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!