Aerobic training is misunderstood and so I want to talk about it
People have been asking me lately why I’ve started running again because it’s not really the type of thing I generally enjoy doing and so I want to use this email today to discuss something called aerobic training, something that many people think they are doing, but in fact are not.
For me, running on the beach is all about training my aerobic system, (that and I’m still strengthening the ankle I broke at the end of last year. The soft sand with its uneven surface is great for it). So why do I think most people are doing it wrong and what’s it good for?
I used to think aerobic training was a waste of time and to be honest I think it was one of my early teachers, Paul Chek, who actually scared me away from the idea of aerobic training or running long miles. His reasoning was that in an already overstressed population, chronic cardio is just adding more stress on the system creating more problems for people’s health. But I don’t think he ever really meant that too much aerobic work was the issue, more so this fascination of doing too much cardio. I’m not even going to go into what cardio means, I’m just going steer right away from that and talk about aerobic work instead.
Aerobic work is long duration, low intensity movement. Call it exercise even, of any kind. Could be walking, could be running, could be crawling, could be surfing! Regardless of what it is, the important thing to remember is that it’s long and it should be relatively easy. Now for all the psycho’s out there, and a lot of you are my good friends, this sounds like torture. My friends wanna sweat! And they wanna work hard! They want to get sore muscles and they want to run fast! But for an activity to be truly aerobic, we need to target our aerobic energy system.
Real quickly, we have three main systems that provide our body with energy, ATP system which runs out in about 4-6 seconds, we have our glycolytic system, which uses all of the sugar that is stored in our muscles and runs out in a couple of minutes and then you have your aerobic system WHICH IS RUNNING ALL THE TIME. Our aerobic system is always active and it’s what keeps us going all throughout the day. It’s what helps us recover from harder bouts of activity, it improves the health of our lungs and hearts and it uses oxygen and sometimes fat for fuel.
In order for us to truly use our aerobic system and not jump into these other systems of energy production, it’s all about your heart rate (HR). There is a concept called training zones and you want your aerobic training sessions to sit in zone 1 or 2 which is 50-59% of your max HR for zone one and 60-69% of your max HR for zone two. If you are on a run, you will probably want to stay in zone 2 most of the time.
Now this is all new for me. I only just got a heart rate monitor and so up until now I’ve been guessing that I’ve been staying in the aerobic zone, based off of being able to breathe in and out through my nose only. This method is close, but I have come to realize that even with my mouth closed I am I still able to operate at a level that kicks me out of my aerobic zone and into sugar burning zone instead. Nose breathing is good. Nose breathing is better for you than mouth breathing. More on this another time.
So why would anyone want to put in the time to do this boring monotonous work anyway? For one since ramping up this type of work, I have more energy all through the day and that’s doing about 3-4 days of this type of work per week and that includes things like riding my bike half an hour to the shops. But more than anything, the ability for your body to take in oxygen and become more effective at using it will improve the function of every cell in your body. After all, that is why we have lungs. To pull in oxygen from the air and deliver it to our cells, where respiration also occurs. The more aerobically adapted we become the better our cells will function and that right there is a big marker of your health as you continue to age.
So I’m going to end this here and leave you with the equations needed to figure out your zones. None of this is an exact science and so your estimates are just that… estimates. Max HR can be estimated by 220- your age, eg I’m 30 so 190 is my estimated max. If I want to stay in zone 2, that means that I cannot go above 69% of 190, which means I need to keep my heart rate at or below 131. How long is enough? Generally you want to aim for about 45 minutes or more.