Intensity… quick, what comes to mind? If a picture of Macho Man Randy Savage pops in your head then you’re showing your age like me.
This word, intensity, gets thrown around a lot these days in fitness communities. The problem is that the word has taken on various meanings to the different segments within the world of fitness.
To a body builder, intensity probably means something totally different than to the marathon runner. Both use the word in their work out regiments but they are speaking different languages.
I’d like to find some common ground with regard to the language we use because intensity during workouts has in fact proven to be an important element to an increased work capacity, but if your definition of intensity varies from mine then we won’t reach the same destination.
The workouts which were selected for the Intentional Wellness Plan are categorized as Metabolic Conditioning Workouts or MetCon for the cooler sounding version. That may tell you that there was some bio chemistry considered in the process of developing this incremental fitness program which you have hopefully already begun.
In order to more easily understand the process that occurs when our bodies work, we should describe three basic metabolic pathways which provide energy for all human activity.
These pathways, or engines, are called the phosphagen pathway, the glycolytic pathway, and the oxidative pathway. Included in the discussion of energy production for activity are a myriad of other factors like ATP, ADP, substrates, Krebs cycle, and reaction mechanisms to name a few. However, instead of getting into a biochemistry course, we’re going to stick to the basics of how these three metabolic pathways work so that we can speak the same language.
The phosphagen pathway is known for providing the lion’s share of energy for high powered activities which last less than ten seconds in duration. The glycolytic pathway encapsulates moderate powered activities which last up to several minutes. The oxidative pathway provides energy for low powered activities which last in excess of several minutes.
The first two pathways, phosphagen and glycolytic, are known as “anaerobic” as they supply power for high and moderate level activities. The third pathway, oxidative, is commonly referred to as “aerobic” activity. The first two pathways work without the help of oxygen while the oxidative pathway requires oxygen to generate energy to perform the activity.
Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, describes this energy production for various activities in a concise and easy way to understand in his article titled Metabolic Conditioning. Glassman states,
We only need to remember that anaerobic exercise is metabolically unsustainable exercise whereas aerobic exercise is sustainable. Sustainability is the key. So all out efforts of two minutes or less are anaerobic while efforts lasting more than several minutes are aerobic.
The oxidative pathway, or aerobic activity, has long been considered to primarily help protect your heart from various pathologies. However, this pathway also burns muscle. Glassman points out that it is easy to see the difference in these two types of training activity when you compare the body composition of a sprinter with that of a long distance runner.
The fact is that athletes can burn fat and generate heart health while building muscle through the anaerobic pathways. This can be done with interval training. Through this type of training, athletes can actually improve their performance during aerobic activity without the wasting of muscle.
The goal of this type of training is to move heavy loads over long distances in a short amount of time. That’s intensity.
Completing workouts with this end in mind helps us to measure whether the intensity in our workouts is authentic. Through varying modalities, or ways in which we introduce the load to be lifted, distances to be carried and the time required to do it, we can efficiently utilize the way that our three metabolic engines produce energy.
So, if you’d like to join us on this MetCon journey simply download our Intentional Encounter Wellness Plan eBook using the form below enabling you to get your metabolic engines running!