Aerobic Training & Conditioning – Benefits

Aerobic Training & Conditioning – Benefits

Often people take up exercise to lose weight and regain health, with many never achieving this. Conventional wisdom and training philosophies have led us to believe that exercise, especially the ‘no pain, no gain’ philosophy, will not only make us thinner but also stronger and healthier. Watch any marathon, Ironman or other ultra-endurance event and a noticeable number of participants are overweight and/or carrying an injury. Surely, if these athletes are spending hours upon hours training, getting stronger and burning extensive calories then why aren’t they at ideal body composition and/or injury free? This is because the exercise component of weight loss/weight management is overemphasised and misunderstood by conventional wisdom and training regimes at times don’t balance fitness with health.
When one subscribes to a pattern of chronic exercise in pursuit of extreme or narrowly-focussed fitness goals, it can promote fat storage, illness, injury, accelerated ageing, reduction in cognitive function and ultimately burnout. The complete opposite of why one started in the first place.
The good news is there is a very simple way to achieve this idyllic state of optimal health, improved fitness and performance whilst drastically reducing risk of injury, illness and burnout and that is to develop your aerobic system.
Our genes thrive on frequent everyday low-level movement and aerobic conditioning. This basic requirement can be met through a combination of structured aerobic workouts, efforts to increase everyday movement and mobility exercises. The greatest benefits of exercise relate, not to the oftentimes goal of burning calories, but rather to the movement of muscles and joints and to the optimisation of adaptive hormones.

What is Aerobic Training and how to calculate it?

Aerobic means “with oxygen” and hence indicates a level of effort whereby there is sufficient oxygen to burn predominantly fat (fat requires oxygen to burn during exercise). An aerobic workout is conducted at a comfortable pace, is minimally stressful to the body and burns primarily fat. In the absence of laboratory testing (whereby calculating ventalitory threshold VT is possible) one cannot discern the point where one shifts from burning mostly fat to an increasing percentage of glucose, and thereby entering the realm if anaerobic training. Utilising a heart rate monitor (ideally a chest strap which is more accurate than a wrist based monitor) when exercising provides a very useful biometric feedback device to monitor this threshold point for us.
Although there is a range of opinion on the matter of quantifying maximum aerobic heart rate, the simplest method is Dr Phil Maffetone’s “180-age = maximum aerobic heart rate” formula. For example: if you are 40 years old then your training needs to be conducted at or below a heart rate of 140 (180-40) in order to stay aerobic.
The tried and trusted Maffetone formula offers some adjustments factors based on your current state of health and fitness. Take 180 minus your age as your baseline number, then adjust it if:
• Subtract 10: Recovering from illness, surgery, disease or taking regular medication.
• Subtract 5: Recent injury or regression in training, get more than two colds/flu annually, have allergies, asthma, inconsistent training, or recently returning to training.
• No Adjustment: Training consistently (4x/week) for two years, free from aforementioned problems.
• Add 5: Successful training for two year or more with improvement and free from aforementioned problems.
Keep in mind that this is a sub-max heart rate, this is not your maximum heart rate. As you improve your fitness and aerobic efficiency, your speed at your maximum aerobic heart rate will also improve. This will make you a faster endurance athlete, the ability to move at a faster speed whilst expending the same physiological effort.

What are the Benefits of Aerobic Exercise?

1. Fat metabolism: Aerobic exercise trains your body to efficiently utilise free fatty acids (ie: fat) for fuel. This benefit is further maximised when adhering to a low-insulin producing eating pattern.
2. Cardiovascular function: Aerobic exercise increases the ability of blood vessels to supply muscle cells with needed fuel and oxygen. Further it raises the stroke volume of your heart (more blood pumped with each beat) and improves the oxygen utilisation by your lungs.
3. Mitochondria building: Aerobic exercise builds more mitochondria in your muscles. One prominent role that mitochondria provides is to produce the energy currency (ATP) in your cells. When you exercise aerobically, with plenty oxygen available to make fat the preferred fuel source, mitochondria produces energy more efficiently than when glucose is the primary fuel source. Further, building more mitochondria through aerobic exercise, allows your body to handle a greater workload without getting overwhelmed.
4. Musculoskeletal strength and resilience: Aerobic exercise strengthens your bones, joints and connective tissue so you can absorb increasing stress loads without breaking down (ie: injury). This is critical to your ability to not only perform and handle the high intensity strength and speed workouts (anaerobic training, HIIT, etc) but as importantly your ability to recover from these sessions.
5. Immune function: Chronic exercise (a pattern of frequent medium-to-difficult sustained workouts with insufficient rest/recovery) leads to an excess production of the stress hormone cortisol. Excess cortisol production promotes systemic inflammation, oxidative damage, accelerates ageing, compromises bone density and supresses the immune function. As aerobic exercise is minimally stressful to the body, the production of cortisol is not abused and hence the body does not become systemically inflamed. This not only aids a reduction in injuries, but also protects the immune system.

