How to Increase Your Aerobic Threshold

Transcribed from video:

– So we’re going to talk about three different thresholds. A threshold being a point where one energy system reaches the end of being the dominant energy system and the next one takes over. We’re going to talk about aerobic, about the lactate threshold and about the anaerobic threshold. So let’s start with aerobic. Now, this comes down to the real boots-on-the-ground, nuts and bolts of the programming because this is how you guys actually will put sessions together to train each of these thresholds. Firstly, our aerobic training. Those of you who are endurance athletes may call this tempo work, roadwork. Just time where you’re spending a lot of time at a lower intensity for extended periods. The purpose of increasing our aerobic threshold, improving our aerobic energy system is to increase the amount of time that an athlete can exercise without accumulating too much of this acidity from these . Imagine you’ve got a rainwater tank and into that rainwater tank, rain is falling. It’s filling up this tank. There’s a tap on the side of the tank. Training your aerobic energy system and training this threshold here, you don’t have any rain going into this tank. The tank is empty because there’s rain, there’s , the acid rain that’s coming into the tank is not falling. So you can keep working indefinitely until you run out of energy stores in your body. Until you run out of fat or you fall asleep. That’s your aerobic stuff. What is the purpose of aerobic training? Because as we talked about before, you want to spend a lot the time in the middle of that Bell Curve, not too much time at the extremes of the pure sprint, the pure endurance but a lot of time in the middle there where those energy systems overlap. So what’s the point of aerobic training? It improves our body’s ability to burn fuel efficiently. A lot of that comes from fat. So our body becomes really good at burning that fuel, it becomes efficient at that process. Again, if we use the analogy of a car with a fuel tank, it’s basically meaning that you’re running more efficiently. You’re doing more miles to the gallon, effectively, okay? It also improves our Musculoskeletal system. Who, when they go running, finds that the limiting factor is something like their calves blow up? Like they hit the point where it’s muscle that’s being limited. One of the big issues there is not aerobic endurance, not cardiorespiratory endurance but that your Musculoskeletal system isn’t conditioned for that. This allows us to do high volume training to condition the more slow twitch fibres in our Musculoskeletal system, in our muscular system to allow us to then be able to keep going. Okay? Because it’s not that you’re out of breath, it’s just that your legs are burning so much you have to stop.

– [Audience Member] Is this why people are designed to be either long-distance runners or sprinters? Like in your muscle tone and stuff?

– So there is a predisposition to certain muscle fibre types. A propensity toward fast twitch or slow twitch if you broadly categorise them into those two areas. There are more, but yes, some people have a higher percentage of one over the other but they can both be trained. You can’t…or at least the vast majority of the research points to the fact that you cannot change your percentage. So if you’re 30% fast twitch, sprinter, and 70% endurance athlete, you can’t actually steal some of these muscle fibres and turn them into the other type, but you can train the ability of those muscle fibres. So although there’s a propensity or a bias toward a certain… you know, you have… That person’s an endurance athlete, they’re a strength athlete. The other stuff can be trained, yep. And of course it trains your aerobic endurance, your ability to specifically stay at that same pace that you’re training for an extended period of time. The Primary Energy System, it’s called the Oxidative Energy System, not super important for you guys to know that, but that’s what the energy system is called. If you’re programming this, the work time is 20 minutes plus, so you want to be exercising for 20 minutes and the intensity and the work to rest we’ll cover now. The Work to Rest Ratio, there’s no rest with this because you’re just working at a consistent pace. It’s that long jog, long consistent pace. Now, we talk about this a lot in the context of something like running or cycling or swimming or rowing, but we can train this through repetitive contractions of muscle fibres. You can just as easily train the aerobic energy system with 20 minutes of light… Of a lightweight power clean as you could with 20 minutes of running. Cause all we’re looking for are consistent repeated muscle contractions. Can be that running or power cleans or burpees or even something like push ups, which traditionally we don’t think of as a cardiorespiratory form of training. As long as the limiting factor is not localised muscular stamina and endurance, anything can be cardiovascular, which is really important when it comes to our strategy work that we’ll be doing tomorrow evening. It’s really important to understand that if we can make the workouts that we do, be it training or competition, if we can make them cardiovascular, then you don’t hit the wall anymore. If you can make them aerobic, then you don’t hit the wall. And then if you’re doing a hundred clean and jerks, it’s about rep. rep… rep. For a hundred reps. Just like when you’re running, running is rep, rep, rep, rep, rep. You don’t sprint and then walk and then sprint and then walk. You maintain a consistent pace all the way through. People lose that concept when suddenly they start thinking about multiple exercises involved or reps of the movement, but all running is, is reps of taking a step. Okay? So look at everything in its context, not just mono structural run row cycle-type stuff. 20+ minutes on your work time, there is no work to rest ratio because you’re going continually, therefore there’s no type of recovery either cause there’s no… I’m going to stop and have a rest from this cause you don’t need to cause we’re working at a lower intensity. In terms of that intensity, about a five to six out of ten is what’s going to train that Aerobic Energy System best. This is an example of… I mean, if you’re a five or six out of 10, you’re still able to hold sure conversations, eh? It’s not…you’re not pushing to the point where you’re in trouble. If you do, and you work harder, you’re actually not training this energy system. So this is an example of a time where more, more intensity, more pain, more speed is not better because you’re missing the point and you’re not training this energy system. We’ll talk about and unpack this a little bit more again when we talk about strategy. Almost everyone always goes out hard. Everyone always starts too fast. Who thinks they start too slow as a rule? Okay? Are you guys good olympic lifters?

