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The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

The Case for Combined Training

The best way to achieve fitness goals is often uncertain to the American public. The overwhelming amount of fitness tips from the media doesn’t help answer questions of “how” and “why” when it comes to fitness, health, and wellness. Questions remain. How should athletes achieve their sports fitness goals? How should health and wellness seeking individuals train for lifelong fitness? Are aerobic exercises such as jogging, biking, and swimming best for overall fitness? Is resistance exercise such as weight training better for athletes in power sports or for the aging adult who experiences the yearly atrophying of muscles?

In the past 50 years, aerobic exercise has been shown to benefit the cardiovascular system and especially the processes in the body that are affected by aging. More recently, anaerobic training has become an exercise for more than bodybuilders and football players. From adolescents to senior citizens, many have taken up anaerobic exercise and reaped its physiological benefits. However, it is unclear if one exercise type brings more beneficial effects than the other. Is it possible that mixing both aerobic and anaerobic exercise can bring about all the benefits that each produces alone?

For exercise to be aerobic, it must use oxygen to create ATP for energy. Aerobic training can come in the form of running, biking, swimming, rollerblading, high intensity walking, and even interval training with short rest periods. Aerobic training targets the cardiovascular system and muscular adaptations. Another benefit of aerobic training is from cardiovascular adaptations. Furthermore, the physiological benefits of aerobic training can improve wellness in adults who just want to live a healthier life. Probably the number one benefit that Americans who exercise are looking for is a reduction in body fat.

Aerobic exercise is beneficial for all populations. Almost every sport requires its athletes to have some aerobic endurance. Even sports such as football and wrestling cause an athlete to use aerobic mechanisms.

Performing short bursts of high intensity exercise without the presence of oxygen is classified as anaerobic exercise. Typical anaerobic exercises include resistance training, sprinting, or sports such as baseball and field events in track. Like aerobic training, anaerobic exercise provides multiple benefits. However, these benefits come from significantly different physiological changes.

Anaerobic training increases muscular strength. In addition, anaerobic training is increasing in popularity due to the benefits it gives to holistic health-seeking individuals. Body composition is one area where anaerobic exercise provides benefits. Anaerobic training can increase fat-free mass and therefore, reduce overall percentages of body fat. Also, it can increase basal energy expenditures because there is more fat-free mass to burn calories at rest.

For health-seeking individuals, prevention of osteoporosis is yet another benefit. Especially important to females, but integral to everyone, is building up mineral-dense bones in order to prepare for reduction in hormonal activity during aging.

As the American population grows older, a focus on functional health becomes more and more prominent. Normal daily activities such as taking out the trash or pushing the vacuum around the house require short duration muscular strength. Anaerobic training is highly suitable for helping older adults accomplish these tasks.

Finally, anaerobic training is well known to athletes as a way to improve performance. Muscle fiber hypertrophy increases muscular strength to create gains in hitting, throwing, kicking, and sprinting. Furthermore, wellness-seeking individuals and the elderly are turning to anaerobic training for specific health benefits. Favorable body composition, the prevention of osteoporosis, improved endocrine secretion of hormones, and the ability to complete functional tasks are all benefits of engaging in anaerobic training.

Engaging in only one type of exercise can leave out specific physiological adaptations and health benefits. Combined training is the best way to reap all the benefits of aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Defined, combined training is one exercise program including aerobic and anaerobic activities. Most of the benefits that one receives from performing either aerobic or anaerobic exercise will be present in a combined training program. Engaging in an aerobic program will give you multiple cardiovascular, muscular physiologic, and calorie burning benefits. Adding an anaerobic training regimen will also give you gains in fat free mass, higher basal metabolic rate, increased bone-mineral density, and improved endocrine secretion of hormones.

Endurance athletes and health-seeking adults will experience cardiovascular and respiratory benefits if they engage in combined training. The gains in VO2max will be unhindered and sub-maximal performance will be improved. Additionally, strength athletes or adults who enjoy weight lifting can rest easy knowing that strength gains are not diminished during combined training as long as adequate rest is taken. In short, combined training provides all of the benefits that each exercise type gives alone, but may supply greater overall health through a synergistic effect.

Combining aerobic and anaerobic training requires planning. An athlete or health-seeking adult must start with a weekly program in mind. They must decide on fitness goals. For athletes, specificity of training indicates doing activities that are as close to their competitive sport as possible. For health-seeking adults, the means is just as important as the ends. Fitness goals might be as generic as toned muscles, efficient cardiovascular system, or even improved bone-mineral density. The program should be tailored to the goals.

Combined exercise has been shown to be more beneficial than engaging in only one type of exercise. Strength gains are not hindered by the addition of aerobic training into a resistance training program as long as adequate rest is taken. Combined training has been shown to have a synergistic effect on sub-maximal endurance, balance, agility and in reducing fat, cholesterol, and blood pressure.