Engine training - build that aerobic threshold

Engine training - build that aerobic threshold

Is there someone you train with who just always seems to just 'keep going'? They are frustratingly persistent and just seem to never run out of gas, you might have heard them referred to as having a 'good engine'. What is meant by that is, they have a great aerobic threshold.

Your aerobic threshold is your ability to train at a 'steady state'. This can be measured using heart rate, lactate levels and other complicated tests, but to simplify it you are considered to be within your aerobic threshold if you can hold a conversation. When we start to breath more heavily and are missing words out to catch our breath we are considered to be in an anaerobic state (this is not a perfect test but relatively accurate).

If you build a nice solid base of aerobic threshold this should transfer over into  positive sports performance. Consider a 5km run, if I can run that in 25:00 nice and easily without a massive spike in heart rate I should be able to run that distance even faster by just increasing intensity. Now consider if I focus on increasing my aerobic threshold over a season and bring that time down to 20:00 with the same heart rate and same levels of exertion I should be able to not only speed up my max effort time but also run further and longer at a consistent pace. 

So how do we train it...

We are going to focus on 3 main training types:

  • HIIT
  • Progressive overload
  • LSD (not the illegal stuff)

HIIT - High intensity interval training

The concept of high intensity interval training is not new, in fact all 3 of these methods are not which is why we whole heartedly recommend them. They have stood the test of time. 

Training at high intensity in any sport is going to jack up the heart rate likely pushing the athlete into an anaerobic state. By adding intervals of rest between this intensity it gives the athlete a chance to recover, bring the heart rate down and 'catch their breath'.

The biological adaptation we expect to see from this sort of training is better control of the heart rate as the athlete is better trained to deal with intensity. With this stronger heart the athlete can pump rich oxygenated blood around the system more efficiently increasing the time the athlete will rich that aerobic ceiling (threshold).

Progressive overload

A concept that should be very familiar with anyone who has followed a training plan. Progressive overload is the idea that small increases in load of a long period of time compound to a great increase. Consider the back squat, maybe on week 1 you can back squat 100kg. If i were to ask you to increase that weight by 50kg on week 2 we would probably be on an express trip to the hospital. However if i asked you to increase the weight of your back squat by 1kg on week 2 and follow that progression for a year then by the end of the year you would be at 150kg. Please understand that progression is often not that linear and this is only an example to explain the concept. 

If we push you to run a little faster every week then in 6 months what used to be your intense run should be feeling a lot easier and those 'steady state' runs should be considerably quicker.

LSD - Long slow distance

This is arguably one of the best ways to increase your aerobic threshold. Training in that aerobic threshold for long periods of time should increase that aerobic threshold. We are getting that heart rate into the aerobic threshold rate and then holding it there. This is going to increase your aerobic threshold and ability to hold this pace for a long time.

The only problem with this, it takes a long time.

Depending on where you are starting from you could be looking at spending several sessions a week at this slow place for hours at a time. This is why lots of athletes choose to block out a period of the year (usually winter) to build this aerobic base. Consider investing in a turbo trainer and set it up in front a tv to watch your favourite Netflix show (or compulsory work training video) and get comfy.

This sort of training might not feel like it is doing huge amounts but trust me you will reap the rewards in bucket loads by focusing on your aerobic threshold.


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