by Thomas Kurz
“Aerobic training causes harmful changes in skeletal muscle fiber type, hormonal secretions and force output characteristics. The fastest, most powerful muscle fibers become slower and more resistant to fatigue. . . . Aerobic exercise also produces the catabolic hormone cortisol, which is antagonistic to anabolic hormones such as the human growth hormone and testosterone. . . . A fighter may have a 20-30 second flurry, rest for 10-15 seconds and so on. . . . People confuse being out of breath as a need for more aerobic conditioning. . . . Fighters and forms competitors depend on sharp, crisp techniques. Aerobic training hurts these athletes even more than contact fighters.” (“The Problem with Aerobic Training.” by Charles I. Staley, B.Sc., MSS [Vice President of Program Development for the International Sports Sciences Association] in M. A. Training, Vol. XXV, No. 3, May 1998, p. 24.)
The statements above contain misconceptions and inaccuracies. In the first part of “The Role of Aerobic Fitness in High Intensity Efforts” I have dealt with some of these and in this issue I take up the remainder.
Now, about the importance of aerobic energy production on the example of fighters. How do fighters breathe during a fight? They breathe deep and very often, much more often and much deeper than at rest. During intense exercise the volume of air fighters breathe is up to 10 times more than at rest and remains elevated during recovery (McArdle, Katch, and Katch 1991). Fighters’ heart rate rises above 200 beats per minute (Dziasko et al 1982, Bujak 1996). What is all this extra air and blood flow for? It is to deliver more oxygen to the working muscles! Without oxygen the buildup of lactate (an ester of lactic acid) would stop muscles from working (McArdle, Katch, and Katch 1991). Also, oxygen is necessary for resynthesis of ATP (McArdle, Katch, and Katch 1991). Which fighter can attack more frequently? The one who recovers quicker after “a 20-30 second flurry.” Which one reacts better? The one who is less fatigued and can move faster—which to a great degree depends on the ability to oxidize lactate built up during the flurries.
What Mr. Staley writes would be true if during the fight you punched or kicked once in a while and then strolled about the ring. But you know that is not the way of a fight, which is why you need to exercise in all energy zones—anaerobic-alactacid for maximal power in single movements, anaerobic-lactacid for a series of attacks, mixed aerobic-anaerobic for prolonged efforts such as in maneuvering in the ring or in wrestling, and aerobic for quick recovery between actions. A typical judo match consists of several periods of high activity lasting 10-30 second each followed by a period of lower activity that on the average lasts 10 seconds (Sterkowicz 1996). A fighter with greater aerobic fitness recovers better within this very short slowdown than one who is less aerobically fit.
What is the source of the misconception about the part aerobic training plays? Probably it lies in not differentiating between aerobic exercises in general and aerobic exercises to exhaustion, such as marathon running. Another source may lie in a superficial study of exercise physiology textbooks. For many years it was believed (see the 1991 edition of the otherwise informative popular exercise physiology textbook the Exercise Physiology by McArdle, Katch, and Katch) that during the first 10 seconds of effort most energy is supplied by the ATP-PC system (anaerobic-alactacid zone of effort), that the lactic acid system (anaerobic-lactacid zone of effort) supplies most of the energy for efforts lasting between 10 seconds and 3 minutes, and that only after 3 minutes does the oxygen system start to supply significant amounts of energy (mixed anaerobic-aerobic and aerobic zones of effort). It was believed that the oxygen, or aerobic, system is mobilized too slowly to supply energy during short, intensive efforts such as sprints.
Results of research undermine this belief. The ratio of energy derived aerobically during intensive effort was in the past underestimated due to using the imprecise ‘oxygen debt method.’ Results of research conducted using the most accurate method (the accumulated oxygen deficit method first used by Medbø et al in 1988) show that the aerobic system contributes more energy in short intense efforts such as sprints than previously thought.
