#41 The Physiology of Anaerobic and Aerobic Athletes

#41 The Physiology of Anaerobic and Aerobic Athletes

How does PowerDot use electric muscle stimulation (EMS)?

PowerDot uses EMS technology, also known as Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES), to send high Hz rate electrical signals deep within the muscle cells to stimulate both Type I and Type II muscle fibers to contract.

Now, it is one thing to know what EMS is and what it does. But we’re here to be equipped with the knowledge of how to apply the science behind NMES to enhance human performance. This leads us to the question...

How can using a muscle stimulator enhance performance and recovery in both Aerobic and Anaerobic athletes?

To answer this we must first describe the differences between an Aerobic and Anaerobic athlete as well as the physiology that distinguishes athletes as Aerobic or Anaerobic.

Aerobic vs Anaerobic Athlete: Practical Examples

Everyone’s favorite fictional ultra endurance athlete, Forrest Gump, just started running one day and never seemed to get tired. He displayed great endurance capacity as he ran from coast to coast, ocean to ocean. Forrest Gump would be considered an aerobic athlete.

All of us can appreciate the fictional endurance Forrest Gump displayed...but some of us find running long distances not to be our cup of tea. Maybe, we appreciate the fact that we can run long distances, but are better at more explosive activities like weightlifting or sprinting. This would make us an anaerobic athlete.

Athletes may be classified under these two categories: Aerobic or Anaerobic. The aerobic athlete is the athlete that is like the Forest Gump (or the Energizer Bunny) that can keep going and going and going. Whether it’s cycling, running, rowing, or whatever the activity may be, this athlete is built for endurance. The anaerobic athlete is the athlete that excels in activities where they demonstrate great feats in strength and power. Whether it’s sprinting, jumping, or lifting, this athlete is designed to be explosive.

Human physiology plays a vital role in determining the type of athlete someone is. Aerobic and anaerobic athletes (we’re all athletes in one way, shape or another) display distinct physiological differences that lead to optimal performance.

Physiology of An Aerobic Athlete

The aerobic athlete displays a physiology that is designed to resist fatigue and maximize endurance. This athlete’s physiological make-up is efficient at utilizing oxygen to power the body for sustained performance during long and arduous activities (think a marathon).

This athlete displays a superior and efficient cardiovascular system. Aerobic athletes have lower resting heart rates which is due to increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system. This means that their heart rate during exercise will now be slower providing the heart more time to fill with blood. With more time to fill, the heart can now pump out more oxygenated blood to the muscles.  

The muscle fiber types that benefit from this increase in oxygenated blood are the “slow-twitch” Type I fibers. Interestingly enough, aerobic athletes exhibit a higher ratio of Type I fibers. These fatigue resistant fibers are packed with mitochondria. So, having a greater ratio of Type I fibers means more mitochondria.

Mitochondria are important because that is where the body utilizes oxygen to make a lot of energy (adenosine triphosphate – ATP). In order to make energy in the mitochondria, the cells need oxygen. Endurance events or activities are not all-out sprints; which means, the body has time to utilize oxygen to create ATP. So the oxidative energy system is on point in endurance athletes.

Also, enzymes within the mitochondria (like succinate dehydrogenase and citrate synthase) catalyze reactions within the mitochondria to increase the efficiency of energy production for the body. In this case, we are talking about these enzymes making energy production move at hyper speed.

Endurance athletes will also have more myoglobin in each slow-twitch muscle fiber than other athletes. Hemoglobin is the protein that carries oxygen through our blood stream, however, once this oxygen is unloaded a the muscle fiber, it is myoglobin takes it to the mitochondria.

So, let’s break it down:

↑ O2 blood from heart + ↑ Type I Fibers + ↑ Mitochondria + ↑ Enzymatic Activity + ↑ Myoglobin = ↑ Aerobic Performance

The physiology of an aerobic athlete, from the cardiovascular system to the musculoskeletal system, enables optimal oxygen uptake at the muscle. This is why we see aerobic athletes with a high maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) perform well in endurance events.

