability. The effects of aerobic training last much longer than those of sprinting, or other power oriented exercises. This means that once a based is formed, you will not have to continue to train the aerobic system as often as the other two systems. When, how long, and how much aerobic conditioning taking place depends on what the goal of the program is. But, completely neglecting this system can spell trouble for work capacity ability in the future and hender recovery. 

(Posts with a little more controversy in the training field are soon to come) 

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