The Biochemistry of Alactic + Aerobic Training - You're Doing It Wrong

Image created from data stolen from  this paper

Image created from data stolen from this paper

[This is part 9 of many about the details of Alactic + Aerobic training and why you should be doing it.]

So this series is becoming very Knuthian - I keep finding a new topic before I get to the end.

I might get a little rant-y in this post, and I don’t mean to be a misanthrope, but sometimes the fitness industry just annoys me. As I was in the middle of mapping out this series on the science behind A+A, I saw a blog post from a gym that rhymes with SchmrossFit that was about the different energy systems and how to train them.

It’s funny, because this really is like the religious wars where the closer you are in ideas, the more intense your arguments are about your subtle differences. I’d say on the spectrum of types of training, what we do is much closer to what they do than what you’d see at a globo gym. But I just dismiss the globo gym as totally wrong and not even worth discussing. But these guys are close enough that they could be doing right, they’re just not. At least it’s a marketing funnel, I get all of the refugees once they realize there’s a better way.

So the blog post I saw was three paragraphs of cut-and-paste about the “three energy systems” and that to be a well-rounded athlete you need to train all three of them. Yes, I agree with the sentiment - heck, I’m writing a whole novel about the importance of the three systems and training them - and not just to be a well-rounded athlete, it’s important to just being a healthy person.

From the article: “we want to develop athletes who have capacity in all time domains...training all three pathways can counterbalance some of the drawbacks of training in one pathway only.”

That’s a true statement, but if you remember from the muscle fiber post, you can train all of the pathways with simple non-suffering workouts. Since muscle fibers are recruited sequentially from low-power to high-power, then short high-power work will necessarily include all of the pathways. That’s the brilliance behind this whole A+A stuff. But when you look at the programming that they use to “train all of the pathways” it’s all in that 5-20 minute range, and it’s all “for time” which means beating on you glycolytically.

And then I see this quote: “Excessive aerobic training; however, decreases power, strength, and speed”

Gah, that’s a common refrain from the HIIT crowd. However, that statement comes from the equivalent of a big nutrition observational study - they look at what people are doing and then look for correlations. If I find a big group of folks who do lots of aerobic training, yes they will have less power, strength, and speed (on average) than a group of folks who do serious anaerobic training. But, that’s because they’re doing aerobic (low-power) training at the exclusion of anaerobic (high-power) training.

As we saw from the big muscle fiber post, if you only do aerobic training, you will not recruit the high-power fibers and they will be pruned. It’s not the inclusion of aerobic training that causes the loss in power, speed, and strength - it’s the exclusion of anaerobic training.

If you talk to the folks who really study this A+A stuff, to get the real benefit, you need to do lots of low-and-slow aerobic work outside the gym - long hikes, slow jogging, etc. The more the better, as it really builds your base. It won’t make you slow unless you only do aerobic work at the exclusion of the alactic work.

We all believe the same thing - the endless sea of treadmills at the globo gym is a bad thing - we just go about the solution in two different ways. They want you to feel the workout and explicitly use the glycolytic pathway. I want you to train it without using it. I’m right :)

Michael Deskevich