It’s very easy to fall into the trap of doing the things you find easy or fun but if you’re planning on running any kind of endurance event, getting the training mix right is essential. That means making sure you balance anaerobic and aerobic training, the speed with endurance or flat with hilly when cycling, or you’ll get bored and fatigued easily.
Anaerobic vs aerobic training, what’s the difference?
In simple terms, your body breaks down the carbs, fats and proteins that it uses to make glucose to fuel exercise and the mechanism that converts the glucose into movement can be done in two ways depending on the amount of oxygen in your system. This is essentially what aerobic vs anaerobic means, whether or not oxygen is present in sufficient quantities to follow one path or the other.
As exercise intensity increases, your body needs more energy, which requires more oxygen and as you can only take on so much in a breath, your rate of breathing increases and the heart beats faster to get the oxygen to the muscles faster. But there is a limit to how much oxygen you can take on, so as the intensity grows, more and more of your energy will come from anaerobic metabolism of glucose.
Effect of aerobic training
Aerobic training leads to an increase in the efficiency of the use of glucose and energy, meaning you can go further and faster without going into anaerobic metabolism. Basically, you can go further on the same amount of fuel, which is obviously good for endurance events!
This efficiency is achieved through changes to the muscle fibres, cells and cardiovascular system. Blood vessels become more dilated, and a greater density of capillaries is developed in the muscles which develop more slow twitch fibres, which operate at a lower intensity and use less energy.
The body also becomes more efficient at burning fat as at a cellular level, the body creates more mitochondria and myoglobin in the muscles cells, which increases the capacity to burn energy efficiently.
However, this migration can have a couple of consequences. Firstly, the creation of slow twitch fibres can slow you down, as can the reduced cadence and intensity of aerobic activities such as long runs and cycles. Secondly, as the body becomes more efficient at burning energy, you may need fewer calories to achieve the same task, which can actually lead to weight gains if you don’t watch your diet!
The effects of anaerobic training
Anaerobic training focusses on higher intensity activities, and build strength through the creation of faster twitch muscles, letting you climb hills or sprint faster, and is more closely related to the levels of intensity you’ll experience in a race.
As no oxygen is present, lactic acid is created as a byproduct of glucose conversion which causes fatigue and is the reason you can’t go on. Increase anaerobic training loads allow you to increase the lactate threshold, which is the point at which the rate of lactic acid build up exceeds your bodies ability to remove it from the muscles. Think of this as Strength endurance, how long you can keep on doing a strenuous activity.
Again, there is a downside, as this level of activity will lead to injury and fatigue, meaning you’re not able to sustain the same level of effort. You also need to develop the cardiovascular ability to recover as well, so high-intensity activities tend to be performed as interval sets, which promote faster recovery after hills for example.
The right mix
Getting and following a good training plan is essential, and I would look for one that offers a training mix with generally around 1/3 of the training load as anaerobic and the rest aerobic ( including warm-ups etc.)
On a running plan, the training mix will list the anaerobic parts as tempo runs, intervals, fartleks or hill sets, as opposed to long or easy runs. In cycles, these might be a sweet spot, Vo2, spin or hill repeats, done maybe once or twice per week with a long cycle to provide the aerobic section. If you’re doing a lot of high-intensity sessions in the week, make your long cycle or run easy, don’t chuck in too many hills or sprint sessions, as you’re not getting optimum aerobic and recovery training.
HIIT sessions give you a great opportunity to focus on your anaerobic fitness and are a great way to fight off boredom and monotony in your training programme