Aerobic Endurance Training for Competitive Functional Fitness

Aerobic capacity benefits every aspect of life: inside and outside the gym.

Human beings are designed to be aerobic. The more aerobic we are, the more resilient we can be in life, period. The aerobic system is one of our genetic predispositions as humans and must not be forgotten. However in exercise prescription, a fear of “losing strength” has reduced aerobic endurance training. Aerobic Endurance Training is the single greatest contribution a competitive fitness athlete can add to their program.

Most people believe that aerobic training is just simply running, rowing or cycling for 30-45 minutes. There are several levels of aerobic training and each must be prescribed correctly for proper development. In the OPEX Coaching Certificate Program (CCP) many levels of aerobic training for development in performance are discussed. Most recently Maximal Aerobic Power 10  MAP 10) was added to the list defining Zone 1 training. The reason the language MAP is used over Zones is to separate the connection of heart rate (HR) training and aerobic training. Training programs for competitive functional fitness have too many variables that can skew an athlete’s HR zone from session to session such as central nervous system (CNS) demand the day before, sleep, nutrition, etc. Therefore, understanding needs to be directed towards “individual effort” and rate of perceived exertion. Heart rate isn’t always a predictor of intensity or effort. The coach is responsible for educating the athlete on the characteristics of aerobic training so the athlete themselves can identify the correct effort. If you are looking to perfect Energy System Training with your clients, download our free guide today.

Characteristics of Aerobic Endurance Training

OPEX Fitness characterizes aerobic training as sustainable, repeatable, and paced efforts. This development can only be achieved at an intensity, in which the complete oxygen-transporting system (aerobic system) is activated to the maximum, while lactate accumulation in the muscles has not yet been reached. Training the aerobic system and its many levels depends on the athlete’s current fitness level and function of the athlete. A novice lifter would not be programmed to squat #400 pounds on their first day of training, the same approach applies to Energy System Training, aerobic metabolism plays a vital role in human performance and is the foundation of energy system development.

Benefits of Aerobic Training:

  1. Enhances transportation of oxygen to working muscles.
  2. Increased enzyme availability for muscle endurance.
  3. Provides ATP required to resynthesize PCR during times of low activity between high efforts.
  4. Liberate Free Fatty Acids for fuel (regulates body fat distribution).
  5. Speeds recovery between high-intensity training sessions.
  6. Improves cardiovascular health and function.

When to Increase Intensity

Aerobic adaptations can be achieved within a 6-12 month period depending on the starting point and function of the athlete. Once adaptations have been developed aerobic performance can be further enhanced through exercise economy (technique) and higher efforts (increase lactate threshold). It’s important to understand that athletes need to earn the right to perform higher efforts by proving their efficiency in longer pieces both mixed and cyclical. In the OPEX Assessment, various endurance tests are used to identify competency in a broad stroke. For example; the 90-minute AMRAP; which is a mixed module endurance test giving insight to an athlete’s current potential. To properly determine if an athlete has sufficient aerobic development and possess the adaptations needed to move into more complex aerobic efforts it is important to compare data to “developmental groups” and “top athletes”. Progressing an athlete in energy system prescription is done once the athletes have proven they can sustain a pace and repeat efforts over and over. Starting with long slow efforts and building shorter and faster efforts is a progression that is largely individualized based on the athlete’s function and economy.

Prescribing Aerobic Training

Before prescribing any aerobic training it is important to know the athlete’s baseline aerobic capacity. Functional work capacities can be tested in simple exercises like; Running, Rowing, Swimming, AirBike, Push-ups, Sit-ups, Squats, Pulls etc. What might be “easy” work for some athletes could be threshold training or lactic work for others. These simple visual markers will allow a coach or athlete to realize aerobic training is no longer taking place.

  • Inability to pace,
  • Irregular breathing
  • Using chalk or hands on knees to “get air”—stopping.
  • Focus is narrow; you can tell in their eyes if they are really working

Below we’ve developed sample programming for a specific athlete. For more sample programming on aerobic endurance training, download the OPEX Fitness Energy System Training Guide today.

Sample Aerobic Endurance Training Program

One Week Training Prescription for a Competitive Female Athlete who Needs Aerobic Development:

Considerations for this design:

  • Athlete’s lifestyle supports 10 sessions per week (6-7 of those are aerobic)
  • Most aerobic sessions are long slow pieces and cyclical; Map 7-10
  • Each day begins with a priority of aerobic training
  • No limit to Maximal Aerobic Power (MAP 10) prescriptions, as long as the athlete’s lifestyle can support it. Give as many hours possible of low-intensity work for athletes who don’t possess developed aerobic mechanisms.

