Matt Long and Paul Moseley breathe new life into the debate about oxygen

With the increasing amount of time you are likely to have spent on social media during the last week or so, many of you cannot fail to have been drawn to coverage of the inspirational James Campbell – the Scottish javelin record-holder who movingly raised thousands of pounds for the NHS by covering 26.2 miles in his six-metre long-back garden (click here to read more).

It is fast turning into a global trend when one considers the online postings of the so-called ‘crazy’ Frenchman who ran a marathon up and down his seven-metre-long apartment balcony in Balma, a suburb of the southern French city of Toulouse. Elisha Nochomovitz’s pedometer ticked over for no less than 6hrs 48mins, but the time of course was immaterial.

If world records were listed for triumphs of the human spirit, these would be a banker in the Guinness book of records. In reality, the 23 feet which he had to operate within meant that Nochomovitz was biomechanically restricted to what the layman would term a ‘shuffle’, rather than a run.

Let’s be clear that we are adding the well-oiled Saturday night light entertainment disclaimer of ‘please do not try this at home’ with regard to his heroic feat, but we encourage you to think about the lessons learned from training of the energy system which he will have almost exclusively relied upon.

Aerobic exercise

Light aerobic (with oxygen) exercise will maintain your cardiovascular health. It is beneficial to your arteries because it facilitates the raising of high density lipoprotein cholesterol whilst helping to minimalise more harmful low density lipoprotein cholesterol in the blood.

A steady run or cycle during this period where you do not have access to facilities at your club or a local gym will help you to regulate insulin levels and blood sugar levels. Remember that unless you are defined as a keyworker, you may not be climbing that flight of steps to the office or taking that walk from the car park to the train station. You are likely to be doing less aerobically than would be the norm.

When undertaking aerobic work, as an antibody in the blood, the presence of immunoglobulins will help to protect your immune system so that you can remain healthy. As long as you don’t exercise too close to bed time, aerobic activity can help facilitate a healthy approach to your sleep hygiene. This virtuous cycle will help enhance cognitive performance if you are being asked to study or work from home for long periods in front of a computer screen.

The work of Zuniga et al. (2018) recently explored how aerobic activity can help memory recall. Additionally at a time of understandable insecurity, your mental health can be improved when one considers the recent work of Santos et al. (2016) in the context of how exercise can be beneficial for those presenting with hypertension.

How do I know it’s aerobic?

If you don’t have access to any specific equipment (e.g. heart rate monitor), there is a simple way to identify how hard we are working, called the ‘Talk Test’. In basic terms, if you can still have a conversation, with full sentences, whilst exercising, then you are likely to be working the aerobic system. As you increase intensity levels and rely on the lactate system, you will more likely only be able to converse using one or two words at a time.

‘But surely light aerobic exercise is beneficial just for runners?’ we hear you ask.

Run, jump and throw

It’s true that for an endurance based athlete, light running is a specific development exercise because while there are biomechanical differences between running steadily compared to striding out at race pace, to an extent the former replicates competitive movement. This may be less so than for a sprints-based event group athlete, or those of you who jump or throw may be scratching your head in bewilderment in struggling to see the link.

It’s certainly true that a 200m or 400m sprinter is heavily reliant on the lactate (linking) energy system and also that a triple jump or discus throw has considerable alactic demands because the entire effort may be over in under 10 seconds. This does not however mean that the aerobic energy system does not need to be functional for these athletes.

Does your triple jump or discus competition last a few minutes or does it sometimes last an hour or maybe more? The latter means you will be utilising your aerobic energy system which is the platform for other energy systems to come in to play as you prepare to limber up for your hop, step and jump or pivot and throw in the circle.

Go back and take a look at the work of the legendary New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard who spent half his life on the global lecture circuit spreading this message not just to track and field athletes but to sportsmen and women more generally. Legend has it that in the years leading up to his passing in 2004 an All Blacks rugby coach announced that he had ‘discovered’ the benefits of aerobic training for those who play with an oval ball only for a frustrated Lydiard to scream in total exasperation, “I’ve been telling you all this for 50 years!”.

As a runner, you can still train the alactic and lactate energy systems through varying the distance and effort put into strides and as a jumper or thrower your use of both specific preparatory and specific development exercises can still be used in your training through the principle of adaptation even if full lockdown occurs.

Diversity in aerobic work

In addition to running considerations that will develop the aerobic system, you could also consider sustained activity (e.g. continuous activity for 2+ mins).  The important aspect of sustained activity is ensuring that you work at the appropriate intensity level, so that it is developing the aerobic system, and also that you include appropriate rest. As an example, this could be anything from skipping, to a more structured circuit (with the circuit, be careful to work at the appropriate intensity and consider the type of rest /recovery). The skipping and circuits could also be used to develop the lactate system, if you worked at a higher intensity and had shorter rest periods.

Conclusions

Light aerobic work has benefits for athletes across all event groups and you can find ways of undertaking it without risking hitting the wall as our heroic Frenchman Mr. Nochomovitz may have done many times on his balcony a few weeks ago!

Questions for self-reflection:

1. How does aerobic work help maintain my general health and wellbeing?
2. Why should I consider the relative energy contribution of the aerobic energy system for my event?
3. When can I use aerobic exercise to help facilitate work which trains the other energy systems which may be more specific to my event?

» Matt Long is an England Athletics coach education tutor and Paul Moseley is UKA’s coach education content creator. The views expressed in this piece are theirs alone as coaches. Continue to follow the regular advice given by Public Health England and our sports governing bodies

» For access to FREE England Athletics Webinars (April 7 and 14) on Youth Endurance led by Matt, click on the following links for bookings:

April 7 Webinar

April 14 Webinar

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