Aerobic vs. Anaerobic

These words describe the two primary energy systems in your body which help your muscles perform.  In order to maximize your results in a given event, you should be aware of these systems and what they do and how you can maximize the benefits gained from each.  Below we have listed some of the key attributes of these systems without getting too technical.

Aerobic.  The aerobic system is an oxygen dependent energy producing system.  It utilizes the oxygen produced by your breathing and distributed through your blood to your muscles.  Your muscles require energy to move your bones and produce movement.  Your muscles and bones move faster provided the muscles don't get tired.  For aerobic muscles, oxygen drives them.  Therefore, the more oxygen they can consume (up to their maximum, a.k.a. VO2max) the faster you will be able to go.

Aerobic muscles are primarily used in distance related events.  This makes sense if you think of all the breathing you must do to keep your body going in one of these long events.  If you were to constrict your breathing while doing the same distance-type event, you would notice that you would perform much worse due to your aerobic muscles going into 'oxygen debt'.

This is important for training, because you can train these muscles to absorb oxygen better and in greater amounts, thereby increasing your endurance.  Translated, this means that you don't train for a marathon by only doing sprints.

Aerobic energy is associated with slow-twitch muscles.  Some people are naturally born with a heck of a lot of these.  Combine their genetics with great long-distance training and you've got yourself Olympic material.

Anaerobic.  As the name implies, this is just the opposite.  These energy systems do not utilize oxygen and they feed the fast-twitch muscles.  These muscles are more powerful but lack endurance.  Anaerobic energy and fast-twitch muscles can been seen in action during a very short all-out sprint.  As a result, training for sprint events requires a lot of sprinting to adequately train this system.

Combo.  In reality, you will almost always be using a combination of the two systems regardless of what kind of race you are doing.  It is virtually impossible to isolate just the one group while exercising.  You will merely utilize more of one type and less of another depending on the event.  Concurrently, most of your training will lie somewhere in between the aerobic and anaerobic systems.

It is believed that by training in both areas with a concentration on your forte you can actually convert some of the less utilized muscle type into the more utilized muscle type.  Or, you can even increase the utilization of both groups.  As an example, by alternating in practice between sprints and distance events you can actually improve both your aerobic and anaerobic utilization.  How?  Because some of your fast-twitch muscles will take on some slow-twitch qualities.  They will become able to absorb oxygen and enhance endurance rather than just sprint.

And, on the other side of the coin, your slow-twitchers may gain the ability to sprint.  So, by blending your aerobic/anaerobic training you can actually improve on both sides without sacrificing one or the other.

Those are the basics of aerobic and anaerobic metabolisms.  Most coaches believe in concentrating more training on the system that is needed more in the athlete's specialty, and complementing it with work in the other energy system.  Whichever way you do it, keep in mind that It is clear from the research that at least a little mixing of the two systems is considered best, and that ignoring either system completely is probably a detriment.