Anaerobic Training

Anaerobic means “without oxygen.”

Sudden power moves such as jumping, fast spinning, or hard stroking cause muscles to rely on stored energy that is available immediately without the need for oxygen. Lactic acid, a metabolic waste product, is produced faster than it can be removed resulting in an accumulation in the working muscles and the familiar soreness, fatigue and "lactic burn".

The Different Anaerobic Systems

The anaerobic system consists of two sub-systems: “immediate” ATP-CP and “short-term” glycolysis.


ATP-CP or phosphagan system is the immediate anaerobic system that uses high-energy phosphates that are stored in the muscles as fuel for the first ten seconds of maximal exercise. If the intensity is high, but not maximal, this system can supply energy for up the first 30 seconds of exercise.

  • This system is used each time a skater jumps or increases the pace during a program run through.
  • Through interval training, muscles adapt to the high demands of skating.
    • For the immediate (ATP-CP) anaerobic system, the interval ratios are 1:3 to 1:5 (sprint:recovery).
    • The starting intervals are 10 seconds of anaerobic high intensity exercise followed by 30 seconds of lower intensity aerobic exercise or recovery. The anaerobic portion can be an all-out maximal effort since the duration is so brief.
    • As the athletes improve their fitness levels, the time intervals increase up to 30 seconds anaerobic: 90 seconds recovery. The cycle is repeated up to 10 times, depending on the training goals and fitness level of the athletes.Glycolysis


Glycolysis is the short-term anaerobic system that results in lactic acid accumulation. This is the main energy source for the 10-60 seconds of "all out" exercise, as well as short bursts of high intensity exercise imbedded within an aerobic workout. If the intensity is high but not maximal, this system can supply energy for 90- 120 seconds of exercise. This energy system is used throughout a program run-through, where high intensity exercise is maintained for several minutes.

  • An athlete is unable to hold a conversation at this high exercise intensity.
  • Energy reserves tapped from the glycolytic metabolism depends on a person's tolerance to lactic acid.
  • Training this system will result in an increased capacity for energy release and an increased tolerance for lactic acid in the body.
  • Through interval training, muscles adapt to the high demands of skating.
    • For the short-term anaerobic system, the interval ratios are 1:2 (sprint:recovery).
    • The starting intervals are 15 seconds of anaerobic high intensity exercise followed by 30 seconds of recovery.
    • As the athletes improve their fitness levels, the time intervals increase up to 60 seconds anaerobic and 2 minutes recovery. The cycle is repeated for 10-30 minutes, depending on the training goals and fitness level of the athletes.

Blinky Hand: A Simple Experiment

To see how quickly ATP stores are used up, try to fully open our hand spreading all of your fingers, then quickly tighten your hand into a fist; do this about two times per second for 30 or more seconds.

  • The first 10 seconds are easy – stored ATP-CP: When you maximally open and close your hand quickly, the first 10 seconds will feel effortless and strong. You are relying on the stored up ATP in the muscles that control the hand movements.
  • 10 to 20 seconds – shift to glycolytic metabolism: This simple feat becomes increasingly difficult after about 10 seconds once the stored ATP is used up. The muscles in the forearm start to accumulate lactic acid and muscle contractions become painful. By about 20 seconds it is very difficult to maintain the quick tempo of fully opening and closing the hand because the muscles are not getting adequate fuel (primarily oxygen) for the pace of the exercise. Fine motor control is lost. Simply, the fuel requirements of the exercise are exceeding the availability of
  • After 20 – 30 seconds of all out blinky hand - shift to aerobic metabolism: To combat this, the muscles are simply unable to contract as quickly, and will automatically slow the rate of opening and closing the hand until the demands of the exercise are even with the available fuel (primarily oxygen) to the muscles. No matter how hard you try, you simply cannot maintain the fast and full opening and closing or your hand. This slower rate is now aerobic metabolism.

The same reaction happens in your legs in an all-out sprint and during a program run-through! But don't worry! With training, an athlete can adapt to the demands of the sport.

When exercise intensity increases higher than the aerobic zone and into the anaerobic zone, lactic acid in the blood cannot be removed as quickly as it is produced resulting in lactic acid build-up. The corresponding heart rate depends on the conditioning level of the individual, ranging from approximately 70% of HRmax for the average youth, to 95% of HRmax for the highly conditioned athlete (See Figure 1). With appropriate training, the onset of lactic acid accumulation is delayed as the body becomes more efficient, and the heart rate at lactate threshold is moved closer to the maximal heart rate (HRmax), which means the athlete can exercise at a higher intensity without feeling as tired.

Estimate Heart Rate at Lactate Threshold

  • As exercise intensity steadily increases, the heart rate gradually rises, and speaking in full sentences eventually becomes impossible. Lactate threshold is around the exercise intensity when speaking in full sentences becomes difficult, and the corresponding heart rate is the estimated heart rate at lactate threshold.
  • Heart rates below this point correspond to aerobic metabolism while heart rates above this point correspond to anaerobic metabolism.
  • By training long durations at a heart rate slightly above this lactate threshold or by incorporating interval training into a conditioning program, the lactate threshold heart rate can be elevated as the athlete's fitness improves. This means that the athlete can do the same exercise intensity with less effort, such as a section of a program run-through.Figure 1: Effects of Training on Heart Rate at Lactate Threshold

Lactate Threshold @ 70% HR max

Resting Heart Rate Max Heart Rate

Untrained lactate threshold: Lactate threshold is approximately 70 percent of heart rate max.

