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The Effect of Steady-State Exercise on the Body

When you do any kind of aerobic exercise at a continuous intensity for between 20 and 60 minutes, you’re engaging in steady-state exercise. You can sustain such a long exercise duration only when your body uses oxygen for energy. Steady-state exercise helps beginners build up their cardiovascular and muscular endurance.


Steady-State Exercise


Higher Lactate Threshold

During the first minute of running, you may feel a slight burning sensation in your thighs that gradually dissipates the longer you run. This is caused by the buildup in your muscles of lactate, a byproduct of glucose metabolism. When the rate of lactate accumulation in your muscles exceeds the lactate removal rate, you’ve reached your lactate threshold. If you’re a beginner, you reach your lactate threshold at a much lower heart rate than experienced endurance athletes do. Once your body becomes more efficient at the exercise, your lactate threshold increases. This is one reason why aerobic exercise gets easier as you train more regularly.


Physiological Plateaus

In exercise science, the Law of Diminishing Returns states that the more you train over a period of time, the less improvement you will gain. When you start doing any steady-state exercise, such as running or taking an indoor cycling class for the first time, your fitness level improves rapidly. As you get fitter, the amount of improvement decreases as your body becomes more efficient in movement. To get to a higher fitness level, you need to perform more work to overcome the exercise plateau to get the same exercise benefits. How much you can improve is determined by your genetics.


Movement Specificity

Just because you can run for a long period of time doesn’t mean you can equally swim or bike for the same time duration. This is based on the SAID principle — specific adaptation to imposed demands — which states that your body will get better at what it’s specifically trained to do. For example, as you become more efficient at running, your brain gets familiar with the running mechanics.

You may be able to resist fatigue during the run, but you won’t necessarily be able to perform other types of aerobic exercises well. In a study published in the “International Journal of Sports Medicine” in 1990, athletes who performed cycling showed no significant improvement in their lactate threshold when they performed the running test, while the running group improved their lactate threshold by 58.5 percent when they performed the running test.


Fat Metabolism

Fatty acids are the basic components of triglycerides, which are stored in your fat tissues. The amount of fat your body uses for energy depends on your heart rate and how much oxygen is available in your bloodstream. During steady-state exercise at about 55 percent of your maximum heart rate, fats make up a little more than 50 percent of your energy contribution, while high-intensity, short-duration exercises, such as sprinting, burn almost no fat. Therefore, a 5-mile run at a steady state can increase fat metabolism better than a heavy, 15-minute weightlifting workout.


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