Aerobic training is at low power and lasts in excess of several minutes. This would be your 1-3 kilometer runs. Aerobic training benefits cardiovascular function and decreases body fat. It allows us to engage in low-power, extended efforts efficiently.
However, athletes that spend the bulk of their training time engaged in aerobic efforts will see a decrease in muscle mass, strength, speed, and power. Surprisingly, excess aerobic activity has a pronounced tendency to decrease anaerobic capacity. It is also at this low-power work effort that most repetitive injuries occur.
Anaerobic training is at high power and lasts less than several minutes. Think sprints of 100, 200, 400, and 800 meters. Anaerobic activity also benefits cardiovascular function and decreases body fat. Studies show that anaerobic exercise is superior to aerobic exercise for fat loss. Additionally, anaerobic exercise can dramatically improve power, speed, strength, and muscle mass.
This type of conditioning allows us to exert tremendous forces over brief time intervals and will not affect aerobic capacity. Properly structured anaerobic activity can be used to develop a very high level of aerobic fitness without the muscle-wasting seen in high-volume aerobic exercise. Why spend time lifting weights in the gym to blow it all doing your aerobic training workouts at the 70% LSD?
The best method to use anaerobic efforts to develop aerobic conditioning is interval training. The bulk of metabolic training should be done this way. Interval training mixes bouts of hard work and rest in timed intervals. These can be for a set period of time or distance, and don’t need to be tightly structured or formal.
This type of training targets the upper limits of our work capacity; the leftover 30% that LSD training ignores. Interval work is done at 75-100% of maximum effort. It’s in this area that we become fitter, faster, and stronger. As a bonus, it also works our mental game, as it is often not easy or fun to do. As I explain to my athletes, when you work that upper limit (85-95%) you will find race day easier. In longer distance races, we generally don’t go “all out,” so when we are used to working at our upper limits and we dial it back for race day, then we are in a magical place that exceeds our goals. The end result is that we are racing easier but still going faster.
– Mischele Stevens
Coach, Endurance Sports