Any exercise above this intensity will result in an accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles. Most of a program will be skated ANAEROBICALLY, i.e., with lactic acid in the muscles and labored breathing.

Lactate Threshold @ 95% HR max

Resting Heart Rate Max Heart Rate

Conditioned athlete’s lactate threshold: Lactate threshold can increase up to 95 percent of heart rate max with training. A greater portion of a program is skated AEROBICALLY and higher intensity exercise is completed before the onset of lactic acid accumulation in the muscles.

By conditioning the anaerobic system through interval training, the muscles will develop a tolerance to lactic acid and the body can do more work before lactic acid accumulation begins. Programs rely largely on the anaerobic system where the heart rate is between 85-95% HRmax for at least half the time. High intensity interval training prepares the skater for the demands of the long program and gives him or her the energy to perform high intensity exercise without feeling the lactic burn.

Benefit of Interval Training for Figure Skating

The main goal of cardio vascular fitness in figure skaters is to be able to perform a program run-through without feeling or looking absolutely exhausted. This can best be accomplished through interval training with exercise intervals that gradually approaches the length of the long program.

Types of Interval Training

Interval Training alternates an interval of exercise with an interval of rest. Interval workouts beginning with a warm-up, move to the interval portion (lasting 10-25 minutes), and end with a cool-down. With interval training, "lactic stacking" is accomplished by overloading the muscles when there is already lactic acid present. Greater tolerance to lactic acid and greater maximal aerobic and anaerobic power output are achieved as a result. This means a skater can maintain aerobic conditions longer into the program and feel less lactic burn in the legs!

Aerobic Interval Training

Aerobic interval training consists of equal times of exercise and rest. The exercise intensity is 85-95% HR max for 20 seconds up to 3 minutes. For example, on the treadmill the athlete sprints for 1 minute then walks for 1 minute and repeats this cycle eight times. It can be fun to occasionally substitute this ratio of training for a cardio session. High Intensity Cardio Training (HICT) that alternates between strength and cardio exercise is based on this same concept.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

The main focus of Interval Training for skaters is to train the anaerobic system. A brief rest follows a high intensity sprint, and the cycle is repeated three to ten times. The sprint is 30 seconds to four minutes of high intensity exercise at 85-95% HRmax. The rest is one to three minutes of walking or very easy exercise. The conditioning level of the athlete and the specific target anaerobic system ("immediate" ATP-CP or "short-term" glycolysis) dictate the specifics of exercise and rest ratios and exercise duration. The rest phase allows some recovery in the muscles before the next bout of high intensity anaerobic exercise.

Compare HIIT-Short and HIIT-Long

The Ice Dynamics® program incorporates two different strategies for high intensity interval training (HIIT). For both variations, the heart rate during the work interval in between 85-95% of HRmax. Some skaters routinely hit 100% HRmax at the end of a program run-through or during interval training.

HIIT-Short: The skater benefits by developing anaerobic power and stamina that is similar to the short surges of energy that are need to accelerate into a jump or lift towards the end of a program with finesse. The exercise intensity for HIIT-Short is maximal and should be between 85-100% of maximal heart rate (see Heart Rate Chart) by the end of each sprint. Though each sprint is very demanding, the brief 20-second duration of the sprint is reassuring. Repeated short bursts of maximal effort exercise will help to return maximal benefits in conditioning to the skater.

HIIT-Long: The skater benefits by developing anaerobic stamina that is similar to a full run-through of a long program. The exercise intensity for HIIT-Long is between 85-95% of the maximal heart rate (see Heart Rate Chart) by the end of each sprint. Over the course of several months, the skater is able to tolerate longer and longer bouts of very high intensity exercise up to the length of the program. Varying workouts is a good way to help prevent overuse injuries and boredom. Off-ice HIIT-Long exercises change every few weeks, therefore the skater is training different muscles and activities at this high intensity. The gradual nature of adding 15 seconds every other week to the interval length makes the training process progressive and effective. The main goal of HIIT-Long is to give the athlete a tool to train repeated, high exercise intensities without the emotional attachment of doing repeated programs. Indeed, the skater may feel resentment or frustration if asked to perform three or four long programs in a session. The skater aims to feel slightly more fatigued in both breathing and muscles at the end of HIIT-Long compared to a program run-through, since the hardest effort in a skater's life should probably not be doing a program in competition.


High Intensive Interval Training - Short Sprints


HIIT-SHORT: Alternate 20 seconds of high intensity exercise (intensity 85-95% of max heart rate) with 10 seconds of recovery. Cycle between two different high intensity exercises for a total of 8 sets. Rest for 2 minutes at a walking intensity (approximately 30% max) before starting the same pattern with the next two exercises. Continue through all exercises.


High Intensive Interval Training - Long Springs


HIIT-LONG: For a 4-minute interval, complete a series of eight 30-second high-intensity drills with the goal of remaining at exercise intensity between 85-100% of maximal effort. Notice that within a 4-minute interval, the intensity may cycle through this 85-100% range, as it does during a program run-through. After the interval, rest for 2-3 minutes at a walking intensity (approximately 30% max) before starting the same pattern with the next series of exercises. Continue through all exercises for variation.

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