It’s time to “go slow to go fast”
Sources: The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Dr Phil Maffetone; Primal Endurance by Mark Sisson and Brad Kearns; Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson

Aerobic Intervals

Aerobic Intervals

WOW! What a fantastic workout. This really takes training at maximum aerobic heart rate (MAHR) as calculated by Maffeton’s 180-age formula to a new level. If you are unfamiliar with what aerobic training and development is, then refer to previous article in link
When an athlete first starts out with aerobic training and conducting workouts below MAHR it usually is a very frustrating period for the athlete. This is due to having to slow down substantially, oftentimes walking as the athlete’s aerobic system is under-developed. Overtime the athlete starts to run further and faster at the same heart rate before having to walk. When the aerobic system is developed the athlete will often run a number of heart rate beats per minute (HRbpm) lower than their MAHR as their pace becomes ‘too difficult’ to sustain or enjoy for the duration of the workout or everyday.
What are aerobic intervals and what is the purpose of this training? This is mentioned in Dr Phil Maffetone’s Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing and consists of breaking a normal MAHR session into smaller sub-sections of training at your MAHR limit and the other sub-sections at a much lower HR. I decided to alternate 1min fast (at MAHR limit) and 1 min slow (15-20 HRbpm lower), all conducted below MAHR. In other words one runs for one minute as fast as you can whilst maintaining HR below MAHR and then the next minute is used as ‘recovery’ and to bring your HR well below MAHR. The purpose of this training session is to improve your aerobic speed.
How did I feel and what did I learn from doing this workout. Firstly, it was harder than I initially perceived it would be. When I train aerobically, I set my watch to only show HR and lap time as pace is not the focus of the session, heart rate is. This means that whilst on the training session I do not know what pace I am training at, nor do I care. Post my training session I then analyse this. This ended up being harder than previously expected simply because my 1min fast intervals were a lot faster than I imagined. I am very familiar what my MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function…see link for a detailed explanation of MAF) speed is and I expected to go a little faster than this but ended up going a lot faster…a good 30-40s/km faster.
This ability to run faster during this shorter one minute fast interval is due to what is termed heart rate inertia or the lag affect of your heart rate (graphically shown below). Essentially your heart rate needs to ‘catch-up’ with your pace so to speak. Hence this becomes a threshold type training session but without the added stress.

Other really useful observations to take note of, relates to how quickly your heart rate drops during the recovery section. If it begins to drop back quicker from one week to the next, then it is one indication of improved fitness. Another post training assessment that can be observed is your pace during both the fast and the recovery sections. If you pace during both the faster and recovery intervals improves, then this not only indicates improvements in your aerobic speed (best measured through regular MAF testing) but also improved fitness.
An observation that I made whilst on the run was as the session got longer it would take less than a minute, during the fast interval before I reached my MAHR and correspondingly would take longer to drop during the recovery interval. This is related to what is termed cardiac drift (ie: heart rate increases as exercise time increases at a steady intensity) and submax fatigue (refer to article link  by Dr Phil Maffetone for more detail on this). Hence this is something I will keep my eye on when conducting these sessions in future. If the onset of cardiac drift prolongs then it will indicate improved submax fatigue which is important for most endurance events.
I elected to do one minute intervals, however this can be adjusted as your training / desire requires. For example, you might consider 4mins fast and 2mins easy. Alternatively, simply employ a fartlek type session where you mix up the fast and easy sections on the fly with no prior prescription to time or distance.
If you are looking for some variety whilst training aerobically, then certainly incorporate the aerobic intervals &/or aerobic fartlek into your training program. Mix them up and have some fun with them.

