Training For the Long Haul: Developing an Aerobic System

Be honest with yourself, when is the last time you had to wait for something you wanted?

In today’s world waiting is a thing of the past and patience is foreign to most of us.

Want food? – Let’s go to the drive through.

Need to deposit a check? – Take a picture of it.

Want to talk to girls? – Just swipe right.

In a society that wants results fast, fitness has followed suit and high-intensity training has become an everyday staple in the workout routines of many adults.

You see, the human body is extremely efficient and it will do what it has to in order to adapt and survive when placed under stress.

Think of starting a high-intensity, “no pain, no gain” training program as a crash diet.  Drastically cutting calories will lead to rapid weight loss, but eventually the scale stops moving. You’ll begin to feel tired, have little energy, and let’s face it you’re not going to be strong.

Continually training with a high-intensity training program is quite similar. Results will come quick as your body adapts to high levels of stress. Next thing you know you’re telling all of your friends how (insert name of training program here) is the best thing ever and how you’re going to go even harder next week, striving for better results.

Eventually, sooner than later for most, the fun will stop. Successes will slow down or cease, you’ll become worn out, loose motivation, and/or get injured.

Developing a robust aerobic system will help to prevent the above scenario and allow you to better attack anaerobic training when it is time.

An Aerobic Base, You Must Have

This is where developing an aerobic base comes into play. Picture your conditioning as building a pyramid. It is crucial to have a big sturdy base, and that base is something that can’t be built in a matter of days. It takes weeks and months of consistent work.

The base of your pyramid grows bigger through achieving eccentric left ventricular hypertrophy, better delivery of oxygen to working muscles, an increase in the number and size of mitochondria and greater capillary density, an increase in aerobic enzymes, and a shift of the autonomic nervous system to a more parasympathetic state (rest and digest).

The development of your aerobic system is paramount towards your ability to recover from intense training sessions.

Don’t get me wrong, and think all I do is work on increasing the size of my mitochondria. If you want to be a monster you better get in there and move around some heavy weight. But, if you’re into being a monster for the long haul it is crucial you can recover better than anyone else.

Monsters can reciprocate between their sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

Monsters can deadlift 3x their bodyweight, but also have a resting heart rate under 60 beats per minute.

Monsters can turn it on and shut it down.

And without the ability to shut it down you won’t be a monster for long.

Off Switches

Now that you understand the value in your aerobic system, I want to give you tools for building the base of your pyramid. Think of these tools as off switches. If you’re in the midst of training in an aerobic block think of it as collecting off switches and making your pyramid base bigger. If you’re currently in a higher intensity training block use these off switches in a more literal sense, as a way to promote recovery between intense training sessions.

  1. Cardiac Output Training

Cardiac output development is continuous activity. This is what you think of when someone tells you that they did “cardio.” It can be done by walking biking, or on other pieces of aerobic equipment.

This can become very monotonous and quite boring. Instead consider choosing a modality, or combination of modalities, listed below.

The important part here is that you purchase a heart rate monitor and keep your heart rate between 120-150 beats per minute for anywhere between 30-75 minutes.

  • Sled Pushing or Dragging
  •  Medicine Ball Throws
  • Slideboard
  •  Bodyweight Circuits

At Capital District Sport and Fitness, we’ve had a ton of success using low threshold developmental movements that promote reciprocal movement and abdominal strength. Below is an example of a circuit used during a cardiac output training day.

A1) Bear Crawl Box x10 yards/each

A2) Sled Push x40 yards

A3) Half-Turkish Get Ups x6/side

A4) Push-Pulls x10/side

A5) Supine KB Pullover x10

2. Tempo Training

Tempo training will lead to hypertrophy of slow twitch muscle fibers. Unlike cardiac output training which focuses more on central adaptation, tempo training will lead to adaptation at specific tissues. The exercises that you can choose here are limitless. Below are a few of my favorites.

Focus on performing the exercise with a 303 tempo. Thus, 3 seconds on the way down, no pause at the bottom, and 3 seconds on the way up. It is key to keep constant tension throughout the entire set. Progress tempo training by either increasing the number of sets (ex. Moving from 3 sets on week 1 to 6 on week 4) or by increasing the time of the set (ex. 45 seconds to 60 seconds).

  • Squats
  • RDL’s
  • Split Squats
  • Push Ups
  • Landmine Presses

3. High Intensity Continuous Training (HICT)

HICT training will develop the oxidative properties of fast-twitch muscle fibers. This is all about being stronger for longer. This type of training is tedious. I highly recommend finding a friend, doing it outside on a nice day, or making a sweet playlist because you can get bored quick.

Using either a spin bike (set to a high resistance) or by performing step-ups. Explosively perform 1 rep. Rest 3-5 seconds and repeat for between 10-20 minutes. To progress HICT training increase the total time each week, by increasing the time of your set. Or breaking up shorter timed sets into series.

4. Respiration

I wanted to touch on this briefly. Just as aerobic fitness causes a shift towards the parasympathetic nervous system, exhalation does the same.  Fully exhaling will cause the parasympathetic nervous system to fire. Living in such a go-go society many of us are hyper-inflated and have no idea what it feels like to fully exhale. To compliment aerobic training clients of mine also learn how to properly respire and get air out.

Finishing the Pyramid

Once you’ve built a substantial base for your pyramid you’ll be able to construct the above layers. Because of your sizable base the subsequent layers will be much larger. You’re ability to recover from high-intensity training will be much greater. Your ability shut it down after going beast mode will be what makes you a monster for the long haul.

Want to Take Your Conditioning to the Next Level?

Check Out our Online Adult Fitness and Sports Performance Programs designed by our coaching staff using the same principles we use at our facility with our adult fitness clients and athletes.

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