Cardiovascular health is one of the most important aspects of overall health and fitness. Having great cardiovascular health is likened to having a reliable car engine - you can go further, faster, and with less breakdowns. Plus, a healthy heart means you can dance all night long without feeling like you're going to collapse like a deflated balloon!
At Optimal Humans we like to focus on 4 areas: anaerobic capacity, aerobic capacity, maximum aerobic function (MAF), and CO2 tolerance. Each of these areas is trainable and measurable, and improving them can have a significant impact on your health, fitness, and overall physical and cognitive performance.
In this article we focus on Anaerobic Capacity & Aerobic Capacity. Part 2 will dive into MAF & CO2 Tolerance.
Anaerobic capacity refers to the ability to perform high-intensity exercise without the use of oxygen. Anaerobic capacity primarily relies on the phosphocreatine energy system, also tapping into the glycolytic system when we start pushing above 12-15 seconds. If an individual's anaerobic capacity is very low, they may experience fatigue and muscle weakness during these activities and may not be able to perform at their desired level. Additionally, low anaerobic capacity may limit an individual's ability to improve their performance in high-intensity activities through training.
So why should I care:
- Improved muscular endurance: Building anaerobic capacity can lead to increased muscular endurance, allowing individuals to perform activities at higher intensities for longer periods of time.
- Increased strength and power: Building anaerobic capacity can also improve strength and power, which can be beneficial for athletic performance and activities of daily living.
- Improved metabolic health: High-intensity anaerobic exercise has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, glucose uptake, and lipid metabolism, which can have positive effects on overall metabolic health.
- Increased bone density: High-intensity anaerobic exercise can also increase bone density, which can help prevent osteoporosis and reduce the risk of fractures.
- Increased post-exercise calorie burn: High-intensity anaerobic exercise can lead to an increase in post-exercise calorie burn, which can be beneficial for weight loss and weight management.
- Improved mental toughness: Building anaerobic capacity can also help improve mental toughness and resilience, which can have positive effects on overall mental health and wellbeing.
The gold standard test for anaerobic capacity is the Wingate test, which involves pedalling as fast as possible on a stationary bike for 30 seconds. Wingate bikes are used in clinical setting and not readily available, but you could substitute this with any 30sec Concept 2 Erg, 50m Swim, 200m track sprint.
One effective way to improve your anaerobic capacity is perform intervals for specific time domains at maximum intensity, recording total distance achieved. Type 1-4 is increasing in difficulty, as the longer they are the more lactate build up you get.
Aerobic capacity is how well your cardiovascular system delivers oxygen to working muscles during prolonged exercise. The body's aerobic energy system is efficient but slower than the anaerobic system. As exercise intensity increases and oxygen delivery is limited, the body shifts to anaerobic metabolism, producing energy without oxygen but causing lactate to build up. Too much lactate leads to fatigue and decreased performance. Luckily, this is very trainable.
Apart from the above why should I care?
- Improved cardiovascular health: Gaining aerobic capacity can improve cardiovascular health by increasing the heart's ability to pump blood and improving blood flow to the muscles.
- Improved lung function: Gaining aerobic capacity can improve lung function by increasing the amount of oxygen that can be taken in and used by the body during exercise.
- Reduced risk of chronic diseases: Gaining aerobic capacity has been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease.
- Improved metabolism: Gaining aerobic capacity can improve metabolism by increasing the number and size of the mitochondria in muscle cells, which can improve the body's ability to produce energy and burn fat.
- Improved mental health: Gaining aerobic capacity has been linked to improved mental health outcomes such as reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Improved physical function: Gaining aerobic capacity can improve physical function by increasing the ability of the muscles to sustain activity over time, leading to improved performance in activities of daily living.
The gold standard test for aerobic capacity is the VO2max test, which measures the maximal amount of oxygen an individual can consume during exercise. It's an important measure of cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance. During the test, the participant wears a mask that measures the amount of oxygen consumed and carbon dioxide produced while exercising at increasingly higher intensities. The test can provide valuable information on the individual's cardiovascular health, fitness level, and potential for endurance performance.
In lieu of a clinical setting and depending on your goals, you could substitute this test with the Beep Test, 1.5 Mile Run, the 12min Cooper Test, a 2000m Concept 2 Row or 4000m Bike Erg. All of which have equations to approximate your V02max.
One effective way to improve your aerobic capacity is to perform anaerobic threshold intervals between 3-7mins at or below your individual threshold. Type 1-5 is increasing in difficulty and volume.
I recommend that individuals calculate their theoretical anaerobic threshold using the following equation. Anaerobic Threshold =(180-age)+15. After your first interval session you can make adjustments to your pace based on your ability to complete the intervals.
Aerobic capacity is not only improved by working at your threshold, but also by working your base. Low and slow engine work. You may have heard the term Zone 2. The ability to cover distance for long periods of time at or under your aerobic threshold without resting. Stay tuned for Part 2, for a deeper discussion on this.
It's important to note that aerobic and anaerobic capacity are both important and work together to provide energy for different types of exercise. So why not test each system? By testing each system, you'll not only find out how fit are, but more importantly, you'll be able to set some baseline data for improvement and tracking in the long term using the Optimal Humans App.
I understand that there's a lot of information to take in, but don't worry, we've got your back! After testing, why not try out both interval types in the examples above, and track your progress over the weeks and months? It's a great way to challenge yourself and see how far you can go.
And the best part is, you'll feel great. So what are you waiting for? Let's get started and unleash your optimal potential!
Stay tuned for Part 2!