Hajime no Ippo- Aerobic vs Anaerobic Exercise

Hajime no Ippo

            Hajime no Ippo continues to deliver an enjoyable plot and science to explore.  While we patiently wait for Ippo to return to the ring, he has taken to coaching a new crop of boxers.  Most of the training is boxing specific, so I can’t really comment as the only sport I really coached was rowing.  Either way the exercise Ippo puts them through in chapter 1270 is running and that is something I can discuss.  It is a fairly straightforward exercise, run 800 meters in under 3 minutes 6 times with a 1-minute rest between them.

aerobic vs anaerobic

            The reason for doing the running is actually pretty straightforward and makes perfect sense.  A round of boxing is 3 minutes long, and I imagine is very intense, and just in case you’re wondering, so is an 800m sprint.  So, having them run 800m in 3 minutes is trying to approximate a round of boxing.

Boxing training

            Ippo’s students wonder why they have to run 6 sets when at their current level their matches will only go 4 rounds.  Ippo waves this off, saying that a little extra is ok as long as you don’t go overboard.  A better response would have been to talk about endurance and that if you train for 6 rounds, completing 4 rounds becomes much easier.  This is the same reasoning I would use when explaining to my rowing teams why I have them do 2000-2500 meter sprints when their races are usually 1500m and sometimes 2000m.

            So far this has been pretty straightforward and nothing too special or exciting, but this is before Ippo mentions that this type of training is anaerobic exercise.  At this point many of you are probably crying foul, and you would be right.  Running an 800m sprint is not an anaerobic exercise.  However, Ippo is not entirely incorrect either.

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise

            Aerobic means requiring oxygen, so aerobic exercise is exercise that requires oxygen while anaerobic means without oxygen, so anaerobic exercise is exercise that does not require oxygen.  In simple terms aerobic exercise is exercise that lasts a long period of time and builds endurance, while anaerobic exercise is short duration, high intensity and builds strength and speed.  This means 800m sprints are pretty long so they must be aerobic exercise.

It’s not that simple

            It might seem that simple, but it’s really not, especially when you start looking at how and what the human body uses for energy.

            1- ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, is the molecule our cells use to power all of the reactions we need to perform to survive, so it is what provides the energy that our muscles use to move.  (FYI- yes, GTP or guanine triphosphate is used for certain reactions and can be considered the same as ATP).  Our cells only have about 0-3 seconds worth of ATP on hand at any given time, and it is not something that can be stored.

adenosine triphosphate

            2- Creatine Phosphate is the second source of energy for our muscles after they run out of ATP.  It can be rapidly converted into ATP and we contain 3-20 seconds worth.

anaerobic

            3- Glycolysis- At this point the cell is out of ATP and anything that can be rapidly turned into ATP.  At this point our muscles begin to perform glycolysis which rapidly breaks down sugar into pyruvic acid (pyruvate), ATP, and NADH.  Glycolysis is very fast, but it is not very efficient so it can only provide energy for around 20 seconds to a minute.

anaerobic

            This means that anaerobic exercise, even for Olympic level athletes, will only last for about 1 to 2 minutes in duration.  Ippo’s students are not at that level yet so a three-minute sprint would not be anaerobic exercise.  Even for Ippo himself, a world class boxer, three-minute sprints would not be anaerobic.

            4- At this point the Krebs cycle and electron transport chain begin to turn on.  The Krebs cycle does not use oxygen and creates GTP (easily converted to ATP), FADH2 and NADH.  However, the electron transport chain does and it uses NADH+ to make ATP.  It is a very efficient process and makes a large amount of ATP, but it is slow, taking up to 10 minutes to fully activate.

            5- Anything beyond 10 minutes is fueled entirely by the Krebs cycle and electron transport chain.  This lasts until the muscles begin to run out of oxygen, at which point glycolysis does its best to pick up the slack.

What does all of this mean?

            What it means is that there is a bit of a grey zone when it comes to aerobic and anaerobic exercise.  Exercises and sporting events that last less than 10minutes are a combination of anaerobic and aerobic exercise.  In the case of Ippo and his students I would say that the 800-meter sprints in less than 3 minutes (6min mile pace) are more anaerobic than aerobic.  Now the real purpose of the exercise is less about the speed given the distance, and more about the recovery.  A boxing match for Ippo’s students is four 3-minute rounds with a 1-minute rest in between each one.  Thus, the real reason for the training is to improve their ability to recover between rounds.  Each round or sprint would drain the muscle reserves of ATP and creatine phosphate, which would be replenished by the Krebs cycle and electron transport chain.  This takes time, but training can improve the body’s ability to recover between rounds or in this case sprints.  While I am not a boxer, this is something I can attest to as I played football in high school and each play might be short, with a break in between, but they add up and you will be tired by the end of the game, doubly so if you are on more than just offense or defense.

Conclusion

            Ippo might be wrong in a technical sense, but he is using an excellent training method for his students.  Also, if there are any boxers out there, I would love to hear your thoughts on this.