It turns out that between the 20th and the 30th second of an all-out effort, aerobic sources provide as much energy as anaerobic. Right from the 10th second of such an effort, the aerobic system contributes at least 20% of the energy. Its contribution grows steadily to equal that of the anaerobic system between the 20th and 30th second, and then, after the 30th second of effort, most energy is contributed by the aerobic system (Gastin and Lawson 1994). The practical conclusion of these researchers is that a training program for high intensity efforts, such as a 400-meter run, ought to include both anaerobic and aerobic exercises in the proper ratio. This news is not really new, because research done in 1962 by Volkov, Lapin and Smirnov (Volkov et al 1962 quoted in Ulatowski 1981) showed that 37% of the variance of a sprinters’ form is explained by aerobic fitness.
What if your actions do not last as long as 20 seconds? Shouldn’t you then have no need for aerobic fitness? Consider the example of Olympic weightlifting. Olympic weightlifters’ competitive lifts are single, very brief efforts of maximal intensity. Theoretically energy for such anaerobicalactacid efforts (anaerobic efforts that do not raise the level of lactate) ought to be supplied by the phosphagen system previously referred to in this article as the ATP-PC system. That is the theory and it applies only to single lifts. In training practice, however, weightlifters do series of various lifts—whole snatch and pull-and-jerk as well as parts of these lifts and other exercises such as squats and deadlifts. Single lifts are repeated several times with a few minutes of rest after each lift, or lifts are done in sets of 2 or more repetitions, each set then followed by a few minutes of rest. Research on weightlifters showed that it was not only the ATP-PC system that supplied energy during workouts. The raised levels of lactate after a workout revealed the involvement of the lactic acid system, too (Hübner-Wozniak, Chrusciewicz, and Piotrowski 1995). The measurements were taken during two workouts. The main part of the first workout consisted of five snatch lifts and five pull-and-jerk lifts. The main part of the second workout consisted of six squats and six pull-and-jerk lifts.
Some of the weightlifters had higher concentrations of lactate than others (for example, 6.44 mmol/l versus 2.62 mmol/l), which changed very little during 20 minutes of rest after a workout. According to the researchers, this was caused by the low aerobic fitness of those weightlifters. Weightlifters with sufficient aerobic fitness had lower concentrations of lactate and recovered faster (their lactate concentrations were very close to the preworkout level after 20 minutes of rest). This is important because high acidity within muscles lowers the ability to perform short maximal power efforts (Hübner-Wozniak, Chrusciewicz, Piotrowski 1995, Sharkey 1990, and McArdle, Katch, and Katch 1991).
Concentration of lactate “begins to increase in the exercising muscle well before the phosphates reach their lowest levels. . . . Energy for exercise is not merely the result of series of energy systems that ‘switch on’ and ‘switch off,’ but rather the smooth blending with considerable overlap from one mode of energy transfer to another” (McArdle, Katch, and Katch 1991).
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Dziasko, J., Kosendiak, J., Lasinski, G., Naglak, Z.,
Zaton, M. 1982. “Kierowanie przygotowaniem zawodnika do walki sportowej.” Sport Wyczynowy no. 205-207: 3-65.
Gastin, P. B., and Lawson D. 1994. “Influence of training status on maximal accumulated oxygen deficit during all-out cycle exercise.” European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology 69, no. 4: 321-330 quoted in Spencer, M. R., Gastin, P. B., Payne, W. R. 1997. “Pokrycie zapotrzebowania energetycznego podczas biegow od 400 do 1500 m.” Sport Wyczynowy no. 395-396: 8-15.
Hübner-Wozniak, E., Chrusciewicz G., Piotrowski, A. 1995. “Zastosowanie oznaczen stezenia kwasu mlekowego we krwi w treningu ciezarowcow.” Trening no. 25: 50-54.
McArdle, W. D., Katch, F. I., and Katch, V. L. 1991. Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance. Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger.
Sharkey, B. 1990. Physiology of Fitness. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Sterkowicz, S. 1996. “W poszukiwaniu nowego testu sprawnosci ruchowej w judo.” Trening no. 31: 46-59.
Volkov, N. et al. 1962. “Badania zaleznosci miedzy szybkoscia a czasem lekkoatletycznym.” Wychowanie Fizyczne i Sport no. 1 quoted in Tadeusz Ulatowski ed. 1981. Teoria i Metodyka Sportu. Warszawa: Sport i Turystyka.
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