Metabolic Conditioning aka “Cardio”
Paula continues our Fit Friday series today with a discussion of “Cardio”. To check out Paula’s previous two guest posts on fitness, click here:
By Guest Blogger Paula Jager CSCS
As we discussed the last 2 weeks, nutrition lays the foundation for health and fitness.
From there we begin to build. . .
Time to move–biking, running, rowing, swimming, speed skating, cross-country skiing and other machine based modalities are collectively known as “metabolic conditioning.” In the common vernacular they are referred to as “cardio.” If your goal is to be as lean and muscular as possible you need to perform your “cardio” CrossFit style.
In order to understand this approach to “cardio” we must first understand the three metabolic pathways or systems that provide the energy for all human motion. The “metabolic engines” are known as the phosphagen system, the glycolytic system and the oxidative system. The first two, the phosphagen and glycolytic, are “anaerobic” and the third, the oxidative, is “aerobic.” No need to belabor the physiological significance of aerobic and anaerobic systems; suffice it to say the nature and interaction of anaerobic and aerobic exercise is vital to understanding conditioning. To simplify; activities of moderate to high power lasting less than several minutes are anaerobic and activities of low power lasting in excess of several minutes are aerobic. As an example, sprints of 100, 200, 400 and 800 meters are largely anaerobic while events like 1500 meters, the mile, 2000 meters and 3000 meters are largely aerobic.
The goal is to develop total fitness which requires competency and training in each of these systems. Balancing the effects of these three systems largely determines the how and why of the “cardio’ that we do. Favoring one or two at the exclusion of the others and not recognizing the detrimental effects of excessive training in the oxidative system are the two most common faults in fitness training.
Aerobic training benefits the cardiovascular system and decreases body fat–all good. It allows us to perform low intensity efforts for extended periods of time efficiently. But when a preponderance of the training load is spent in aerobic efforts decreases in muscle mass, strength, power and speed often occur. An example would be marathon runners.
Anaerobic activity also benefits cardiovascular function and decreases body fat. It is actually superior to aerobic exercise for fat loss. Additionally, you will dramatically improve power, speed, strength and muscle mass without taking away from aerobic capacity. An example would be sprinters. In fact, properly programmed anaerobic training will develop a high level of aerobic fitness without the muscle wasting of high volumes of aerobic exercise. This method is “interval training.”
Interval training mixes bouts of work and rest in timed intervals. You control the dominant metabolic pathway by varying the duration of the work and rest interval and number of repetitions. For the phosphagen pathway intervals of 10 to 30 seconds of work followed by rest of 30 to 90 seconds or a 1:3 work:rest ratio. Intervals of 30 to 120 seconds in the glycolytic pathway with rest of 60 to 240 seconds or a 1:2. And lastly, the oxidative pathway in intervals of 120 to 300 seconds followed by rest of 120 to 300 seconds or a 1:1. The bulk of your training should be interval based.
Interval training need not be so structured or formal. One example would be to sprint, run or jog between one set of lifeguard stations at the beach and run, jog or walk between the next set alternating in this manner for the duration. Could be telephone poles in your neighborhood or other landmarks at your local park; one only needs to be creative to workout virtually anywhere with little to no equipment. An example of an interval that CrossFit makes regular use of is the Tabata Interval, which is 20 seconds of work, followed by 10 seconds of rest repeated six to eight times. The best thing to do is to regularly experiment with interval patterns of varying combinations of rest, work and repetitions.
Let’s face the facts: most people do long, slow cardio because it’s easy, not due to its magical fat-burning properties. The days of grinding away on the treadmill, walking on an incline for hours at a time are gone. If you can read a magazine, watch TV or talk while doing “cardio” you’re not working hard enough. Start from wherever you are at, but it’s time to raise the bar and take it up a notch. If you’re sedentary, start walking. If you’re walking, add jogging intervals. If you’re jogging, add running intervals. If you’re running, add sprinting intervals. Joint issues, can’t take the pounding? Use a bike, elliptical trainer or stair climber; in order to achieve results there can be no excuses. Let go of the fallacy that endurance work is of greater benefit than higher intensity interval work and watch your physique become hard and lean. Are you ready? Dig deep and 3.2 l. GO!
Next week we’ll discover the gymnast within. . .
Paula Jager CSCS and Level 1 CrossFit and CF Nutrition Certified is the owner of CrossFit Jaguar.
Her exercise and nutrition programs yield life changing results
The Healthy Home Economist holds a Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Mother to 3 healthy children, blogger, and best-selling author, she writes about the practical application of Traditional Diet and evidence-based wellness within the modern household. Her work has been featured by USA Today, The New York Times, National Review, ABC, NBC, and many others.