Imagine that one day, you’ll be able to just power up those stairs (in your house, not the bleachers – although that may be one day, too) and not feel like your heart is jumping out of your chest when you get to the top?
Still imagining? Because today, standing at the top of those stairs, you’re wheezing like all get-out, the thought of buying that one-story rancher comes to mind…again.
And, not only that, but you’re probably also are wondering why a pair of stairs would wind you so much, after all, you walk regularly and maybe even exercise on a pretty regular basis. Is it that you have to warm up just to take the stairs, or is this some sort of cardio malfunction…again.
Even committed gym goers can be gasping at the top if they haven’t trained the body’s energy systems to efficiently handle the task at hand.
THREE ENERGY SYSTEMS
We have three energy systems that work to fuel our body’s functions and our body’s performance. The body, in its wisdom, will switch systems depending on the intensity of the demand.
Powering up stairs is a big ask, and takes fuel that’s available at that very moment. This system is the anaerobic (without oxygen) system and its fuel is stored in the body.
The anaerobic system is used for quick bursts of activity. We can get enough energy from this system to last about 90 seconds. Whew! Think sprints or, well, a dash up the stairs, for instance.
The body doesn’t have time to gather oxygen to fuel that quick dash nor does it have time to accommodate that demand to change energy systems, so it uses the stored fuel of the anaerobic system.
This is different from when you’re out for your morning walk, or on your treadmill where you ease into the pace. By easing into the pace, your body has time to go through the cycle of gathering the energy to sustain your walk/exercise. This is the aerobic system, and it uses oxygen to turn the body’s stored glycogen into the fuel you need.
Glycogen is made up of molecules from carbohydrates, fats and some proteins stored in your muscles and liver.
Within two minutes of your start, the body will begin to supply muscles with oxygen. While this aerobic system is the slowest of them all, it can last much longer – up to several hours – or for however long the fuel source lasts.
Both of these systems can be trained to work more efficiently for you, which in turn, will increase your capacity for performance. In other words, you’ll be able to go up the stairs without wheezing, and you’ll be able to last longer on your walks or exercises.
AND IT GETS EVEN BETTER
When you increase your aerobic capacity, thus being more aerobically fit, your body is better able to convert lactic acid back into energy (the body’s third fueling system). This system, also anaerobic, works a touch slower than the anaerobic system of stored fuel to come into play.
These three systems all contribute to the energy needs of your body to make sure you have a constant supply of energy, as well as, during your physical activity. But, these systems don’t work independently from each other. Rather, one will dominate depending on the duration and the requirements of your body and/or the intensity of your activity.
TRAIN THE BODY FOR MORE ENERGY EFFICIENCY
Like I said earlier, you can make your body’s energy systems work more efficiently so you can power up those stairs.
You can train your body with different types of movements and intensities, and you can provide working muscles the nutrients they need to convert the food into the different energy pathways.
Download your FREE Interval Training Guide.
INCREASE YOUR ANAEROBIC CAPACITY
You can increase your anaerobic capacity and avoid being winded or that drained-out feeling in your legs by including some intervals into your workout.
Warm-up first of course then add some intervals of 20, 30 or 40 seconds. Start at the lower end at first. You may have to do less than 20 seconds, and that’s okay.
You do want to make sure you have recovery time in between your intervals. Your recovery time can vary. I like to start at ½ of the interval time and see how I do. Then you can either extend the interval or shorten the recovery time to increase the challenge.
Adding 2 or 3 sets of intervals to your workout reaps lots of bennies. In fact, if you do extended bouts of intervals like HIIT (high intensity interval training) you can work both aerobic and anaerobic systems at the same time. Sweet!
Here’s a video of me doing some mountain climbers. I was at a meeting, tucked in my shirt, warmed up and went for it.
INCREASE YOUR AEROBIC CAPACITY
Aerobic dominant workouts include running, cycling and can include circuits keeping your heart rate between 60-80 percent of your max.
To increase your aerobic capacity, gradually add more minutes to your aerobic workout. This will build that endurance which will give you that staying power to last longer in future activities.
Don’t forget to download your FREE Interval Training Guide here.
CONVERTING FOOD INTO ENERGY
Every cell in your body creates and stores a form of energy called ATP or adenosine triphosphate. When energy is needed, ATP is broken down and released which allows the muscle to contract.
Because the body doesn’t store very much ATP, and what it does store gets used in short order, seconds to be exact. So, it becomes necessary to continually make ATP during exercise. This is where the pathways we spoke about earlier come in, i.e., aerobic and anaerobic.
The macronutrients of our food, carbohydrates, fat and protein, each get converted to ATP. In other words, the body converts food into fuel that serves our energy pathways.
For instance, carbs fuels activities that are of a moderate to high intensity level.
Fat fuels low intensity activities and goes for a longer period of time. Fat is great for that endurance work.
And, proteins are generally used to repair body tissues and not normally used to power muscle activity.
While we’re at it, here’s more on what food does for the body.