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Aerobic Capacity - building on that base

In the off season, you hear all sorts of endurance athletes talking about building up their “aerobic base”, but very little about the next phase of training - aerobic power training which supercharges aerobic capacity.

What is aerobic capacity and why does it matter?

Elite distance runners doing VO2max tests

Energy for all body functions is provided in two different ways – aerobically, meaning “with oxygen” and anaerobically, which does not use oxygen. The proportion of energy supplied aerobically and anaerobically changes depending on duration and intensity of exercise. Aerobic energy is more ideal during long exercises bouts because it is more efficient and essentially limitless (so long as you are well-fueled, but that’s another blog post!), whereas anaerobic energy supply is finite.

During exercise, the oxygen you breathe in is transported from your lungs to working muscles through your bloodstream. In the muscle, oxygen is used as a key ingredient for aerobic energy production. So, the more oxygen you are able to consume and use, the greater your rate of long-term energy production, allowing you to run/bike/swim/climb faster for longer. Training improves oxygen delivery and utilization in a host of different ways, including increasing capillaries, which transport oxygen to your muscles, mitochondria, the tiny cellular machines that metabolize energy, blood volume, etc.

Aerobic capacity can be quantified as VO2max – the maximal volume of oxygen consumed per minute during exercise, expressed in L O2/min or ml O2/kg/min. Genetics plays a role in the absolute upper limit of your VO2max, but reaching that limit requires substantial training. VO2max tests are often performed on elite athletes to accurately measure aerobic fitness and create very specialized training plans. This is done in a lab by analyzing carbon dioxide and oxygen inhaled and exhaled during an exercise test. VO2max can also be estimated based on HR testing or recent race results. Regardless of whether you know your actual VO2max value, aerobic power workouts highly effective being done at intensities based on effort, pace, or heart rate.

We have a few bread-and-butter aerobic power workouts we would like to share with you to boost your VO2max.

Workout 1 Tempos: Tempo runs are a section of your run done at a substantially higher intensity then your usual “easy” pace. For example, a tempo workout could look like:

2 mile easy warm up 25 min tempo at half marathon “race pace” 2 mile easy cool down

Workout 2 Fartlek: Fartlek is a Swedish word which means “speed play”. Fartlek runs involve picking up the pace for a section of time and then returning to easy run pace to recover before beginning another faster interval. The pick up should be a hard effort but not so exhausting that you can’t run between segments. A fartlek workout could look like this:

2 mile easy warm up 1min/2min/3min/4min/5min/4min/3min/2min/1min of hard running with 2min of easy running in between for recovery 2 mile easy cool down

Workout 3 Progression Runs: The name says it all! During these runs, increase your pace as the run progresses, transitioning from an easy to moderate to hard effort. For example, a progression run may look like this:

15 min Easy (i.e. 9min/mile) 15 min Moderate (i.e. 8min/mile) 15 min Hard (i.e. 7min/mile)

Aerobic workouts take time, discipline, and mental toughness, but are well worth the effort when it comes to endurance performance.

Would you like personalized, professional online coaching from Faye Stenning and Jessica O'Connell? Check out or email for more details!

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