Diet: Exercise – Anaerobic Exercise

No, I didn’t misspell aerobic; YOU misread.  Maybe you need some new glasses.

If you can't tell what this is, go see your optician.

While aerobic exercise gets its energy from a mixture of glucose and oxygen, anaerobic exercise says a big, “FUCK YOU,” to oxygen and gets its energy from only the glucose in your body. This makes sense since the word anaerobic (first coined in the 1880’s) means “in the absence of oxygen”.  Now this doesn’t mean anaerobic exercises are done without breathing; that’s as silly as it is extremely lethal.  All it means is that your body is not using the oxygen you are breathing in to trigger glycosis, which is the metabolic process that converts glucose, sucrose and other chemicals from the –crose family, into energy.

Through something called anaerobic metabolism (what clever names these scientists give these things), your body accesses energy stores that are only found hiding in your muscles.  The amount of oomph anaerobic metabolism creates is enough to help you punch a charging rhino into next week.

Accurate depiction.

So if it burns more fat and creates such high amounts of energy, why don’t we just tell aerobic exercise to screw off and simply do anaerobic exercises?  Well, let’s take a look at that heartrate chart I showed way back when I still felt blogging everyday was going to be fucking easy.

See where anaerobic exercise falls on our chart?  See how it’s labeled “Hardcore Training”?  That isn’t a bullshit title, it really is hardcore.  Anaerobic metabolism is only set off when you start driving your body with more intensity than aerobic exercise requires.  Aerobic exercise is about longevity; it’s about running a marathon at a comfortable pace so that your body doesn’t give out long before the end.  Aerobics is the normal, hardworking Joe of exercise.

Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, is the total badass of exercise; it comes in wearing a leather jacket, drop kicks a cop off of a cliff, has relations with every woman in the room, and then paints a mural of Bruce Lee by spitting Bacardi 151 on the wall and then lighting it on fire.  But if you have ever been that person at a party, you understand that unless you are fueled by some outside source (cocaine), you simply can’t live your entire life at that break-neck pace.  While the fuel that anaerobics draw from creates high-octane energy, you have a very limited supply of that fuel.  While a person can continue to do aerobic exercise long past forty minutes, the human body can only keep up anaerobic exercise for about five minutes.

This is partly because anaerobic exercise creates a build up of lactic acid.  Lactic acid is a byproduct of glycosis and other metabolic functions, and it is normally released or reprocessed by the oxygen you consume.  Anaerobic exercise doesn’t use oxygen though, and the lactic acid that is produced during these exercises just sort of hangs out in the blood stream until your body starts using oxygen normally again.  While raising the acidity of your blood seems awesome because you take one step closer to being like the xenomorph in Alien –

"Yeah, I've been working out."

– it can also lead to acidosis, which, if we all remember A Few Good Men, can lead to all sort of problems.

Problem #1 - I make Jack Nicholson angry.

Acidosis can cause a number of physical maladies: Shortness of breath, coughing, headaches, dizziness, weakness, muscle failure, seizures, vomiting and diarrhea.  While the medical studies have shown that a build up of lactic acid is not the primary cause of acidosis (link), it is a factor.  The human body was simply not designed to maintain such a high energy output for a prolonged period of time.

Having said that, anaerobic exercise is a great way to lose weight.  It burns through stored glucose (e.g. fat) faster than aerobic exercise, and recovering from a build up of lactic acid makes your muscles stronger.  What exercises are considered anaerobic?  Any intense exercise that you can only keep up for a few minutes; sprinting, biking up a steep hill, maxing out while lifting weights (lifting the heaviest weight you can without injuring yourself), climbing up a stair case at a brisk pace with 50 lbs. strapped to your back.  If there was a scale that measured how hard you work, with laying on the ground at 0% and running from a deranged, chainsaw wielding killer at 100%, anaerobic exercise would be at about an 80%. 

And the good news is that you don’t have to do just one type of exercise in a single workout!  While jogging at your normal pace (aerobic exercise), you can start sprinting (anaerobic exercise) and after 30 seconds to a minute you can return to your normal pace.  Then after five to ten minutes later you start sprinting again.  This cycle is called interval training, and if you are serious about losing weight you will want to work it into almost every exercise routine.  Doing short bursts of anaerobic activity will get your heart rate way up and your body will burn through more fat, and the aerobic exercise will give your body time to recover by letting your body process the lactic acid and returning your heart rate to normal.  Because you are only doing the anaerobic exercise for a short period of time, you won’t work yourself into exhaustion, and you’ll still be burning fat during the aerobic exercise. And because almost every exercise can be modified to be anaerobic, interval training is easy to insert into any work out.  It’s a win-win situation.

The picture at the beginning was of a goat standing on a cow, by the way.