Study finds maintaining aerobic capacity requires persistent training while maintaining muscle anaerobic potential does not

How long does it take to get back up to peak performance after a long break from exercise? According to one study, that depends on whether the exercise is primarily aerobic or anaerobic.

From the study Enzyme adaptations of human skeletal muscle during bicycle short-sprint training and detraining:

“A long interruption in training has negligible effects on short-sprint ability and muscle anaerobic potential. On the other hand, a persistent training stimulus is required to maintain high aerobic capacity and muscle oxidative potential. This may contribute to a rapid return to competitive fitness for sprinters and power athletes.”

In the study bike sprinters trained for nine weeks followed by seven weeks of detraining (no training). Researchers found that the sprinters’ aerobic enzyme levels fell, while their anaerobic enzyme levels remained high for the seven weeks of detraining.  There were negligible effects on muscle anaerobic potential means the subjects remained strong.

The body need not be constantly submitted to anaerobic exercise to maintain strength gains or improve upon them. Another study bears this out: weight lifters who took two three-week breaks from training over an 18 week period showed more improvement than those who trained the entire 18 weeks without a break.

Seeing how much strength training you can endure is at best a waste of time and at worst detrimental. It is prescription for injury, drudgery, and eventually quitting.  At Austin Personal Training and New Orleans Fitness trainers  our approach is to find the least amount of strength training that will produce the most results. With such an approach you will improve each week without long hours in the gym. You’ll more likely stick with it, and over time, your quality of life will be profoundly changed.

Study shows how people waste time exercising

In a study, one group lifted weights for nine weeks (Continuous resistance training – CRT), while another group lifted for six weeks followed by a three weeks rest (Periodic resistance training - PTR). After the first nine week cycle the groups’ results were similar. The cycle was repeated for nine more weeks, and PTR group’s results were significantly higher.

A quote from the study, Comparison of muscle hypertrophy following 6-month of continuous and periodic strength training: “Increase in muscle cross-sectional area [of muscle] and strength during the second 3-week detraining/6-week retraining cycle were significantly higher in the PTR group than in the CTR group.” Consider that CTR group trained six weeks more and achieved inferior results - wasted time and effort.  

At the end of 27 weeks, both groups’ results were similar, but continuous training group trained six extra weeks to get that same result. If you start from the premise of finding out how little exercise you actually require your marginal return for your time in the gym will be higher and you will be less likely to over-train. When rest is inadequate over-training results and improvement stops. At Austin Personal Trainers and New Orleans Personal Trainers we take great care in measuring exercise performance to be sure that the client is fully recovered. With full recovery you will continue to improve.

What happens after an extended layoff - an observation

In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina our clients began trickling back into town, and there was a return to normalcy. They began scheduling appointments again. Most had not exercised in anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks.

I expected them to be weaker. I decided to conduct an experiment. I put them through their previous workout, and I did not lighten the weights. I did not offer them any added encouragement, I did not give them a target to reach, and I told them to stop at whatever point they wanted to.  It was a very interesting result.

Most all of the clients got all of their reps. Some were off a repetition, but that's about it. We were doing slow reps, so one repetition can take about 20 seconds. So in total they were off at most 20 seconds on a 90 to 120 second exercise. Within a workout or two they were totally back up to speed.

These observations comport with a study that showed a similar result. Elite bicyclists were detrained (they stopped riding their bikes) for nine weeks. Their blood was drawn each week. Their aerobic enzyme level diminished each and every week. There anaerobic enzyme level did not diminish. The body still stood ready to do the demanding anaerobic work. This is the same result I saw in my clients.  It is also the same result you will get when comparing sprinters and long distance runners.  If a sprinter and a long distance runner have an extended layoff it will take the sprinter far less time to get back up top speed compared to the long-distance runner.

With aerobic conditioning there is primarily a biochemical change – the body up-regulates its ability to burn sugar over an extended time.  With anaerobic conditioning there is a biochemical change and there's restructuring – the muscles become stronger. Adding muscle is metabolically expensive, and the body does not undo those gains readily.

Taking off a week from strength training now and then can be a good thing.  You’ll come back refreshed mentally and physically and you will not take any steps backward.  It is hard to get a handle on recovery and how often to train.  At Austin Personal Training and at New Orleans Fitness Trainers wecan help you with that.

In 28 days a 67 Percent Improvement in Strength

It is rare for a woman to do a single chin-up. It is rarer still for a tall woman to do a chin-up. Years ago I began working out a 5'9" woman who could do three chin-ups. Her routine had been to do three chin-ups followed by several demanding negative reps every Friday at 5:00 for more than a year. She worked hard but she never improved. She was not remotely close to conpleting a fourth repetition.

This woman would do a whole body strength training workout once or twice week and use the aerobic equipment other days.

Her trainer resigned and I began training her. On the first Friday she insisted on doing chin-ups. It told her she had nothing to lose by taking a week off from that one exercise. She reluctantly acquiesced. She came in the next Friday with a negative mindset, fully expecting to be weaker. She did four chin-ups. She was amazed. When I asked her to forgo chin-ups the week after that she complied. Week four she did five chin-ups - a 67 percent improvement in the number of completed repetitions in 28 days by doing less. She was ecstatic; it was like magic.

There was no magic. Chin-ups followed by negative chin-ups are demanding and require time to recover. This woman was chronically over-trained, and a couple of weeks off allowed her to recover.

I told this story to another gym member. He reply, “You know women are liars. I bet she was doing chin-ups every night at home during those four weeks”. I guess I would have trouble believing it too. I took me years to understand that training less often can produce more improvement. At first I refused to believe the improvement could come from doing less, but it kept happening to me and those I trained – often in dramatic fashion.

By training too often you ruin two workouts. The first workout that stimulated change is worthless if you do not give your body a chance to recover. The second workout is worthless as well as you cannot give your best effort if you are not 100 percent.

How often you need to workout will depend on a number of factors; most important are recovery ability, duration of exercise, level of intensity, and frequency of certain exercises. It took me years of trial and error to figure out the right formula. That formula will be different for different people. An experienced trainer will know how to manipulate the variables safely to produce continuous improvement for her clients.

Strength increases occur exercising as little as once or twice a week, If it's the right exercise program. The personal trainers at New Orleans Personal Trainers and at Austin Personal Trainingcan guide you through a personal training program that will enable you to get more out of less time exercisingand keep improving.