The Effects of Weights on Anaerobic Power

Is weight training using a high-intensity, slow-cadence protocol better for anaerobic power than more traditional weight training? A new study suggests that there is little difference between the two.

It’s important for many types of athlete to pay attention to both aerobic and anaerobic power. In particular, athletes need to consider aerobic and anaerobic thresholds. The boundary between the two types of power has a few different names depending on what exactly is being measured, with “critical” usually being part of the name, such as “critical power.” Critical power is the final point at which an athlete can maintain an effort for an extended period of time. As you can probably imagine, this is an important value in nearly every sport. Any time you need to push your limits for longer than a few seconds, you should know where you are relative to your critical power.

Not only is your critical power an important value, but the ability to sustain any effort above your critical power is also a useful trait for any sport that challenges your anaerobic system. However, it’s not clear which weight training program is best for attacking and developing the anaerobic system. High intensity training (HIT) is a type of single-set slow cadence training that claims to be especially draining on anaerobic factors (hence it’s “high intensity” moniker). But its effectiveness over what we normally see in a gym has not been all that well studied. To shed some light on the issue, researchers this month in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning compared the typical gym routine with a HIT routine to see what taxes the anaerobic system more.

Proponents of HIT say their method of training is better for sports that rely on a heavy anaerobic contribution. These sports yield greater acid in the body, more metabolic waste products, and a lot more agony than their aerobic counterparts. HIT often has similar agonizing effects. Operating under the idea that working the anaerobic system hard is a good way to train it, the researchers believed that HIT may outperform more common lifting methods.

The participants of the study performed one of the routines in random order. This was followed by a 3-minute maximal cycling test, which the researchers believed would be a good gauge of anaerobic power. On a different day, the participants then performed the other routine, followed again by a cycling test. The HIT routine was a single set of two leg exercises of 8–12 reps. The reps were slow, each of them 6 seconds long. Once the participants couldn’t do any more, they would do a few assisted reps to finish the set. The other routine was the same exercises at 3 sets of 10 reps each, using speeds you normally see in the gym. The latter program used about 20% heavier weights because of the faster tempos.

In the end the researchers rejected the notion that HIT had a greater metabolic cost. There was no difference between either protocol in terms of fatiguing the anaerobic system for the 3-minute test. In fact, there was no decline in the 3-minute test after either protocol at all. Critical power also remained the same after the tests. The researchers acknowledged that the small 3-minute window of rest between the resistance training and the cycling tests may have been too long for the best results.

If the 3-minute test used here is a good judge of how hard the anaerobic system has been worked, we may need longer than normal HIT reps or more sets for either protocol. For now the benefit of weight training on anaerobic power remains elusive.


1. MA Austad, et. al., “Acute Response of High-Intensity and Traditional Resistance Exercise on Anaerobic Power,” Journal of Strength and Cond Research 27(9), 2013

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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