A thought process that is frighteningly common within the fitness industry is that if you partake in too much aerobic exercise (whatever 'too much' means…), you will end up small and weak (AKA you’ll lose all your gains, brah).
Unfortunately, this is a very poorly understood concept.
Yes, while it is true that if we spend hours upon hours each week training aerobically, we can limit our capacity to develop strength, power, and increase muscle mass.
Building an efficient and effective aerobic system by using smart training methods can have a number of benefits, no matter what your training level and training goal.
Something that a lot of people fail to realize is that no matter how hard or smart we train, if we don’t recover effectively, it is all a little useless.
Adequate recovery allows us the opportunity to adapt to the training stimulus, while providing time to repair damaged tissue. If we don’t recover adequately, we do not allow the body enough time to adapt to the training stimulus, which can blunt the results of our training.
When it comes to having a well-developed aerobic system, we can actually improve recovery through two key mechanisms.
Firstly, participating in low intensity aerobic activity on our rest days can promote blood flow to the active tissue, clearing metabolic by-products associated with muscle tissue damage, and increases the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which further promotes recovery.
Now when I say low intensity I mean low intensity – As in a very light jog or a brisk walk (AKA NOT tempo runs, sprint intervals, or a casual metabolic workout).
Additionally, participating in this type of activity can reduce our resting heart rate and increase capillarization of our muscle tissue, which can lead to a more efficient cardiovascular system.
Secondly, having a well-developed aerobic system improves our training capacity by improving our ability to recover during a session.
By recovering more in between sets, we can perform at a higher intensity during our working sets. As a result, this can lead to improved strength and power development as pretty simply, we are getting more out of each training session.
This can also lead to an increased amount of training volume, which has the capacity to improve muscle growth and hypertrophy, while also promoting fat loss.
Now this one is a bit of a no brainer, but for those of us who compete in some form of field sport, having good aerobic capacity can make the difference between a very good or very bad performance.
The greater our aerobic capacity, the more work we can perform at a higher intensity. This means we can move faster, produce more force, and express more power for the entirety of a match, which will undoubtedly translate to improved performance throughout the games duration.
Interestingly, having good aerobic capacity is also likely to improve our ability to perform sport specific skills at a high level.
Fatigue masks or limits our ability to perform skills at a high level. By staving off fatigue, we increase our capacity to perform skills at a high level, which again, is detrimental to performance.
This also works in a similar fashion during training.
By having an improved aerobic capacity, we will get more opportunity to practice sport specific skills at a high level. This improves our skill development, which further increases our potential for athletic performance.
So we know that having a well-developed aerobic system may actually improve our capacity to develop strength, power, and skill development.
It may also improve our capacity for muscle growth and fat loss.
Additionally, participating in some form of low intensity aerobic activity on our rest days can improve recovery significantly.
But how much is too much?
As suggested earlier, too much aerobic training can actually limit our ability to develop strength and power, and build muscle tissue, but not enough can actually impede our progress.
So what do we do?
Well, like most things, it depends.
For someone who needs a well-developed aerobic system (AKA a field based athlete), we need to place a premium on aerobic work. This is because it is integral to their successful performance.
This is most likely going to mean 2-3 high intensity conditioning workouts a week – particular during the early stages of preseason, where general physical preparedness is the training focus. This volume is likely to decrease during season as maintenance and recovery become the primary focus.
During this time strength training load needs to be managed closely to ensure we still develop strength and power.
For those of us who don’t play sport competitively, we can most likely get away with 1-2 high intensity aerobic conditioning sessions per week, with an additional 1-2 low intensity recovery sessions per week. This gives us an opportunity to develop our aerobic system, but not so much that it effects our other areas of training.
This will be the minimum effective dose to improve aerobic capacity and promote additional recovery, which should supplement our other training goals.
If you would like to start integrating aerobic training into your training, contact me via the form below.