How to Train the Aerobic Energy System

By Dave Howington, CSCS

Performance Trainer

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The day is finally here. After talking a lot about the importance of the aerobic energy system, we now approach the question of how you train this unicorn if you will. The answer is quite simple, but I would like to provide not just how, but two different workouts you can do to build it.

The first and most significant concept is the idea of cardiac capacity.

This is a fancy way of saying that the goal is to make your heart more efficient at getting oxygenated blood to your body. When the heart is at a more efficient level, a person will recover better while working out, as well as in between workouts.

The good news is this is not a very physically difficult way to train the aerobic energy system, and it is a very effective way to train this system; however, it can be somewhat monotonous.

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The below two workouts center around this method, and unless you know your exact numbers, I usually recommend maintaining a heart rate between 120 to 150 beats per minute.

The 4x20:

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I like this method because of the use of weights and aerobic equipment. The weights help to break up the monotony and can even help improve strength. I also like this because you can repeat this several times and have a target time to beat every time you repeat the workout. You know you’ve become an aerobic monster when you can do this in under 30 minutes without going above 150 beats per minute.

o Bike 1 mile (I prefer the AirDyne Bikes)

o Squat (you can use or not use weight) x20

o Push-ups x20

o Hip Bridge or RDL x20

o Row 400 meters

Repeat for four rounds

Of course, if you do not have all the equipment adjustments can be made. Perhaps you run on the treadmill for .2 miles instead of row 400 meters, etc. As you can see, this does not need a lot of equipment, simple to execute and it can also build up your movement patterns along with aerobic capacity. These are two low hanging fruits which can make a world of difference in your performance.

The LISS

This one is a little bit more boring, but sometimes it’s nice to relax and not think too hard. LISS stands for low-intensity steady state cardio. All you will do is get on a bike or go for a run, whatever your favorite piece of cardio equipment may be and for 30 minutes to an hour maintain a heart rate of 120 to 150 beats per minute. That’s it.

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The efficiency of the heart to get oxygenated blood to the body is essential and should be the primary focus. However, as we get more efficient at this and our resting heart rate drops, it becomes time to shift focus towards our body’s ability to function during taxing situations. This is where we turn the attention of the aerobic energy system to operate at a high level when stress is high. This is called the aerobic threshold. The goal is to get to the point where you can repeat these sets three times in a workout. For the most part, I start athletes on one complete set near or around their max heart rate for 5 to 10 minutes.

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I have found the cardiac capacity works best when using equipment designed for steady state cardio. Something that does not require someone to move from a piece of equipment to another.

Probably my favorite is the 10-minute AirDyne Challenge or the 10-minute Rower Challenge. Essentially either of these the objective is to get as far as you can in 10-minutes. Aerobic threshold makes for a little bit more fun competition between athletes.

Remember! When it comes to the aerobic energy system, these two methods of cardiac capacity and aerobic threshold only scratch the surface. However, I focus on both because they are also the most effective for targeting the aerobic energy system. Also, remember to start with and build up cardiac capacity before worrying about the aerobic threshold.

There you have it! The past three posts hopefully have shown you the importance of this system, and now I hope you can use these workouts to give yourself actionable steps towards improving. Good luck!

Aerobic Energy System 101, and Mistakes to Avoid

By Dave Howington, CSCS

In last week’s blog post, I began to make a case for the aerobic energy system and left off with the analogy of this system being the base of a pyramid. In this post, I want to go more in-depth regarding what the aerobic energy system does, and even mistakes to avoid when training it.

I think the first big clue we get regarding the aerobic energy system is the last two words, it is an energy system, meaning through various ways it provides energy to our body to function. In our body, we have three primary energy systems. The other two manifest themselves most during endeavors, such as competition. However, the aerobic energy system manifests itself even as I am sitting here typing up this post.

To some extent all three energy systems are always functioning, however, at rest is when the aerobic energy system is operating the most out of the three systems. Why is this important? Well, let’s consider a competition where an athlete gets subbed out in the middle of the game to rest. The better their aerobic energy system, the quicker their body will be able to re-establish itself and recover during the game. Such athletes tend to be the ones we admire at the end of the game. On a grander level, let’s say you had a hard day of training at the gym, the better the aerobic energy system, the faster you will be able to recover after the workout and the more consistently you will be ready to go hard in the gym without hindering your recovery.

I hope you are starting to see, the better the aerobic energy system functions, the more capable we will be even in life, and especially as it pertains to performance. However, there are errors we can make when training this energy system.