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Movement and Stretching


“Foam Angel”

Great movement exercise to incorporate at any time during your day or as part of your daily routine. Not only is this relaxing but it helps open/release your back and shoulders that can get closed or stiff from modern day living (ie: sitting hunched at desks, laptops, driving, etc).
Start by lying down on a long foam roller and bend your knees so they are approx. 90 degrees. If battling with balance then widen your feet apart.
Next try to lengthen your spine by imagining someone pulling your head away from your hips.
Place your arms out to the side with palms facing the sky.
Whilst inhaling and exhaling in a deep controlled way, move your shoulders and arms towards each other over your head (as if doing snow angels) and back again, keeping your knuckles as close to the ground as possible.
Move your arms and shoulders in slow controlled manner aligned with your breathing.
Do for this for about 1min in the morning (after waking up) and/or in evening (before bed), during the day as a quick movement snack whilst at work, before exercising – at gym, run, cycle, etc.


Running – it’s not all about time

Running – it’s not all about time

BY: David Yuill

We spend our lives obsessed with and controlled by time. We wake up at a certain time, get the kids to school at a certain time, go to work at a certain time, attend meetings at a certain time, leave work at a certain time, fetch the kids at a certain time, and go to bed (mostly) a certain time … only for the cycle to repeat itself the next day, and the day after that.

For some this brings structure and we call it routine. For others, it brings monotony and inflexibility and we call it boredom. Some love the structure of time and are hardly ever late, while others operate as if time does not exist. It can be argued that where we fall along this continuum informs how we define time ¬– as an immovable finite point or as an elastic band that can be stretched in perpetuity.

When it comes to running, our obsession with time escalates to the point of being unhealthy. Hang around any group of runners and the conversation invariably leads to, “What is your best time for …?”, “How fast can you run this distance?”, “What speed are you training at?” and so on.

When we run, we are constantly monitoring our time, speed and distance. If we can do a 5km in X time, then we should be able to run a half marathon in Y time. Or alternatively, if we want to achieve a target time in a race, then we need to train intervals or thresholds at a certain pace. Hence, time becomes ingrained into our running psyche, becoming the sole criteria that determines our ability.

But running is not all about time; it’s about far more than that. Running is about enjoyment, regardless of the time it takes to complete a race. It’s about the friendships we make, laughter, stories shared, journeys travelled together and supporting one another. Yet we often lose sight of this.
For example, when we get injured, we immediately want to know how long it’ll be until we can run again, rather than what we should be doing to avoid injury in the future. Time becomes the focal point, the end goal, and we lose sight of what actually is important.

In running, as in life, time will always be there – from the start of the gun to the finish line. What really matters is how we spend that time, how we enjoy ourselves, how we support one another and how we thank others for giving up their time .

So, at your next race, don’t focus on your finishing time. Rather focus on enjoying the camaraderie, helping or encouraging others, and thanking those who give up their time (like the marshals and supporters). Time flies when you’re having fun, so focus on the important things and you might fly as well.


Walking – the taboo word amongst runners

By David Yuill

Mention of the word ‘walking’ amongst most runners is equivalent of many other taboo utterances that in different contexts elicit the same sensations of disgust, weakness and inferiority. Such is the mind-trap that social pressures and at times conventional wisdom incorrectly leads us to believe.

Is there a place for walking in running? A fair number agree there is, but only within the narrow realms of easy runs, training runs or when tackling difficult inclines. Mention the word ‘walk breaks’ in the context of a race and the default vindication again falls back on tackling those difficult inclines and/or associated with a strategy usually applicable to ultra-endurance events. Mention ‘walking’ within the context of a 10km road race and people will think you are stark raving mad, unless of course you have hit the proverbial wall.

Conventional wisdom, social pressures and ego often dictate what we should and should not be doing or saying. And the same is often true when we run races. If one is dictated by one’s ego and the accompanying social pressures on how (or who) to race, then one is at the mercy of these external influences and has equivalently lost focus of what really matters – YOU. Unfortunately, we too often than not, get caught up in this idiocy on race day and hence risk jeopardising the many weeks of training and sacrifice that went before.

In everyday life, we go on a walk to clear the head, to take time-out, to relax or break the manic stressors and pace of life, often returning with renewed energy, vigour and clarity of thought. The same holds true in races. By applying a planned walk strategy we are effectively doing the same. These walk-breaks lower our heart rate, aids our recovery, clears our thoughts, breaks the accumulated stressors of our respective racing pace and just as importantly allows one to calm the ego and return one’s focus to YOU.

With your next race, I encourage those bold and wise enough to incorporate a walk strategy into their race plan. Should social pressures and ego start to dictate and play havoc with your well intentioned plans, then provide your walk strategy with an appropriate euphemism such as “refuelling my shoes” to sustain your disposition.

Walking should not be taboo within running, but rather embraced as it is in everyday life.