AEROBIC EXERCISE: The Low Road To Fitness

Cadets out for an aerobic training run at Suomenlinna Sea Fortress in Helsinki, Finland. They were speaking to one another while running - the right intensity for aerobic exercise.

There are a variety of ways to do aerobic exercise - running, cycling, walking, swimming - to name a few. When starting and/or maintaining an aerobic exercise routine, the term, “still waters run deep”, seems to accurately describe changes taking place within the body. Among these changes: 1) heart muscle (e.g., morning heart rate usually decreases); 2) more mitochondria produced (energy powerhouse of cell); 3) more capillaries produced (carry more oxygenated blood to working muscles); 4) blood alkalinity maintained (in comparison blood becomes more acidic during workouts in middle and high roads to fitness); and 5) improved ability to use fat as a fuel source for aerobic exercise.

Frequency and Length of Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise can take place OFTEN during each week. As an example, many professional runners run twice per day when training to further develop aerobic fitness and aid in recovery. Likewise, recreational runners can take a brisk walk in the afternoon or evening of a run day to further develop aerobic fitness and aid recovery. (For more and workouts, check out TWO-A-DAY RUNS). For the length of aerobic exercise sessions, some running coaches report that even 15 minutes of steady, aerobic exercise leads to fitness. And as the ability to use fat as a fuel source improves, runners can build up to marathon and ultramarathon efforts lasting hours.

Speed and Intensity of Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise is about processing oxygen while exercising as efficiently as possible. The best way to accomplish this is monitoring one’s breathing during an exercise session. Like the cadets pictured above, if one can speak in full sentences to a partner before needing to take the next breath, then this intensity is likely right for aerobic exercise. So a social factor can come into play with aerobic exercise. Or, if going solo, see if you can say this 10-syllable sentence out loud to yourself before taking your next breath, “Can I speak in full sentences right now?” For someone looking to build and maintain a healthy active lifestyle, exercising at this conversational pace and sprinkling in some strength training is ALL that’s needed.

Nevertheless, for the runner competing in races (or the runner looking to explore other dimensions of fitness and “zone 2 cardio”), using recent race results to identify the pace for aerobic running is also an option (especially the 5K distance which is usually raced or time-trialled at 96% of VO2 max). According to exercise physiologist and running coach, Jack Daniels, aerobic running should take place at 59-74% of VO2 max. For instance, using this DANIELS RUNNING CALCULATOR, being able to race a 5K at a pace of 5:00/km (8:02/mi) works out to an aerobic running pace on the calculator of 6:17-6:55/km (10:07-11:07/mi) for training.

And what’s more, exercise physiologists and running coaches consider that competitive runners should be doing 80% of their training runs at their aerobic pace.

Due to the steady, grind-it-out nature of aerobic exercise, monitoring heart rate is a good option. Daniels states that aerobic exercise typically takes place at 65-79% of maximum heart rate. (I’ve written about finding one’s maximum heart rate before, check out MONITORING RUNNING WITH HEART RATE.) For instance, if one’s maximum heart rate is 160, their 65-79% range for aerobic exercise is 104-126 beats per minute.

Also, using heart rate while cross-training can be helpful. (For more on cross-training check out, THE MANY USES OF CROSS-TRAINING FOR RUNNERS.) Using the example above, a 60-minute indoor bike ride in the aerobic range of 104-126 beats per minute can be part of a runner’s training schedule.

Aerobic Exercise Benefits
Many benefits result from aerobic exercise with relatively few risks. When it comes to achieving a healthy lifestyle, aerobic exercise helps to meet the national physical fitness guideline of 150 MINUTES OF MODERATE - VIGOROUS EXERCISE. And if climbing the odd hill, more minutes of vigorous exercise is added to the healthy lifestyle equation. As one becomes fitter, physical changes may become noticeable: a lower morning pulse rate, more energy, more oxygenated blood to muscles, an outlet for stress - to name a few.

For the competitive athlete, coaches often use the saying, “The bigger the base, the higher the peak” meaning that base-building aerobic exercise helps set the table for additional gains in sport performance when middle and high road exercise is introduced. Stay tuned for future posts on these exercise roads.
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And if you are looking for more articles on fitness, check out the EOOC TABLE OF CONTENTS. In particular, for some unique aerobic workouts check out, RUNNING TO A LYDIARD GROOVE.

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Experiment of One Coaching covers topics ranging from running, strength training, health & wellness, sports nutrition to travel. I usually post once or twice a month.