|Sand Bag HIIT at East Mission Bay San Diego|
Do you know which energy system(s) you use when you workout and how they contribute to getting you to your fitness goals? Unless you are a trainer you likely don't know the answer to this question, even though it is one of the most important factors in reaching your fitness goals, whatever they are.
Your body operates on three different energy systems: phosphagen system, glycolysis, and aerobic system and these three systems are generally divided into two types of exercise: anaerobic and aerobic exercise. I could go into how each of these three systems work on a biological level but that would go against simplifying how you can utilize these systems to maximize every minute of your training sessions.
Although the terms aerobic and cardio are widely used interchangeably I'd like to change that for the sake of simplicity and workout design. In this article and for our boot camps we define aerobic exercise as any exercise utilizing major muscle groups in repetition for more than 2 minutes in duration at a steady heart rate of around 65% of your maximal heart rate, which focuses on improving your aerobic energy system. Cardio will be defined as any exercise that uses a load of 0% to 25% of your body weight at a duration of 20 seconds to 2 minutes, at a variable heart rate that tops out at 90% to 95% of your maximal capacity, which improves both your aerobic and glycolysis energy systems. Anaerobic exercise will be any exercise done at a load above 25% of your body weight for a duration of less than 20 seconds that pushes your heart rate to 95%+ of maximal, which improves your phosphagen energy system and increases lean muscle mass. There is a lot of dispute, even in the science, of where these lines should be drawn but you have to draw them at some point in order to create workouts that help you progress and actually get you to your goals.
If we look at how exercise is defined in the two energy system manner, you will see that jogging, swimming, and biking are generally regarded as aerobic exercise and standard exercises like squats, chest press, and curls are considered anaerobic exercises. But what about basketball, high intensity interval training, push ups, sprints, and calisthenics in general? Well, they also fall into anaerobic exercise. Basketball? That doesn't make much sense to me to be lumped in with a pyramid set of chest press: the goal of each and their effect on our physiology are too different to be considered in the same category and so I treat them as categorically different when I construct my workout plans. This is why we use aerobic, cardio, and anaerobic as three separate terms with three different meanings.
Creating your training schedule:
If you have time and you want to build the perfect training schedule you will need to train all three energy systems for a split that suits your fitness goals. Everybody should create their own split that emphasizes their personal goals such as increasing lean muscle mass, increasing heart health, or maybe reducing bodyfat, but for the sake of the general population I would recommend this split: 1 hour a week of anaerobic training done one day a week, full body; 2.5 hours of cardio training, done 5 days a week split into 30 minute sessions; and 3 hours of aerobic training done 4 days a week in 45 minute sessions. If you don't have the time for this kind of split, cardio training 2 to 3 hours a week split into 30 minute bouts a day would be the best use of your time to reach any fitness goal you may set.
The duration of each training session is important because we don't want to overtax any one of your energy systems, rather we want to maximize their potential and stop before we overshot the sweet spot. I only recommend 1 day a week of pure anaerobic exercise because if performed to failure, in sets lasting less than 20 seconds, you will need to recover sufficiently before returning to another anaerobic session, which can take three days or more if you are not including other training in your schedule. I recommend a full body workout isolating muscle groups going in order of larger groups to smaller, for example; perform all of your chest exercises before moving onto tricep exercises or training your lats and upper back before performing bicep exercises. I also recommend splitting upper body muscle groups with legs, for example: do back and biceps, legs, chest and triceps, then finish with abs. This is just an example, if your goals are to increase lean mass in your chest then I would start there as an example of customizing the split to your personal goals.
In your anaerobic training session you will want to use a weight and rep count that will put you to failure or near failure (significant spotting required) in just under 20 seconds. This will help to increase your lean muscle mass in targeted muscles as well as increase testosterone levels to help the growth of other muscles in your body. Side note: by not giving adequate attention to your legs you are missing out on a huge testosterone boost for upper body gains.
Your aerobic workout should be the least complicated of all. Find an activity that you can do for no less than 20 minutes and optimally for up to 45 minutes that activates major muscle groups repetitively for the full duration of the workout. I am a disabled veteran with multiple surgeries on my ankles, which affects my knees, so running is out therefore I go with road biking personally. Getting a bike fitted to you or going to a store that analyzes your running form can go a long way to giving you a pain free aerobic training experience. Aerobic exercise should be performed without any pain in your muscles or joints besides the occasional burn on an incline or cramps towards the end.
Your cardio training is going to be the most complicated and rewarding part of your training regimen. for this reason we will be leaving to part 2 of this article as it is the foundation of our training program and deserves our full attention.