Why random cardio exercises will not get you to peak physical condition
Developing different energy systems can be complex
January 28, 2018
The development of different energy systems can be complex and rather confusing. Those who seek improved performance, change in body composition, or recovery can benefit from properly formatting how their energy systems work. I hesitate to call energy system training "cardio" like most, because that would imply only training the aerobic pathway. Simply put, the human body runs on two different energy systems, anaerobic and aerobic. Aerobic essentially means "with oxygen," conversely anaerobic means "without oxygen."
Within these energy systems are the anaerobic alactic system (work done lasting 6-15 seconds), the anaerobic lactic system (work lasting up to 2 minutes), and the aerobic system (work lasting beyond 3 minutes). Although this may appear complicated, it highlights the issue with stepping outside for a run if you are looking to "get in shape." The question becomes what kind of stimulus and conditioning are you seeking? Blindly pounding pavement will not suffice. Below I have provided brief examples of training methods for each energy system and how they may be useful.
Anaerobic Alactic System
In order to train this energy system, you must provide maximum effort as explosively as possible for roughly 6-15 seconds. Your work to rest ratio is ideally 1:3 or 1:4, meaning that if you sprint for 10 seconds, you rest 30-40 seconds, and then repeat. These sessions will be rather short as they are taxing in nature. Due to the fact that this is your immediate and most powerful energy source, training in this manner will increase your power.
Anaerobic Lactic System
This energy system provides the "burn" that most people associate with exercise. Training intervals should last 30 to 120 seconds, and a sufficient work to rest ratio would be 1:2. An excellent way to train here would be spinning as hard as you could for 30 seconds, resting for 1 minute and repeating.
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The aerobic system is perhaps the most commonly trained energy system among gym goers because it is being used for nearly all steady-state long duration bouts of exercise. Due to the fact that it uses oxygen and fatty acids as its main fuel source, training bouts can last a very long time. A work to rest ratio of approximately 1:1 for the aerobic system is sufficient. A training interval could last 3-5 minutes, for example, followed by the same amount of recovery. Although you will still be using the aerobic system in your recovery, it will be at a much easier pace.
I hope this article provides you with a better understanding of why simply performing random cardiorespiratory exercises will not get you in the condition you're seeking. Similar to strength training, energy system work must be calculated and periodized accordingly in order to reap the benefits. As always, thanks for reading and have a wonderful week.
Jimmy Pritchard has a B.S. from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the Assistant Strength Coach at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Pritchard's passion is to help others meet, and often exceed their goals in all areas of fitness. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or email@example.com.
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