Aerobic versus anaerobic training?

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These are two words you would have almost certainly come across in fitness and health vernacular. But what does it mean? When I hear the word ‘aerobic’, the first image that jumps in to my head is leg warmers, headphones (for some reason) and Olivia Newton John…..But that is just me. Of course ‘aerobics’ were big in the 80’s and as most of us would remember was a group training class full of incredibly repetitive moves, bad music and usually big hair, but again I digress.

The word ‘aerobic’ literally means ‘with air’ and is the type of training that has been recommended for everything from weightloss to tight buns. It is actually the type of training everyone should do for a healthy strong heart. It is also a very effective way to burn extra calories that would otherwise end up on your thighs or stomach. So by all means aerobic on! Aerobic activities are any of those that utilise large muscle groups in a rhythmic way at an intensity that you could keep up for at least 20 minutes. The purest definition of aerobic energy though is that it is the predominant energy source for activities lasting longer than approximately 2 minutes.

Anything power type activity lasting less than that falls under the ‘anaerobic’ heading.

So does ‘anaerobic’ mean ‘without air’ then? Well yeah kind of. A pure aerobic activity does not require you to breathe as the energy comes from stored sources. Any explosive activity like jumping, throwing a punch or lifting a heavy weight quickly gets it’s power from the anerobic energy pathway. The anaerobic energy pathway has two parts. The first is the ATP-PC system. This is the quickest most powerful source but doesn’t last very long at all, perhaps up to 10 seconds. The second pathway is the Lactate system and is one that we fully feel in efforts lasting anywhere from around 10 seconds to 2 minutes. The 400 m event on the track is pure pain of the lactate system. We have all experienced the dizziness and heaviness in the muscles that is the by product of this type of work rate. That pain is the lactic acid produced by the lactate system.

So what is better for ‘fat loss’. Most information in the past would have suggested the aerobic system. Burn up more calories and create that oh so necessary deficit. Lately though, more research is backing the anaerobic work. Hit it hard and boost your metabolism with growth hormone so that you burn way more energy for the following hours and not just the time when you are exercising. So is this true for everybody? Well as usual the answer is not as simple as we would like. There is no ‘one way’. There are physiological principles that can not be denied but everyone is different. Perhaps the biggest key is to give the body a stimulus it is basically not used to. This variation is what causes the body to adapt and this fact is one of those that can not be denied.

I say do both types of training. Aerobic training (put your legwarmers on by all means) and anaerobic training have their place. It also makes life more interesting. Mix it up and your body (and mind) will be thanking you for it. That is the one principle we will live by here at Best Practice. Variation is fun and effective. Let me know if you have any questions about this interesting area.

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