You just envisioned that you powered up your workout so you can power up those stairs like it was nobody’s business! Or, at least, that’s how you envision it.
And, one day, you imagine, that you’ll be able to do just that.
You’ll be able to 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.
Boy, wouldn’t that feel great!
Yes, it would, but today, you’re standing at the top of those stairs, and you’re wheezing like all get-out. Ahhh, the thought of buying a one-story rancher comes to mind…again.
Why would climbing a pair of stairs would wind you so much, after all, you walk regularly and you may even exercise on a pretty regular basis?
Do you have to do warm-up just to take the stairs, or is this some sort of cardio malfunction that you’re experiencing? Neither!
Instead, you have to power up your workout so your body works more efficiently so you can power up those stairs. That means understanding more about the body’s energy systems and how to get them to work more efficiently.
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 of the Body
We have three energy systems that work to fuel our body’s functions and our body’s performance. The body will switch from system to system depending on the intensity of the demand.
Powering up stairs is a big ask as it requires fuel to be available immediately and at that very moment.
The fuel needed to power up those stairs is stored in your body. And, this energy system is the anaerobic (without oxygen) system.
The anaerobic system is used for quick bursts of activity.
We can get enough energy or fuel from this system to last us about 90 seconds. Whew! Think sprints or, well, even a dash up the stairs, for instance.
The body doesn’t have time to gather oxygen to fuel you powering up those stairs. Nor does it have time to change energy systems, so it uses the stored fuel of the anaerobic system.
Powering up those stairs uses a different energy system 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 energy cycles and gather up the energy it needs to sustain your walk/exercise.
The energy system that sustains your walking is called the aerobic system. It uses oxygen to turn the body’s stored glycogen (energy storage) into the fuel you need.
FYI: 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 the body’s energy systems, it can last much longer – up to several hours – or for however long the fuel source lasts.
A Constant Supply of Energy
By increasing your aerobic capacity, you will become more aerobically fit. That is, your body will be better able to convert lactic acid (a chemical by product of the anaerobic system) back into energy.
Converting the lactic acid into energy is our third energy system of our body, the lactic acid energy system or the anaerobic glycolysis system.
This system is also anaerobic but it works a touch slower than the anaerobic system of stored fuel.
All three of these systems contribute to the energy needs of your body to make sure you have a constant supply of energy.
FYI: 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.
Powering Up Your Workout
To power up your workout, you can train the anaerobic and aerobic systems to work more efficiently for you. By powering up your workout, you can increase your capacity for performance.
Just think, by adding a bit more to your workout (as you will see below), you’ll be able to go up the stairs without wheezing! Not only that…you’ll be able to last longer on your walks or exercises, too!
Training The Body For More Energy Efficiency
To power up your workout, you want to include different types of movements in your workout, and you want to vary the intensities of your movements.
INCREASE YOUR ANAEROBIC CAPACITY
To increase your anaerobic capacity include some intervals into your workout. Increasing your anaerobic capacity will help avoid being winded and that drained-out feeling in your legs. Download our Free Interval Training Guide for tips and benefits.
- Warm-up first
- Add 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.
- 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
Adding sets 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!
Adding An Interval
Here’s a video of me doing some mountain climbers.
FYI: You can pop one of these in at any time. Here, I was at a meeting, so I tucked in my shirt, warmed up and went for it.
INCREASE YOUR AEROBIC CAPACITY
For the most part, aerobic work dominants workouts like running, cycling and circuits. The idea is to keep your heart rate between 6 and 8 of your RPE. (see chart)
To increase your aerobic capacity
- Gradually add more minutes to each of your aerobic workouts.
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.
Fueling to Power Up Your Workout
In order to power up our workouts so we can, indeed, power up those stairs, we can’t forget that we have to provide those working muscles with the nutrients they need so they can convert that 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. The energy of ATP is what the muscle needs to contract.
But, the body doesn’t store very much ATP, and what it does store gets used in short order, in seconds to be exact. So, it becomes necessary to continually make ATP during exercise.
This is where the aerobic and anaerobic pathways we spoke about earlier come into play.
FYI: It’s the macronutrients of our food, the carbohydrates, fat and protein, that get converted to ATP that make the fuel to power up our workouts.
In other words, the body converts food into fuel that serves our energy pathways.
How Macronutrients Work
Here’s a quick look at how these macronutrients work.
Carbs fuel activities that are of a moderate to high intensity level.
Fat fuels low intensity activities and goes for a longer period of time making fat great for that endurance work.
Proteins are generally used to repair body tissues and not normally used to power muscle activity.
To find out more, check out what food does for the body.