With growing numbers of exercisers becoming seriously involved in training, it comes as no surprise that more are interested in attaining substantially elite levels of fitness. It is rather logical to understand that as the level of fitness increases, progress becomes more difficult to realize. These plateaus become very frustrating and it is not uncommon for many trainees to attempt to "run through" these physiological roadblocks and simply "burn-out".
Perhaps a little bgcolor information concerning the cause and effect relationship of aerobic exercise, recovery and resulting conditioning responses might be helpful. Initially, it should be established that there are two major reasons for engaging in aerobic (cardiovascular, endurance) exercise. Those objectives are improved cardiovascular function and the reduction of body fat.
Improving cardiovascular function involves the stimulation of physical response mechanisms which increase the body's capacity to both deliver and utilize oxygen at the sites of the working (exercising) muscles. Intrinsically involved in this process are the "deliverers" of the oxygen (the heart and blood vessels) and the "utilizers" of that oxygen (the exercising muscles).
The basic formula for attaining aerobic conditioning is continuous, large muscle activity engaged in 3 to 7 days per week for 20 to 60 minutes at a level of intensity that ranges between 60% to 85% of maximum capacity. Conforming to these guidelines accounts for the normal scheduling of at least 3 classes or exercise sessions per week and the duration of these sessions consisting normally of 30 to 60 minute exposures and the checking of the popular "target heart rate".
However, as one attains higher levels of cardiovascular condition the precision of the exercise protocols becomes more and more critical. The basic formula becomes less applicable and subjective interventions become very important. In simple terms, this means that the exerciser MUST begin to sense when the levels and amounts of exercise are appropriate AND if the recovery from these sessions is sufficient.
Remember, at higher levels of capacity, harder and longer workouts require more recovery effort and if that recovery has not been completed before the next session two things happen:
1. The progress stimulated by the previous exercise session has not yet been achieved
2. The body is not fully capable of stimulating further gains.
Physical capacity is therefore diminished or at best sustained. Even more importantly, the effort expended becomes useless or even counterproductive. At some point eating a cookie might be better for your cardiovascular conditioning than the Stairmaster. Talk about Nirvana!
In any case, the basic relationship, between exercise intensity and muscular recovery must be understood. The entire basis of exercise physiology is involved in this simple process. As the level of intensity increases along the scale of aerobic exercise, different "types" of muscle fibers are required to attain and sustain that increasing intensity. In a certain sense, this intensification produces a situation wherein the delivery system (heart and blood vessels) becomes less important and the "utilizers" (muscles) become the more influential element in the process.
In very practical terms, this new level of performance or conditioning which is aspired to by many involved in the exercise process requires the application of manipulations which are basically irrelevant at the more modest stages of fitness. The methods and rationale for the acquisition of the higher levels of conditioning are the subject of other articles. At this time it is sufficient to state that some variety in exercise exposure is required and that increased sensitivity and "body sense" must be developed in order to successfully establish the aspiration of higher levels of fitness.
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