How Do I Increase Aerobic Capacity?

What is Aerobic Capacity and why is it important?

Aerobic Capacity can also described as your Vo2 max;  the ability to use oxygen to produce energy.  If you think about it comparing 2 runners out for a jog together.  One is chatting away effortlessly at an XX pace, while the other is unable to hold a conversation with a pant-like breathing effort.

Pretty clear to see who has a higher aerobic capacity, or who is more aerobically fit, right?

Building your aerobic capacity is primarily done by training in your aerobic zone (differs person to person).  Training in this zone is the best way to teach your body to use fat for energy (vs carbohydrates/sugar), build your overall endurance and stamina, reduces chance for injury and over-training and it also can help your recover faster.

How can I know what my aerobic training zone is?

Everyone’s aerobic zone and capacity differs, but there are medical tests that can be done such as a VO2 or Lactate thresholdwoman running to increase aerobic capacity test.  These tests are done wearing a mask that will measure the volume of air expired with the percentage of oxygen and carbon dioxide expired.

These measurements are taking every minute while a person is either running or biking, and also wearing a heart rate monitor with increasing efforts.  The test can provide very detailed feedback of your aerobic threshold (highest HR you can still train at aerobically), your lactate threshold or the “red zone,” and your VO2 max or your maximum potential.

There are less scientific ways to measure this and they can be used as very good baselines for training.  This is a very basic measurement here to find your zones:
Females MHR = 220 – (age * 0.7)
Males MHR = 220 – (age * 0.8)

This calculation will give you your MAX HR.  You aerobic zone is typically capped at about 75 % of that number.  This is a good BASELINE to use for aerobic training.

How long will it take to build my aerobic capacity?

Aerobic training, and getting aerobically fit is not something that will happen over night.  While it will vary from person to person, a good estimate would be 6-8 weeks.  You have to be patient. It will take your body (and mind) a while to adjust to this easier effort.  Your times will start our significantly slower, and it takes a lot of persistence to keep this type of training up.

How will I know if my aerobic capacity is increasing?

You will start to see improvements after about a month.  For some people who have trained aerobically in the past, it may come sooner and for those who have always trained HARD and anaerobically, it may take a while longer.

Your pace at a “140” HR will start to be faster, easier and with less labored breathing.  You will begin to utilize fat stores instead of glycogen, needing less calorie supplementation during extended workouts. You may notice that you aren’t famished or starving after your workouts.  You muscles will feel less sore and fatigue.

Once you have built your aerobic capacity, you will be able add in harder efforts and you will most likely notice faster times than before.  You can push harder and to faster paces, but your Heart Rate will likely not reach to point it would before.

Another key benefit of doing this aerobic training is when you take time off in the future and need to return to the base training or aerobic training, it will come back much quicker.  You will be able to handle higher volumes than someone less aerobically fit and you gain more benefits from the harder more intense workouts.