For athletes, the better the aerobic energy system, the quicker the body will be able to re-establish itself and recover during the game.

For athletes, the better the aerobic energy system, the quicker the body will be able to re-establish itself and recover during the game.

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There is an old school mentality a lot of athletes and coach’s have where they think the only kind of cardio they should do is the kind which pushes your body to the limit, anything less is counterproductive. While there is a time and place to do this, using this as the only means for cardio will not actually fully enhance your aerobic energy system. Instead, by just training in this manner we may sabotage the aerobic energy system’s ability to help us recover when we are at rest.

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Many times we err in thinking if a little bit is a good thing then a lot is a great thing. However, if you are not an endurance athlete, then training your aerobic energy system too often can actually be counterproductive as well, and this is when your training may sabotage your “gains.”

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I used to scoff at cardio machines and even training such as just going for a run. While there are pros and cons to everything, neglecting methods of cardio such as biking, swimming, and running will hinder your ability to build a complete and robust aerobic energy system profile.

These tend to be three of the biggest mistakes I see when it comes to training the aerobic energy system. However, do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. As I mentioned, there is a time and place to go hard, there is a time and place to use free weights or strongman implements for cardio, and for some athletes, they need a lot of cardio early on in their off-season.

In fact next week, I will discuss how to assess your aerobic energy system and how to train it depending on your goals.

Three Crucial Habits of Highly Successful Athletes

Okay, the title is a bit misleading. I’m sure if we polled a group of successful athletes they are probably doing one maybe two of these three things. However, for athletes who want maximum performance, and become highly successful they really should aim to do all three of these habits every day.

The fascinating thing is these three aspects are not so much related to what an athlete does in the gym, but outside the gym. These three habits are geared toward helping young athletes recover because athletes who do not manage recovery will never perform their ultimate best.

Suffice to say; these three routines are activities, where at HPI Training, we harp on our athletes about to the point of being annoying. This is how important they all are.

1. Sleep 8 to 9 hours/night

I hear a lot of young athletes tell me they are just fine with seven or fewer hours of sleep per night. The funny thing is, they think they are just fine, the truth is they have become numb to sleep deprivation. For adults the CDC says anytime an adult goes two nights straight of less than seven hours of sleep, they are sleep deprived.

From a mental health standpoint, adequate sleep is vast. But from a performance standpoint, there are a plethora of studies showing youth athletes who are sleep deprived are twice as likely to get hurt, and this number goes up as sleep goes down.

However, this also does not mean sleeping twelve hours one-night will make-up for sleeping six hours the previous two nights.

From a performance standpoint, there are a plethora of studies showing youth athletes who are sleep deprived are twice as likely to get hurt, and this number goes up as sleep goes down.

From a performance standpoint, there are a plethora of studies showing youth athletes who are sleep deprived are twice as likely to get hurt, and this number goes up as sleep goes down.

2. Drink at least 64 ounces of water/day

Similar to sleep deprivation many young athletes are dehydrated without realizing it. To emphasize how important hydration is, it’s probably worth reminding everyone how our body is 70% water. Hydration is vital for proper bodily function from joint health to even vitamin absorption.

To gauge your hydration status, a simple, low-tech method is merely observing your urine. If it is a pale straw yellow color, you are alright. If it is clear you can probably slow down. If it is dark, then you need to be drinking a lot more water.

Hydration is vital for proper bodily function from joint health to even vitamin absorption.

Hydration is vital for proper bodily function from joint health to even vitamin absorption.

3. Eat at least five servings of vegetables/day

Honestly, this might be the hardest of the three. Nobody, whether they admit it or not likes their vegetables, and while supplements do help, they should not replace actual vegetable consumption. Regardless, there are so many benefits behind vegetable consumption we would need a whole separate blog. This being said, the easiest way to determine whether or not you’re eating a serving is to use your fist for measurement. A serving of vegetables should be roughly the same size as your fist.

A serving of vegetables should be roughly the same size as your fist.

A serving of vegetables should be roughly the same size as your fist.

If you are doing all three of these habits, I applaud you and keep up the excellent work. Are you doing one or two of these every day? Then you are on the right path, and we can help you get all three! And those of you doing none of the items. Come in, and we would be more than happy to get you started.

Truth is, the harder we work in the gym, and at practice, the more important what we do outside the gym becomes, and when we check of all three of these boxes we are setting ourselves up for a greater chance of success.