The desire to push the body to new levels of strength and fitness is something I understand very well. I’ve been training in one form or another for most of my life, and my life has in fact usually revolved around my training schedule. If I knew years ago what I know now, I no doubt could have reached much higher levels of physical conditioning, and in turn, performance. The secret to being that beast you visualize in your head (but havn’t quite achieved, despite punishing your body relentlessly) is not a magic training program, nor is it a supplement or hack. I’m not trying to sell you anything either… I have acquired the knowledge both through my own experiences and through the help of some great coaches, books and articles that I’ve learned from and tested out on myself. I have been my own guinea pig over the years. I’m no guru, but I do believe I’ve got it right.
To spare you from having to read too much, I’m going to keep it as simple as possible. What’s holding most people back from harnessing the full power of their body’s potential is the over-reliance on High Intensity Training (think HIIT, circuit training, etc..). We skip straight into high intensity training, without realizing that we have neglected the foundation of fitness and of high level physical conditioning.. the aerobic energy system.
A Quick Explanation of Energy Systems
The Aerobic energy system uses oxygen along with fats and carbohydrates to create energy for us to continue moving. It is efficient and long lasting, but slow. As exercise intensity increases, the aerobic system will try to keep up, until it no longer can produce the energy being demanded by whatever we’re doing.
At this point, the anaerobic energy system will begin to increasingly become utilized to continue producing energy. The anaerobic energy system does not utilize oxygen, and instead uses substrates already present in the blood and muscle tissue to create energy. This provides a fast, powerful source of energy (think sprinting or any explosive movement lasting less than 30 seconds). The downside is that the anaerobic energy system cannot produce energy for very long. If you sprint at maximum speed, you cannot maintain that speed for longer than about 10-15 seconds.. It is simply not how our bodies are designed.
Thank of the fighter who completely gasses out in the middle of a round. Why, after so much training and sparring and high intensity conditioning would that happen? Most likely, it happens because that athlete has not built up his aerobic engine, the foundation of conditioning.
It can be very counter-intuitive. fighting is a sport where you have to be explosive, so why would you need to build up your aerobic system with lower intensity training? The answer to this question is the secret to achieving a higher level of fitness and conditioning.
The Aerobic System resupplies energy (recovery) between explosive bouts
Building up the aerobic energy system will allow you to recover faster between explosive bouts. The aerobic system clears out the byproducts created during high intensity exercise, and also replenishes energy so you can continue moving at that high intensity. If your body is unable to keep up with the intensity you’re trying to train or compete at, you will “hit the wall.”
So, how can you harness and build the power of the aerobic energy system?
Take a step back and dedicate 12 weeks or so to building your foundation. If you need help, check out how I programmed this for myself here. You shouldn’t completely cut out high intensity training, but keep it to 1-2 days/week. On those days, push yourself as hard as you need to. Devote 3-5 days per week, depending on your current fitness level, to low to moderate training lasting 30-60 minutes in duration. You can use treadmills, running, or any other activity, and should mix it up frequently. These sessions should have your heart rate between 130-150 for the duration of the session. gradually increase the length of the session over the course of several weeks.
Over time, you will be gaining invaluable adaptations in the body. The heart will adapt by pumping more blood per beat, and thus you should see your resting heart rate move lower, which is one of the surest signs of improved aerobic fitness. You will improve your body’s ability to clear out the byproducts of intense exercise and thus will be able to go harder, for longer. To see some advanced ways to plan your programming, check out my article on how to program your training for optimal results.
Now get out there and become a better athlete!