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Anaerobic Capacity

Anaerobic capacity is the total amount of energy obtainable from the anaerobic energy systems. That means the combined amount of output for the ATP, phospho-creatine and lactic acid systems within a certain period of time. A simple, less scientific method for measuring this capacity is to run as far as you can at a near-maximal pace. The further you can run at a fast pace the more anaerobic enzymes your body is capable of producing and utilising and the better able you are to buffer lactate.

Anaerobic capacity is one of the primary focuses of the UNLEASHED Training protocols. The better able your combined anaerobic energy systems are at utilising energy and recovering, the higher the intensity you are able to maintain. For example; a 400 metre runner needs to perform at nearly 100 percent for over 40 seconds when competing at elite level. This is extremely taxing on the anaerobic energy systems and requires a highly conditioned state. By increasing anaerobic capacity the 400 metre runner is able to buffer more lactate at a faster rate, produce and use more anaerobic enzymes and continue turning body fuels into useable energy for immediate access.

Who Needs It?

Everyone needs to improve their anaerobic capacity, no exceptions. This is not something that can be compromised. I will cover a few examples here…

Endurance Athletes

Endurance athletes must have a well-conditioned anaerobic energy system, especially the more sustainable lactic acid system. The limiting factor in endurance athletes is most-often their anaerobic threshold. If an athlete has a higher threshold he/she is able to maintain a greater pace without dipping too far into the anaerobic energy systems.

When you maintain a pace that is beyond aerobic your body goes into debt. Simply put, you end up consuming energy faster than it can be replaced. Eventually your body needs to slow down, there’s no choice. So with a more highly conditioned anaerobic (lactic acid) energy system your body will take longer to reach it. This results in the use of fuels that can be replaced continuously. Hence an endurance athlete can maintain faster paces without dipping into these stores, and if/when they do start to use the anaerobic energy systems their body is better equipped to deal with it for longer and then recover when they are well-conditioned.

Weight/Fat Loss

Weight loss is a very misunderstood topic. It is promoted in just about every fitness centre that long, slow aerobic exercise is the most effective method for losing body fat. This misunderstanding comes from the fact that aerobic exercise makes use mostly of fat stores and any excess glucose/glycogen. So yes, this does result in fat loss, however it has been shown to be a less efficient method than high intensity, anaerobic training. That’s not to say that endurance training doesn’t have a place.

When you train at a low intensity for a long period of time you burn a relatively constant level of energy for the duration of the session. Once the session stops so does the fuel consumption. During anaerobic, high intensity training however your body consumes energy faster than it can actually access and replace it. This puts the muscles in debt for oxygen and fuel. This debt causes a post-exercise response where your metabolic rate increases for several hours.

The higher your anaerobic capacity the more you are also capable of doing within the same timeframe, hence making use of the principle of maximum output in minimal time. So lets say you run 5k in 30 minutes and measure the calories used over a 24 hour period afterwards as well as during that 30 minutes. Then try the same by running 5k at a high intensity, even with rests along the way taking 22 minutes to complete the distance. You simply fit more work into less time and as a result caused the body to consume energy like a V8 engine for hours after the workout. Same distance better results.

General Population

The general, non-athlete individual may have been led to believe that they are exempted from training at extremely high intensities. There is a reason for this; the mainstream fitness industry has to keep up with not just what is producing results but also what the person enjoys doing. There are many people out there that hate training at high intensities because the perception is that it’s too hard for them.

High intensity training is for everyone, no one is excluded from this recommendation. The more conditioned your anaerobic capacity is the better equipped you are to perform tasks at sub-maximal levels. Further to that, high intensity interval training has been shown to have a greater effect on cardiac health than long slow aerobic training.

How do you Improve It?

There are only a select few ways to improve your anaerobic capacity. The thing is though that not all methods are specific to your goals or will produce the best result to effort ratio. What has been discovered is that the lactic acid energy system can only be engaged at a high level of output for a very short time. Anything longer and you begin entering the aerobic zone of training, which is not the goal here.

Intervals: High intensity intervals are the primary way to increase anaerobic capacity. Don’t be mistaken by anaerobic power, that’s a different thing altogether. The lactic acid energy system needs to be trained to near exhaustion on each interval. In order to accomplish this, intervals need to be anywhere from 40 seconds to three minutes and performed at an intensity that can barely be maintained for the given time of each interval. Alternatively, intervals of shorter duration with less recovery time can be used. Methods such as the Tabata protocol will develop anaerobic capacity.

Most of what we do at Unleashed Training is either anaerobic capacity training or training for explosive power/speed.

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