Most people that engage in physical activity use anaerobic energy systems. Although football, rugby, basketball, hockey, etc. are sports that last for a long period of time and are assumed to be aerobic based sports, they also have a large portion of anaerobic exercise.
Anaerobic means ‘without oxygen’ and anaerobic activities require an almost instantaneous energy release, using intramuscular high energy phosphates. This means that the body requires energy at the moment the exercise is engaged and it does this by using chemical reaction that don’t require oxygen such as the ATP –PCr system.
To improve your ability to perform anaerobic activities you must work specific muscles or organ systems at an increased resistance. This means you need to specifically design a training program that involves the muscles and organs involved in the given sport or activity and stimulate these systems at an increased level. So if you want to improve your anaerobic power in your legs you wouldn’t go out and do anaerobic bouts with your arms such as boxing, you would more likely try running or cycling.
Anaerobic power or anaerobic fitness is characterized by muscle that exists independent of blood and oxygen supply to that muscle. Therefore all anaerobic training must develop the anaerobic energy systems within the muscles needed to perform a specific sport. This form of training is not necessarily needed for improving general health and is probably the least used form of training in a fitness program. However it is a great form of exercise that tests the body maximally and can be used as an alternative in your training program to add variation to reduce boredom.
A quick example of an anaerobic training session could be stair running. Find a sports stadium and do repetitions of the grandstand steps. Another could be continual short sprint bursts. 3 sets of 4 x 50m sprints with a short 20sec recovery. These are example of absolute anaerobic training. There is also anaerobic endurance training.
Examples of this type of training could be the one minute running session used in the eight week training program, the strength and conditioning programs and many of the green intensity sessions.
Depending on the duration of the maximal burst, the energy systems used may differ. To be an anaerobic effort the ATP – PCr system must be used. The other main system used is anaerobic glycolysis and to a little extent depending on the duration, aerobic systems. The longer the duration of the exercise the more the percentage of work is derived from glycolysis and aerobic systems.
A bout of 10 seconds or less ostensibly uses the anaerobic energy systems. However during exercise of any length if there is an increase in the amount of energy expended that surpasses the capabilities of oxidative phosphorylation than the anaerobic systems are engaged. For example an 800m runner uses the anaerobic energy systems even though the race lasts for around 2 minutes.
The ATP-PCr system is an intricate system that makes use of ATP and Phosphocreatine (PCr). When the ATP split (into ADP) to provide energy for the cell PCr bind with the ADP to make more ATP for the body to produce more energy. This is why people sometime supplement their diets with creatine. The other energy system used, glycolysis, is the system that causes the waste product lactate. Lactate builds up in the body as it is unable to break it down quick enough causing the muscles to feel tight and cramp.
The importance of this type of training is not needed in the beginning of a fitness training plan but may be implemented after a period of time when your fitness levels plateau. Anaerobic endurance, or threshold training (minute runs) is a good way to stop your fitness levels from leveling out and keep them continually rising.