In the fitness industry, this phrase gets thrown around a lot.
Clients want to improve theirs, coaches have their trade secrets for building it, and bodybuilders hate it.
Wherever you sit in the fitness world, the hype around building aerobic capacity is real.
So today, we are covering how to increase it. First, we will define it and, then, we will cover how to create exercise programs to build it.
Aerobic capacity refers to how much work the aerobic system can handle. In scientific terms, it is the maximum amount of oxygen the muscle can use during exercise.
But to build capacity we first need to understand the aerobic system.
The aerobic system is how the body uses oxygen for fuel. During aerobic metabolism, the mitochondria in the cells convert glucose to ATP, the energy currency of the cell. The body then uses this energy to power lung and muscle contractions that are needed for the activity taking place.
The Aerobic System and Exercise
In exercise, the aerobic system is used for every movement, even during weightlifting. However, when discussing aerobic training, this typically refers to exercise that is longer, slower, and always repeatable. Think about a 60-minute walk, rowing intervals at a sustainable and repeatable pace, or biking at a conversational pace.
(Side note: The aerobic system is just one of the body’s three energy systems. Learn more about the other two here.)
Everyone can benefit from aerobic training. Building the aerobic system has a plethora of benefits and will improve anyone’s performance and function in their daily lives or goal-oriented fitness journeys.
There are two main benefits of aerobic training.
Firstly, aerobic training builds the lungs and muscles, which improves how efficiently one can produce energy.
Secondly, it is the foundation for movement. In all forms of movement, the aerobic system is activated at some level. Therefore, a robust aerobic system prepares one for all other types of movements.
There are two golden principles you need to keep in mind to increase aerobic capacity. You need to keep the effort in your workouts sustainable and then you need to progress the pace of your workouts from slow to fast.
First, keep it sustainable. The aerobic system is how the body produces energy for long durations of activity. Therefore when you train the aerobic system keep the workouts sustainable. You or your client should be able to complete the workout easily and if needed be able to do it again immediately. If the pace feels too slow, it’s probably the right pace.
Second, progress from slow to fast. To build endurance properly, create a progression that starts slow and increases pace over time. You need to first demonstrate sustainability in slower-paced training before going faster. Learn more about slow to fast progressions here.
There are two types of aerobic training: cyclical and mixed. Below are two examples of four-week progressions of each type of training.
Cyclical Aerobic Training:
Cyclical training refers to training that takes place in a recurring pattern. Think repetitive motions like riding a bike, rowing, or running.
Aerobic training must be performed at a sustainable pace. Proper execution of cyclical training is maintaining power output throughout each interval and across sets.
Looking for more workout inspiration? Get free rower workouts here.
Cyclical Training Program:
Mixed Aerobic Training:
The second way to train the aerobic system is in a mixed environment. This is often a circuit or set number of rounds of a combination of cyclical, gymnastics, and weight lifting modalities.
The goal of this mixed modal aerobic training is to keep all of the exercises aerobic. A great way to measure this is with intraset repeatability, measuring how long it takes to complete a set and ensuring that the time frame is sustained for the entire duration of the workout and across sets.
Mixed Aerobic Training Program:
The best way to build the aerobic system is to start slow and add volume over time.
But this can be boring for some clients.
This is why you need to personalize every client’s program and help them connect to the why behind their training. If you build a program that includes the type of exercises your client loves and you explain the importance of gradual progression, it will be easier for them to comply.
That’s why we’ve taught more than 6,000 coaches our method of personalizing exercise plans.
Sign up for our free coaching course and get an introduction to our proven system of personalized fitness coaching today.