Jessie Newell by Jessie Newell

As study coaches, we know how intimidating ACE’s Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals can be. While it is so important that fitness professionals understand the basics of the science behind exercise, this book is NOT meant to be a secondary textbook. Rather, it is more of a guide to develop a base knowledge of exercise science and elaborate on the topics that are only briefly mentioned in your ACE Personal Training Manual or ACE Group Fitness Instructor Manual. (NOTE: This information still applies to those studying for Health Coach and Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist, but as these are advanced certifications it’s expected that you already have an established base of knowledge.) What do I really need to know from ACE’s Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals was written to help you understand which topics are essential and which ones require only a general understanding. This current five-part blog series will take you through all of the chapters of the manual and highlight the key topics that are important for you as a fitness professional.

This second installment in the series reviews the important information from Chapter 2: Physiology from ACE’s Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals, which covers the basic function of the different systems of the body. To be able discern whether or not this information is going to be important, you need to ask, “How does this apply to training a client or teaching a client?” If there is no practical application, it’s probably a topic where a general understanding is sufficient. If there is a direct application to an aspect of training, it’s probably going to be a topic you want to dive into a little deeper.

Concepts of Fitness

These are the components that are directly related to health and well-being, as opposed to the things that would improve performance (e.g., agility, speed, reactivity, coordination). While the components of physical fitness are things we NEED to maintain to be healthy, skill-related components are things we may WANT to work on for optimal performance.

  • Muscular strength is defined as how much force one could potentially create during a single given effort. This is important for activities of daily living (ADLs) such as lifting boxes into a car or carrying a child or grandchild. It is important that we perform regular resistance exercises because we lose muscle mass as we age.
  • Muscular endurance is defined as the ability to resist fatigue over a period of time and is important for ADLs such as walking across town, mowing the lawn, etc.
  • Cardiovascular endurance is defined as the maximal capacity of the heart, blood vessels and lungs to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles so that energy (ATP) can be produced. This is important for ADLs, such as walking, swimming, biking and hiking, and also plays a significant role in reducing the risk of many diseases.
  • Flexibility is the ability to move a joint through a normal range of motion (ROM). We lose mobility for a number of reasons as we age, so it is important that our joints retain ROM.
  • Body composition refers to the distribution of fat mass vs. lean body mass (LBM) that comprises one’s mass (weight). LBM plays a significant role in weight management. By keeping percent body fat in a healthy range, individuals can reduce the risk for health issues such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease.


Energy Systems

The body needs energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and has three ways of making it during exercise: the phosphagen system, anaerobic glycolysis of carbohydrates, or aerobic or oxidative glycolysis of carbohydrates or fats. Which system the body uses depends on the duration and intensity of the activity performed (this is discussed further in Chapter 5). It is important for us to understand these systems because we will need to manipulate the duration and intensity of our clients’ workouts to make sure that their programs are serving the needs of their goals. This knowledge can also help us with concerns such as how much rest is appropriate in between resistance exercise sets. For a more detailed explanation on the three energy pathways, click here.

  • Phosphagen System: This system is available immediately, but can only last a maximum of five to 10 seconds. It is primarily responsible for quick, powerful movements, and the initiation of high-intensity activities such as sprinting or power lifting.
  • Anaerobic Glycolysis: This system is available very quickly and can last up to a maximum of approximately three minutes (variable with training—see “Connecting the Dots,” below, for more information), but lactic acid is a byproduct, so it cannot be maintained for long periods of time. It is primarily responsible for all activities requiring large bursts of energy for relatively longer periods of time.
  • Aerobic or Oxidative Glycolysis: This system takes longer to produce ATP, but is most efficient and allows one to go for the longest duration. This system is responsible for low- to moderate-intensity activities as they can be maintained for long periods of time. They are also responsible for energy production for ADLs.


Connecting the Dots:

Revisiting anatomy of the muscles, let’s relate this to the muscle fiber types. We have Type I fibers (slow-twitch) that are for slower, more sustainable activities. These fibers mostly derive energy from aerobic glycolysis, and are red in color due to a high density in blood vessels. Type II muscle fibers are for faster, shorter duration activities, and consist of two types: Type IIa and Type IIx. Type IIx are the fastest, so they will predominantly derive their energy from the phosphagen system, and will be white in color. Type IIa fibers can last for relatively longer periods of time, but will still fatigue within a few minutes. Also known as fast oxidative glycolytic (FOG) fibers, Type IIa fibers can be trained to last longer (anaerobic endurance). Think for a second of the light and dark meat of a chicken, and the activities that a chicken does. The dark meat (legs/thighs) are darker (indicating Type I fibers deriving energy aerobically) because a chicken spends most of its day walking around at a slow, maintainable pace. The breast and wings are lighter meat (indicating Type II muscle fibers and anaerobic energy production) because the only thing a chicken really uses them for is quick burst of “flying” so it doesn’t have a need to be as vascular.


Ventilatory Thresholds (VT1 and VT2) and VO2:

First and foremost, it’s important to understand the difference between VO2 and Ventilatory Thresholds. This information plays a big role when trying to decide whether to do a VO2 assessment or a ventilatory threshold assessment.

  • VO2 is looking at oxygen consumption. The more efficient a person’s cardiovascular system becomes, the more he or she is able to deliver and utilize oxygen, so we look at this when trying to understand a client’s cardiovascular health.
  • VT1 is the body’s first marked increase of respiration and heart rate, and is associated with the lactate threshold (LT), or point at which too much lactic acid accumulates within the muscle and has to be spilled out into the blood to be buffered or broken down to be re-used. Ventilatory thresholds are defined as nonlinear increases in respiration and heart rate (see page 80 of the Essentials of Exercise Science Manual). This is the point when the body has to “step it up a notch” to meet the demands of this intensity—you can see by the dotted line what the breathing rate would look like if it increased linearly. It is also the point at which the focus of the breathing changes from needing to draw in more oxygen to needing to blow off excess CO2.
  • VT2 is the second marked increase of intensity and the point at which the breathing rate increases. This point is associated with the onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA), where lactic acid is accumulating faster that the body could possibly buffer or break down. Intensity above VT2 will eventually cause the body to fatigue when the lactic acid overwhelms the bloods neutral pH level, and the higher the intensity the faster that accumulation of lactic acid occurs.


Exercising in the Heat, Exercising in the Cold and Environmental Considerations

Again, the most important thing to recall here is “What is going to change how I train or teach?”

Know the signs of heat exhaustion vs. heat stroke. If a client is exhibiting these various signs, you will know whether or not to activate the EMS (as heat stroke is a medical emergency and anyone exhibiting those symptoms should absolutely seek medical attention). When it comes to the heat index, you need to have a general idea at the approximate temperature and humidity levels at which an individual’s risk for heat exhaustion/stroke becomes an issue (the yellow zone). Keep in mind that humidity is only really an issue when the temperature is high, so look at the temperature first.

Be aware of all the precautions you can take (wearing the right materials, dressing in layers, staying hydrated, etc.) as well as have a general understanding of how to interpret the Windchill Factor Chart.


Exercising at Higher Altitudes

Until a person has become accustomed to high altitudes they should decrease their intensity. Also, be aware of the signs/symptoms of altitude sickness.


Exercising in Air Pollution

Be aware of the recommendations to reduce exposure to pollutants.