The Reason I No Longer Train for a 5K

May 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Health and Fitness

Life In The Aerobic Zone
by Chad Ciri, CPT

In nearly 10 years of being a strength and conditioning coach, I have made one profound discovery that will most certainly shock a lot of people. Are you ready? (I’ll warn you, you may need a hug after this)…RUNNERS AND ENDURANCE ENTHUSIASTS ARE THE BY FAR THE MOST DE-CONDITIONED AND MOST LIMITED ATHLETES OUT THERE! If you’re an avid runner, don’t reach for the tissue box just yet, there’s still hope for you. I know you’re wondering why I would make such a bold statement, but there’s a good reason for it. Here’s why…

People who only train for long-term endurance live in a training zone known as the aerobic (or oxidative) pathway. The aerobic zone simply means that training can exist with the presence of oxygen for efforts that last more than several minutes. I’m not just picking on runners here – cyclists, rowers, swimmers, triathletes all make their living in the aerobic zone. Now let me be clear that I’m NOT discounting the benefits of aerobic training. Aerobic training improves cardiovascular function and certainly decreases body fat. These are two very positive effects.

However, that is where the list of benefits from aerobic training ends. If you spend all your time training in the aerobic zone using ANY modality, you will also experience decreases in muscle mass, strength, speed, power and overall work capacity. I see this all the time when I train pure runners. While they have an amazing ability to sustain low-powered activities for long periods of time, they have very little strength and a reduced capacity to sustain any type of high-intensity activity for even the shortest of durations. This is NOT optimal fitness, no matter how you look at it. There’s nothing worse for me as a fitness coach than to see someone who can run a marathon in 3 hours but can’t do a push-up!

NOTE: **If you’re ONLY concerned with being thin and care nothing about your overall health or your body’s total functionality, you should STOP reading here.**

Ya still with me? Good! Now we can talk about some training methods that will help you become more fit AND still give you all the same fat-burning benefits of aerobic exercise. It’s known as anaerobic conditioning. To keep it simple, anaerobic activity is that which exists at moderate to high power efforts and lasts less than several minutes. Anaerobic activities can include weight-lifting, bodyweight exercises, plyometrics,biking, running, and rowing. In fact, the modality itself doesn’t necessarily make an activity anaerobic, rather, it’s the intensity and power output that define it.

Anaerobic conditioning need not be completely structured nor use complicated movements. An simple example would be several 30 second bouts of sprinting followed by a minute of slow walking.

Anaerobic conditioning allows you to exert a substantial amount of energy and force over short time intervals. The beauty of anaerobic conditioning is that it can be used to actually increase aerobic capacity as well, and without the muscle wasting that accompanies high volumes of aerobic activity. If more runners and endurance athletes learned to embrace this concept, they’d be fitter, faster, and most importantly, less prone to injury that comes with over-training. Make no mistake about it, what I’m suggesting here is that endurance athletes will make greater improvements in their overall fitness level, their strength, AND their endurance if they spend more time using anaerobic conditioning.


I’m so glad you asked! I realize that not everyone who is reading this is interested in setting a world record in a marathon. So let’s talk about us mortals who just want to lose some body fat. Luckily, the answer is the same. Anaerobic exercise is not only unique in its capacity to improve strength, speed and mucle mass, it’s also superior to aerobic exercise for weight loss and fat loss. There’s a LOAD of science behind this, so I’ll go ahead and geek out on you for a minute.

The metabolic adaptations that your body must undergo following intense bouts of exercise that are used in anaerobic conditioning lead to better fat metabolism in the post exercise state. In fact, a recent study in the European Applied Journal of Physiology showed that your metabolism stays in an elevated state for up to 16 hours following intense bouts of anaerobic activity. After intense exercise, there’s an increase in lactic acid in your system, an elevated body temperature, an elevation of heart rate, and a resynthesis of creatine in the muscles. In order to restore equilibrium in your body, a greater amount of oxygen and energy expenditure is needed. PHEW! What the heck does all that mean? Simply put, it means that your body has to burn more calories post-exercise in order to restore itself to a normal state. The end result is that you burn more fat than you would if you had exercised in the aerobic zone.

I’ll spare you any more “fitness geek talk”, but if you want to do some more research, look up any of the studies conducted by Dr. Angelo Tremblay or Dr. Izumi Tabata, two well respected doctors and exercise physiologists who have made it their life’s work to uncover the science of exercise. I see the benefits of this type of training everyday while coaching and consulting my clients, but if you’d rather not take my word for it, I’d encourage you to check out the research for yourself.

Whether you’re an aspiring athlete looking to improve your performance in ANY sport, or just trying to figure out a more effective fat loss strategy, take this simple concept into your training and you WILL see results!

If you enjoyed this article or learned any valuable lessons from it, please comment below or share it with your friends on Facebook!

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