Antiglycolytic training: invest in your future
After my three part (one, two, three) post about how we can use diet and training to stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis, I was talking to a member about how our AGT work differs from all the other ways of training. I think I have a good analogy here.
You need to replenish ATP - the energy your body runs on - as you burn it. There are three ways you can make ATP.
Your body keeps creatine phosphate (CP) lying around near your mitochondria. If you need to create ATP quickly, you can pull the phosphate off of the CP and put it back on the ADP to make it ATP. This is a super fast reaction, but you only have a buffer of about 5-8 seconds worth of CP when you’re using it at full throttle. Think about a heavy deadlift or a 50 meter sprint.
If you still need energy at a high rate, after those 8 seconds, you need to burn sugar. This is called glycolysis which happens in the glycolytic pathway. You have a few minutes worth of sugar stored near the muscles in the form of glycogen. You can also pull glycogen out of the liver if you need it. It’s still pretty high-power, but the problem is that it burns really dirty. It’s a very inefficient reaction that leaves a lot of pollution behind. Both this and the CP pathway are “running rich” lots of fuel with no air. This is for running away from the bear, it doesn’t matter that it’s a dirty burning pathway when you need to save your life. But you don’t want to just run there all the time.
Finally, you have the beta-oxidation pathway. Here you body can slowly chew up fatty acids and build ATP. This requires a lot of oxygen and runs at pretty low power, however it can run for hours and hours.
I was trying to explain this last week in the context of why our approach to AGT is better for you than any of the functional fitness or various colors of theory places that you see advertised. Here’s the analogy that I used, I think it’s good enough to share.
Since ATP is the energy currency of the body, let’s think in terms of money. The fast CP pathway is your wallet. If you need money now, you pull out your wallet. It’s fast but limited in capacity (at least mine is).
If you need more than you carry in your wallet, you can pull out your credit card. It’s a bit slower and has a bigger buffer. But if you don’t take care of paying off your balance each month you’ll get hit with lots of bad things. You can tap into glycolysis every once in a while, but you want to give it time to clean up the pollution. Over-using glycolysis is like over using your credit card.
Beta-oxidation is when you use the dividends from your investments. They consistently pay, but at a low rate. You can refill your wallet slowly using your dividends.
So what makes AGT better than HIIT-based functional fitness?
If all you do are low-rep heavy lifts (fun, for sure!) all you’re doing is using the CP pathway. You’ll get stronger, but you’ll still get winded walking up the stairs or walking around the block.
If you’re doing a circuit designed to keep your heart rate up into the “fat-burning zone” you’re in glycolysis. The intensity is so high that you can’t rely on beta-oxidation, so you have to be burning sugar. That’s fine, except for all of the pollution left behind. In small doses, this is great. You also see changes really fast this way so you think that the new fitness plan is working. However, constant training that way will end up causing damage to your mitochondria
If all you do is long, low, and slow cardio then you’ll get great at beta-oxidation (assuming that you’re actually eating a high saturated fat diet). You may be able to go long forever, but you’ll never be fast, you’ll never be strong, and you’ll end up consuming a lot of muscle.
Those are the three types of training that have a lot of zealots that will tell you that they have the one true way to be fit. But they’re only good at one thing. We need a way to stress our body so that we can improve, we want to train everything (all of those pathways are there for some evolutionary reason), but we don’t want to cause any damage to our body.
The key is repeated bursts of short intense work with lots of rest consistently practiced over weeks or months.
Let’s break that down…
...bursts of short intense work... - 10 seconds of heavy swings, fast viking push presses, even a few steps of a heavy sled push. What we’re doing here is using up all of our money in the wallet. We’re getting the most out of the energy we have stored for immediate use.
...lots of rest... - we like to have 4:1 or more rest:work. That gives us enough time to regenerate the ATP so that we can go fast again. We’re waiting for our dividends to refill our wallet. The beta-oxidation is refilling our batteries, and that takes time.
...repeated bursts... - we do this for 15 to 30 minutes, sometimes up to an hour. If we do it long enough, we don’t quite recover fully between sets. That means we will need to very lightly tap into glycolysis. We’ll use the credit card a little, but not so much that we can’t pay the balance at the end of the month. We’re training that pathway without over-doing it and causing damages.
...practiced over weeks or months - If you keep coming back, day after day doing these style of workouts. It will tell your body that you need to have more efficient beta-oxidation to fill up your wallet quicker. Since any one mitochondrion cannot supply too much energy at once, your body builds even more mitochondria. You can burn more fat to make more ATP, you’ll have a lot of slow reactions happening in parallel. You’ll get a high power output without stressing your body. This is like re-investing your dividends. The compounding effect will build your investment so that you can have even more income later. Building more mitochondria will let you effortlessly generate ATP quickly - improving your power output.
When doing a properly designed long-term program, you’ll be doing intense work every day, so you’ll be getting stronger and faster over time. Without that sustained glycolytic burn, you won’t be doing any damage, and over time your body will get so efficient at beta-oxidation that you’ll be improving your endurance at the same time.
You won’t see that in the high intensity functional fitness world where they want you to feel like you got a workout.