– [Audience Member] Better than running.

– Yeah? Okay. So normally you’d find people who start too slow, they don’t have that explosiveness. Most people start too fast. The vast, vast majority of the population start too fast. This is really difficult for them, and if you’re going too fast at the start every time, you’re going anaerobic. You hit the wall two minutes in. You hit that aerobic threshold and then you’re not training what we’re trying to train. Okay? So for these people…intentionally finish and go yeah, that was good, I got some benefit. In our Neuromuscular Fatigue rating scale, where would you guys rate this? One being low in your muscular fatigue, four being very high. Yep, yeah, a one or a two. Okay? You could do this on that midweek deload day. We talked about that double undulation of intensities. You could do that on a Thursday and still be recovering. Should feel good after this, physically and mentally. Another good way to think about this is it should be a pace you can maintain for 60 minutes. So even if you’re doing a 20 minute run, if you can maintain that pace for 60 minutes then you’re about right.

– [Audience Member] So is this when we have to talk about heart rate zones for training or…

– Yes, yep, so there are a number of ways that you can… You can measure intensity. Heart rate is okay. It’s a good one. What I’ve actually done in the past with some of my athletes is, we’ve taken more of a science lab-based approach and we’ve administered a v02 max test on our athletes on an air bike. I chose an air bike because of the combination of upper and lower body, which is traditionally what most of us do. Again, we’re shunting the blood between our upper and lower body. Incidentally, it’s why the air bike is so difficult and much more difficult than something like a spin bike because a spin bike you don’t have to redistribute the blood around your body. Yeah? So we did a test on an air bike and it’s basically a graded test where you hold a certain pace for three minutes, increase intensity, hold out pace, increase intensity. We basically tried to design a protocol with this where we could measure intensities and identify exactly where these thresholds occurred. Because then if you can exercise just below that threshold, you’re going to push it higher. That’s how we train a threshold. So what we did is we had them doing this graded exercise increasing every three minutes. Every three minutes, we recorded their heart rate, we recorded the amount of these in the blood. We recorded their rate of perceived exertion, how hard they’re working on a scale of one to ten, and we recorded their output. So basically what we were trying to do was find a correlation between how hard they subjectively said they were working. I’m working eight out of ten. Then we could compare that to the amount of lactate in their blood, which correlates with the and we could compare that to their heart rate and then say okay, this threshold occurs when you’re setting an eight out of ten. Because you’re not always going to have the ability to test blood lactate levels and heart rate monitors and stuff, whereas you can say to someone, work at six out of ten. Cool, I got it coach. Good, I can hit that. Although this may not be the most scientifically valid way, this is, for the vast majority of people, a number out of ten is more than enough. But yes, that will correlate to a certain heart rate, but again, that heart rate will be different on a spin bike or a road bike versus an air bike because your heart rate will be inflated on the air bike because the blood shunting effect and there are more muscle beds being used. Good question. Total training time 20 minutes plus for your aerobic stuff. This is that baseline engine can keep going. Under-utilized, more utilised now, important, doesn’t form the mainstay of your programming though. This is more of the extremes of the Bell Curve.

Dan Williams

Dan Williams


Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.