Anaerobic Exercise: It's Role in Cardiovascular Conditioning and Body Fat Reduction


Volumes of information exists pertaining to the role of exercise in cardiovascular fitness and fat reduction. Much of the information is simplistic and geared for the novice exerciser. The preceding articles dealt with the more intricate manipulations of aerobic exercise which are specifically relevant to the advanced exerciser. However, very little is understood or published regarding the application of anaerobic or "muscle" training directed towards cardiovascular conditioning and fat reduction.

Once moderate levels of cardiovascular fitness are attained, the mechanism necessary to stimulate the advanced adaptations of rather elite fitness approaches the anaerobic or "muscular effort" category of exercise. Perhaps a brief review of the exercise process would benefit the fitness enthusiast interested in attaining the higher levels of cardiovascular fitness or reduced body fat.

The reality of categorization of exercise into either aerobic (endurance, oxygen utilizing) or anaerobic (strength, "without oxygen") types of mutually exclusive activities is misleading. Actually each exposure to exercise combines some aspect of aerobic and anaerobic metabolism. As aerobic exercise becomes more advanced it approaches the anaerobic category and conversely if anaerobic exercise is prolonged it approaches the aerobic classification. In order to reinforce this concept, the model of the oxygen users (the working muscles) and the oxygen deliverers (the heart and blood vessels) should be applied. Both of these elements are required in various degrees of importance in order to classify exercise types.

If this is the case, then the application of anaerobic or muscle oriented exercise is not only a must for the seeker of high level cardiovascular ability but is of equal value for the body fat reducer. One of the most damaging misconceptions which permeates the exercising public is the idea that once high intensity, anaerobic exercise is encountered, the "fat burning" process is eliminated. Even some of the leading exercise physiologists appear to have misinterpreted this mechanism.

In it's simplest form, the principle of muscle fiber recruitment dictates that the rate of fat utilization is never reduced as exercise intensity increases. The percentage of fuel which is contributed by fat during progressively higher levels of intensity decreases but the total fat expenditure increases. In simple terms, the capacity to exercise at higher levels generally stimulates two productive responses. Initially, on an individual basis, the intermittent exposure to higher than normal levels of exercise increases the body's oxygen utilization capacity. This means that aerobic ability will be enhanced and performance potential increases. Secondarily, the muscular effort required at these higher levels of intensity promotes increased muscle strength and tone.

The basis for the suggested incorporation of anaerobic or strength training can be simply exemplified. Once the body is exposed to higher intensity exercise the relative ease of previously encountered levels of training increases as is the capacity to sustain previously difficult grades of aerobic effort. In addition, as a result of the normal response to anaerobic, strengthening exercise, muscle tissue is increased. This increase in lean tissue is vital for both the maintenance and progression of fat reduction since muscle is so metabolically active requiring more caloric support 24 hours a day.

Once these "new" levels of conditioning and strength are achieved, both the capacity to perform at higher levels of aerobic demand and the reduction in body fat are accomplished. Furthermore, the potential for subsequent advances into higher levels of aerobic conditioning and fat reduction become realistic since the impetus in those directions is established.