Physiology of An Anaerobic Athlete

The anaerobic athlete has a physiology designed for powerful, quick bursts. Unlike the aerobic athlete, this athlete is not resistant to fatigue and gets tired very quickly. Anaerobic athletes have distinct physiological characteristics that separate them from aerobic athletes.

An anaerobic athlete does not require an efficient cardiovascular system. The major differences between an aerobic and anaerobic athlete occurs at the neuromuscular level.In regards to fiber type, anaerobic athletes have predominantly “fast-twitch” Type II Fibers. Type II Fibers produce large force outputs and have high contractile velocities. Type II Fibers in an anaerobic athlete are larger than Type I Fibers and which attributes to the increase in force production (think bigger muscle is stronger muscle). At the neural level, the anaerobic athlete will display greater motor unit recruitment, greater synchronicity of motor units, and an increased firing rate of motor units. *A motor unit is a single alpha motor neuron and all of the muscle fibers that it innervates.

↑ Muscle Fiber Recruitment + ↑ Firing Rate + ↑ Synchronicity = Explosive Movements

Given how strong and quick anaerobic athletes are, energy production must also happen quickly. Anaerobic energy production differs from aerobic in that it can create ATP very quickly without having to wait for oxygen. Fascinatingly enough, Type II Fibers are designed with less mitochondria as they don’t need to be aerobically efficient.

Though, a concern with anaerobic energy production is the accumulation of lactic acid or lactate. Rapid and high lactic acid accumulation is a reason why anaerobic athletes are less resistant to fatigue, however, lactic acid is not a bad thing and it doesn’t actually make us sore. Lactic acid quickly dissociates into lactate and a hydrogen ion. Lactate can then be utilized to create more energy very quickly as well.

The physiology of the anaerobic athlete consists of a strong neuromuscular component and quick energy production making them perfectly designed to be strong and powerful athletes.

Muscle Biopsy Testing of Anaerobic Athlete

Colin Jackson, a former Olympian and World Champion sprinter and hurdler, wanted to know more about his physiological make-up. Given that he was a sprinter, we can assume he would have the physiology of an anaerobic athlete, but until tests are ran, we truly don’t know.

So, scientists examined his fiber type. From what we discussed about fiber types, slow-twitch muscles are our Type I fibers which are our endurance muscles whereas our Type II Fibers are our fast-twitch high-velocity/high-force contractions fibers. Colin should display a high percentage of Type II fibers. With a little bit of lidocaine to numb up his leg, researchers took a muscle biopsy from his quadriceps and analyzed his fiber type.

What they found next was astonishing! He did indeed have an unbelievable, almost superhuman, amount of fast-twitch fibers. Researchers said the amount of fast-twitch fibers he had in his leg is what they would see in a cheetah. This explains why he was so good at quick-burst track and field events and a world class anaerobic athlete.

PowerDot: Designed for the Anaerobic and Aerobic Athlete

Application of the PowerDot NMES technology may be used to enhance performance and recovery in both the anaerobic and aerobic athlete. For each type of athlete, PowerDot has predesigned programs to stimulate Type I and Type II Fibers taking the guesswork out of training.

In the anaerobic athlete, NMES elicits greater strength adaptations and also aids in clearing lactate. Remember, lactic acid or lactate is not bad; but, if not efficiently cleared, may lead to early onset of fatigue and decrements in performance. Utilizing NMES helps athletes to clear lactate by increasing blood flow as lactate can be oxidized within the muscle fiber. This helps maintain optimal anaerobic performance for multiple bouts.

In the aerobic athlete, it is evident that NMES elicits an aerobic response. Meaning, just by selecting one of the preset programs oxygen consumption and heart rate increase. This may have implications for improving aerobic performance. More and more evidence is being produced by research scientists demonstrating that NMES may be used as a supplementary training stimulus to improve both aerobic and anaerobic performance.

Grab your PowerDot Smart NMES device today knowing that when you are using PowerDot technology (whether you are writing, eating lunch, flying on a plane, or watching TV) you are performing better.

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