Programming Aerobic Work (for the Active)

I don’t do it.  Yea, that’s right.  I don’t program or recommend any traditional ‘cardio’ for active people.  Now, really, I should clarify.  By traditional cardio, I’m referring to LSD-type training.  Long Slow Distance training has proved to be a staple of many training programs.  It provides numerous physiological benefits, and it’s safe to say that the vast majority of the population would benefit from improving their aerobic capacity.  So, if we need to improve our aerobic capacity and cardiovascular functioning, it’s not that far fetched that people think that training using the LSD method is the most beneficial for them.  For those who are sedentary, it’s advantageous to develop an aerobic base upon which to build a better body.  For those who are already active…why would you program traditional cardio?!  To me, it’s a poor investment of time; your activity is your aerobic training.

Want an example?  Okay, well, let’s look at my upcoming summer schedule.  When I’m not sitting in summer class Mondays through Thursday, I’ll be caddying on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  So that’s around 12 hours of work in those three days.  I’ll also most likely be caddying late on Thursdays, and possibly on Mondays, for outings.  If the shortest round I’ll find is 4 hours, that’s still 4 hours of low intensity aerobic work a week.  I don’t even consider it exercise; at this point, it’s NEAT (Non Exercise  Activity Thermogensis).  Outside of working on the golf course, I’ll be playing golf too.  I’ll play at least once a week, walking every time.  When I’m not golfing, I’ll try to play a different social game with friends, say tennis, volleyball, or frisbee.  So on a low estimate, I’ll be caddying for 12 hours a week, playing golf for 4, and playing a different sport for 2.  That totals to 18 hours of low intensity cardio a week.  I don’t think that anybody in their right mind would tell you that you need to be doing more aerobic conditioning with that amount of activity.  When I’m in the gym, I’ll focus on a variety of strength training methodologies, as well as some conditioning work.

Conditioning work?  Anything that has me working above anaerobic threshold.  Anaerobic exercise requires production of adenosine triphosphate faster than possible through aerobic respiration.  To meet these energy requirements, there is anaerobic glycolysis, and the phosphagen system (creatine phosphate).  Since my strength training work predominantly stresses the phosphagen energy system, I do ‘conditioning work’, still above anaerobic threshold, predominantly using anaerobic glycolysis.  The bioenergetics here are significant, but understanding them isn’t overly important; importance lies in the training of specific energy systems at different times.  If somebody is performing a large volume of low-intensity behavior, I don’t believe it is necessary to do dedicated aerobic work.  Conditioning work performed over the anaerobic threshold creates a significant amount of oxygen deficit during work, and therefore an oxygen debt after the workout is completed.  Your body is working extra hard after you complete your workout to help restore equilibrium.  Interestingly, by doing high-intensity work with energy demands higher than possible for aerobic respiration, you create an aerobic response as your body works to recover.

So, if you’re looking at energy system usage, strength and conditioning training will improve your high intensity work capacities.  Those who are physical active outside of their programmed exercise time are accumulating their recommended cardiovascular exercise outside of dedicated work.  I don’t find it necessary for these individuals to do dedicated aerobic work during their programmed exercise, as it’s already being accomplished.  Eventually, we see the Law of Diminishing Returns come in to play, and exercise efficiency goes down.  If you couldn’t figure out by now, I’m a huge fan of exercise efficiency.  Yes, cardiovascular fitness is essential, but programming should change once we see efficiency goes down.

The physically active should be totaling more than enough aerobic conditioning work during non-dedicated exercise.  For these people, the advantages of planned aerobic work are not an efficient investment of time.  While I don’t think that these people need to plan dedicated aerobic work, it’s important to note that should their activity levels decrease, they may need to consider otherwise.  Until their activity levels decline, however, I believe it is a better investment of their time to focus on dedicated anaerobic training.  Far too many people underestimate or dismiss the benefits of training of anaerobic systems.  Let me point out that I don’t mean just lifting weights.  So, if you’re an active person, try this:  Make sure that you keep your activity levels where they are now, and when you find yourself in the gym, do high intensity interval training, and strength training.  You’ll get great results.

P.S.  If we’re talking about aesthetics, and want to consider exercise modalities that will be great for your health AND make you look awesome… Let me just leave you with a picture, comparing a competitive marathon runner, and a competitive sprinter.  In the running world, marathons are the epitome of endurance training, and the 100m sprint is the quintessential power event.  Who would you rather look like?

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