Posted on 04 September 2013.
Different approaches to aerobic training
So now you know how to monitor your exercise intensity and how long/how often to exercise, let’s look at the different ways you can choose to perform your aerobic activity…
LSD – and no, not the drug!
LSD stands for Long Slow Distance training and it the method that most exercisers “fall into” when they embark on a cardio training programme. LSD training is exactly as it sounds – performed at a relatively slow pace for extended periods of time. LSD training builds base level aerobic fitness and conditions the body for extended workouts. LSD is performed at around 60% of MHR or around RPE level 5 and may be performed for as long as an hour or more. LSD training has the advantage of not being overly exhausting but on the down side requires a greater time commitment compared to some other methods we’ll discuss later. LSD is a vital component of training for marathon running and long distance cycling but while a necessary part of endurance athletes training, many fitness enthusiasts use LSD for weight management in the hope that it will result in substantial amounts of fat loss.
While exercising at LSD pace fat provides the primary source of energy however, fat is so energy dense – 9 kcal per gram – that even extended workouts result in only relatively small amounts being oxidised (burnt). Regardless of pace, running a single mile uses around 100 kcal and 1 pound of excess body fat contains about 3,500 kcal so to lose a pound through slow paced aerobic exercise alone it would be necessary to run 35 miles! Chances are that’s more than most people run in 2 weeks! LSD training (and remember LSD can be applied to cycling, rowing, stepping as well as running) is great for developing base level aerobic fitness but when it comes to fat burning/weight management, there are other methods which will be more successful and efficient.
Fartlek – funny word but serious training method!
Fartlek means speed play in Swedish and that describes perfectly our next method of cardio training. The basic premise is to run (or cycle, row etc) at a variety of paces which are selected at random. The exerciser may walk, jog, run or sprint for a variety of distances and durations over the course of a workout until the exercise time period has elapsed or a predetermined distance has been covered. Physical landmarks such as lampposts, street signs or trees is a great way to organise a Fartlek workout e.g. after jogging for 5 minutes to warm up alternate between running hard for 3 lampposts and slow jogging for 1 or jog 1, run 1 sprint 1 and repeat. Alternatively, work periods can be controlled by counting the number of strides or time elapsed or a combination of the above. The variations are endless and can be just as easily applied to cycling as they can to running or any other cardio exercise modality. The intensity of a Fartlek workout can be easily altered to suit an individual’s fitness levels by moderating the amount of high intensity exercise compared to lower intensity work – in other words the less fit the exerciser, the slower jogging and brisk walking will be performed.
Fartlek, done for a shorter duration than LSD but at a higher overall average pace, is a good fat burner because of the periods of higher intensity training which triggers a phenomenon called EPOC (Excessive Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption) which will be discussed later.
FCR – time to hit a higher tempo!
FCR stands for Fast Continuous Running but, as with all of our cardio training methods, this approach lends itself well to just about any exercise modality. FCR is just like it sounds, working hard at a high constant pace. On our RPE scale, FCR would score around 7 or 8 or about 85-90% of MHR and is the highest sustainable level of aerobic activity – think red lining your car just below the point where the engine will blow! Some refer to this as tempo training and others anaerobic acid threshold training but regardless of what it’s called; FCR is a tough but generally shorter workout. The idea is simple – run (or cycle or row etc.) as fast as possible avoiding going so fast that you are forced to slow down because of fatigue. Lactic acid (one of the by products of anaerobic energy production) is literally bubbling under the surface and going any faster will result in having to slow down or stop. FCR is (or should be) a constant battle to maintain pace – even though the body is probably saying “slow down!”
Because of the large accumulation of lactic acid in the blood, FCR is a supreme fat burner because of EPOC. When lactic acid accumulates in the blood, the aerobic system has to work overtime to clear it out once exercise comes to an end. This “after burn” is responsible for an elevated metabolic rate (energy expenditure) at rest. The body is literally in overdrive working to clear unwanted lactic acid from the system and, as a result, burns a whole load of energy not just during the workout but also in the hours (yes HOURS) afterwards. The metabolism may be elevated for up to 48 hours after a hard lactic acid inducing workout which results in substantial energy costs and potential fat loss. Pretty good for a shorter workout! LSD (long slow distance) training causes minimal EPOC and, as a result, is not so efficient for fat loss.
FCR is an excellent training method for improving higher end aerobic fitness, teaching the body lactic acid tolerance and in training athletes involved in shorter, more intense sports like boxing, middle distance running, rowing or martial arts. It goes without saying that because of the advanced nature and demands of this type of exercise; FCR is something to work up to and should only be attempted after establishing a base level of aerobic fitness via LSD and Fartlek training.
Interval training – the clock is your coach!
Interval training can be defined as “periods of higher intensity work interspaced with periods of rest” and is a very useful and flexible training approach which, with modifications, is suitable for everyone from the beginner exerciser to an Olympic champ. By manipulating the training variables i.e. speed, distance covered, length of recovery etc it’s possible to design interval training programmes for just about anyone…
1) E.g. Beginner client – low level of fitness
Power walk up hill 3 minutes
Slow walk on flat 2 minutes
Repeat 4 times
2) E.g. Intermediate client – good base fitness
Row 1000 meters as fast as possible
Very slow row for 2 minutes
Repeat 6 times
3) E.g. Advanced client – very high level of fitness
Sprint 400 meters
Jog 100 meters
Repeat 10 times
Work vs. Rest periods
With aerobic intervals (up to 90% MHR) generally workouts are on a 1 to 1 work to rest ratio or possible 1 to .5 e.g. Run 3 minutes, resting 90 seconds to 3 minutes between efforts.
Workouts that exceed 95% of MHR will often require a longer rest period between efforts so 1 to 2 or 1 to 3 work to rest intervals are the norm e.g. sprint for 30 seconds, rest for 60 – 90 seconds.
Please note these are only guidelines and work/rest intervals can be manipulated freely to suit the abilities of the individual exerciser.
Regardless of the standard of the client, the interval principle is the same – alternate periods of higher intensity exercise with periods of recovery. Interval training allows significant overload of the cardiorespiratory system which will result in good increases in the both anaerobic and aerobic fitness while also being, according to some experts, the ultimate fat burning workout because of very high degrees of EPOC. Certainly, a hard interval session can result in very high heart rates and elevated body temperature for many hours after exercise has concluded which is a good indicator that the metabolism is very “revved up” even at rest.
As high-end interval training can be so demanding, it is very important to progress into it gradually. It’s certainly not a good idea to attempt workout number 3 if you have little or no running experience. Make haste slowly and start your interval training regime with the intention of gradually increasing your workload over the coming weeks – your body will thank you for it!