Monday

AM

30 Minutes Bike—easy effort- conversational pace MAP 10

PM

  1. Single Arm Kettlebell Overhead Squat – barefoot, turn and look at the Kettlebell like Turkish Get Up, come on toes as needed @ 32 X 1; 2-3/arm x 4 sets; rest as needed
  2. Segmented Snatch grip DL 3-3-3-3-3; rest 2 minutes–release at top
  3. Muscle Snatch 4-4-4-4; rest 2 minutes

+

EMOM 10min

Odd– Strict Handstand Push Up max in 30 seconds

Even– Double Under 30 seconds AMRAP

+

10 Minutes AirBike Zone 1

Tuesday

AM

30 Minutes Row; every 500m get off and complete 60 meters of Farmers Walk #heavy MAP 10

PM

30 Minutes walk with weight vest MAP 10

Wednesday

AM

30 Minutes @ sustainable pace MAP 8

1 Minute Row

1 Minute Skip rope

1 Minute FLR

1 Minute Run

1 Minute Airbike

PM

  1. Push Press  + Push Jerk + Split Jerk; 5 sets; rest 2 minutes
  2. Overhead Squat @30×1; 5-5-5-5; rest 2 minutes
  3. Snatch Push Press behind the neck 6-6-5-5; rest 2 minutes
  4. Single Arm Upright Dumbbell Row 8 reps x 3; rest 1 minute

+

EMOM 12 minute

Odd—wall ball shots x 10 #20-9ft

Even— Farmers Walk AMRAP distance in 30 seconds #heavy

+

10 minutes easy spin AirBike

Thursday

AM

Swim 30 minutes – 25 meters every 90 seconds @ easy effort MAP 8

PM

Off

Friday

AM

30-minute AirBike; every 2 minutes get off and complete 2 Wall walks MAP 10

PM

  1. 3 Position Hang  power Clean( knee-thigh-hip); 5 sets 65%; res 90 seconds
  2. Hang Clean Pulls 4-4-3-3; rest 2 minutes
  3. Front  Squat @ 20×1;  4-3-2-2; rest 3 minutes
  4. EMOM 1 rope climbs 18ft x 10 minutes

Saturday

AM

60-minute Hike natural intervals (hill, slopes)

NOON

  1. EMOM Clean Jerk @ 60% 3 reps –12 minutes
  2. EMOM Hang Power Snatch @ 60% 3 reps –12 minutes

+

8 Minute AMRAP

5 Pull Ups (strict)

5 Push ups

5 Toes to Bar

Rest 3 Minutes

8 Minutes AMRAP

10 Sit Ups

10 Back Extensions

20 Double Under

Sunday

Off

While aerobic endurance training is essential to performance, true athletic growth will only come from tapping into the anaerobic and lactic energy systems. You can master the art of programming for all three energy systems in this free guide: Energy System Training.

(Visited 9,306 times, 3 visits today)

9 Comments

  1. Great article Kelsey, thanks.

    What is your opinion on the growing body of evidence (spent the last few hours looking up papers comparing outcomes of LSD vs HIT) showing that an incredibly low volume of intense work can have a similar, if not a bigger (positive) impact on the metabolism, when compared to steady state aerobic work? I understand that being able to sustain a high volume of work in the sport of CrossFit is paramount.

    But what if volume and recovery weren’t two main focus points in one’s training? Example: Active individual, training for health, no specific workout schedule to follow.. Could that person benefit from simply doing a few sprints once in a while, as opposed to accumulating hours at steady state over the week?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on that!

    Thanks!!

  2. Sean..I think the answer is no. There is no substitute for the easy volume. Maybe someone with credentials will confirm.

  3. Sean – I think that if you could substitute long, low intensity sessions with HIT then that’s what everyone would be doing. I mean, why train for hours every week if you can get the same benefit from training for a fraction of the time? But if you look at elite endurance athletes – that’s not what they’re doing. They’re still out there putting in the miles because there’s no real substitute for that kind of training. Mark Twight wrote a widely shared article on the subject (https://www.marktwight.com/blogs/discourse/85824260-no-free-lunch).

    Of course, in the end it all depends on your goals. Not everyone wants to be an endurance athlete.

  4. What is your opinion on the growing body of evidence (spent the last few hours looking up papers comparing outcomes of LSD vs HIT) showing that an incredibly low volume of intense work can have a similar, if not a bigger (positive) impact on the metabolism, when compared to steady state aerobic work?

    — metabolic training AKA HIIT does have a larger metabolic affect on the body BUT at a cost. Saying its “postive” is dependent on the athletes current fitness level, goals and training/biological age. The research out there unfortunately is mostly composed of untrained individuals with poor aerobic marker to begin with…or done on a cyclical mode (bike) with low less impact and load. Crossfit is a challenging mix of strength, power, speed, and endurance and requires careful and specific development of all three of your body’s energy systems. There is not really a debate about which one is better, they lead to different adaptations and each has their unique benefits. Back to my point HIIT comes with a price tag…if you fast track it and abuse it, like a lot of athletes do..the result is a short career

    I understand that being able to sustain a high volume of work in the sport of CrossFit is paramount.
    — Correct and it takes YEARS to develop that volume…. do you think attaining that volume can be done by only doing hard intensity sets everyday? what supports that recovery between intensity? ( food, sleep, aerobic base…to share a few)

    But what if volume and recovery weren’t two main focus points in one’s training?
    Example: Active individual, training for health, no specific workout schedule to follow.. Could that person benefit from simply doing a few sprints once in a while, as opposed to accumulating hours at steady state over the week?

    — Well then this training article does not apply to this example, as it is relative to sport. If you are just wanting to be healthy then move daily, eat well, chew your food, and get some sun! The movement should support the long game since life is long (typically). Hope that helps!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *