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it is important to have some understanding of what happens in our bodies when we are physically active at different levels, if we shall be able to improve in  a systematic way. At least if you have the ambition to improve your results and want to achieve your goals in an optimal way.

The building blocks of physical exercise

We will describe the basic building blocks of physical exercise;

  • load
  • rest
  • progression

We call this LRP.

“Load” is work or physical activity that tear down body parts such as muscles, organs and the circulating system (heart and lungs). The load of work is also called the catabolic phase. This is actually a break down process due to the stress the load puts on the body.

“Rest”, or restitution, is also called the anabolic phase.This is a build up process to repair and maintain all wear and tear from the catabolic (load) phase. In addition to the build up, the body is overcompensating, it makes sure to get a bit stronger than before the latest load or work.

“Progression” in the training or work is necessary to get an even overload over time. A progression in the overload gives a progression in the overcompensation – with improvement as the result. The Progression is not as important for a recreational jogger who wants to keep fit, but is very important for an athlete who continuously works for better results and improvements.

The above is the core of all training intended to create improvement over time, because the body has the ability to adjust and adapt. However, to do this in the right way, we need even more knowledge, because if it is done the wrong way, the result may not be as intended. Specifically, if the load is overdone, the “Load” becomes “Overload” instead. The result will then be decline instead of improve. The same will happen if “Load” stops. Then we will loose strengt and capacity. Training is sadly enough reversible…..

The natural law of moderation

 An important principle in relation to this is what we call “the “natural law of moderation”. To explain it in a simple way; there is an optimal load you can put on yourself. Load below this will lead to less progression. Load above this is the same as exaggeration, and will lead to overstress of your body and systems, and you will get less reward for the extra effort, and you may even cause damage and injuries to yourself.  The final result of your exaggeration will be the total opposite of what was the intention with the training, you lose fitness and your wellness.  Then you need to moderate your load, if you want to get back to the improvement stage. This is a natural law, all these effects are caused by the body, who is doing everything it can to protect your life and health.

The next step about this, is to understand which energy systems that are working in the body, and how they interact. If you understand this, and use it together with what we just explained about LRP, you can adapt your training to your ambitions and goals in a way that will separate you significantly from those who have no knowledge about this.

The energy systems

We have 4 different energy systems, that are meant to be used in different situations.

  • The aerobic fat burning system
  • The aerobic carbohydrate burning system
  • The anaerobic lactic acid system
  • The anaerobic creatine-phosphate system

One of the aerobic systems are always functioning to keep us alive. Aerobe means that these systems use air, or more correctly oxygen, in the metabolism or “burning”. The difference between the two types of aerobic systems is what type of fuel is dominant: fat or carbohydrates. Very often the two types of fuels are used simultaneously; the situation decides what type of fuel is dominant.

The carbohydrate fuel is used when you have a high intensity in your load, and is consumed more or less completely after approximately 90 minutes. This means that if your training or competitions last longer than this, you need to learn to use the fat burning instead of carbohydrate burning for a large portion of the time. If not, you will be out of energy after these 90 minutes or so.

Fat burning is achieved during rest, and during low intensity activity, for example by performing low intensity long runs. These type of runs are also more useful if your goal is to lose weight.

Normally the two anaerobic energy systems are “sleeping”. This means that they are on stand by, but not working. These systems are not dependent of air (oxygen).

The system most people are familiar with is the lactic acid system. This system supports the aerobic systems when they are not able to supply what the body demands. As sooon as this happens, the lactic acid system starts producing lactic acid, which, although it is normal in our system, in this phase reach a concentration level that causes trouble. The practical effect of this is that energy is produced for a short while, normally for about 2 minutes, but after this, you feel more and more pain, you will go over to hyperventilation and after short time you will be exhausted and you will have to slow down a lot, maybe even stop the activity.

The other anaerobic energy system is the creatine-phosphate system. This system only starts in more demanding situations such as when you get scared, shocked or when you activate larger muscle groups in explosive or extreme sport situations. This is normally not needed for runners, as it is only active up tu maximum 5-8 seconds. Sprinters may however use it, in combination with the acid lactic system.

The most important point for an endurance athlete is not to “start” the lactic acid engine too soon. In other words, it is very important not to begin too fast relative to your fitness level. You should not push over into your anaerobic threshold too soon. If you do so too early, the lactic acid will change the working environment in the working muscles and blood stream. This environment will become more acidic (lower pH), and this will interfere with the main engine’s efficiency (the aerobic system)

We are now probably covering one of the most misunderstood topics of physical endurance training: the intensity of your endurance training you do.

When you perform your aerobic endurance training correctly, the main engine (your aerobic energy system) will be able to do the work by it self. When you push your training to the limit, you enter the area of your anaerobic threshold. This is the hardest you can push your aerobic energy system without help from other energy systems or engines.

Together, the topics we have covered above create the base for building a training program. The building blocks of physical training are Load, Rest and Progression (LRP). If our Load has been hard, then we also should make sure to compensate it with a good, long rest. That makes sense. Persons in good shape normally have a well-adapted system to take care of their recovery.

For some athletes rest does not mean they do no training; easy training or recovery training is also one type of active rest. One rule of thumb is one hard and two easy workouts. You are probably familiar with the saying “No pain, no gain”. This probably has its foundation in the idea of adaptation, or the overload principle, which we covered earlier. However, there will always be the individual factor involved. A training program should only be used as a rough guide; you should always make your own personal and individual adjustments. Remember, you are the only person on earth able to do this for yourself. A training program is not intelligent; hopefully you are!

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Authors: Ingrid and Arve Kristiansen

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