Maximising aerobic development

The study by David Bishop and colleagues that Ewen drew my attention to in his comment on my post on base-building on April 12th, demonstrates that interval sessions in the upper part of the aerobic zone produce a marked stimulus to development of mitochondria, and this stimulus to aerobic development is decreased, but not abolished, by acidosis (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:Volume 40(5) Supplement p S33, 2008). Although Bishop and colleagues produced acidosis artificially by administering ammonium chloride, it is likely that marked acidosis arising from highly anaerobic exercise would have a similar effect.

Thus, this study does imply that mixing highly anaerobic work (sufficient to produce marked acidosis) with aerobic work within a session will produce less aerobic development than might be achieved by a purely aerobic session. Although the study does not directly compare lower aerobic with upper aerobic sessions, it certainly demonstrates that upper aerobic work produces a major stimulus to development of mitchondria and hence suggests that the most efficient way to promote development of mitochondria within a limited time is upper aerobic work.

I would expect that fartlek would also be an efficient way to produce aerobic development provided the effort epochs do not become severely anaerobic.  A session that I have been experimenting with recently consists of 6 to 8 uphill stride-outs for about 250 metres on a 1 in 10 gradient grassy path though woodland, separated by easy-paced downhill recoveries. I find this session is not at all stressful (in fact I really enjoy it). By the end of each uphill stride-out, I am near the ventilatory threshold. I do this session in place of the ½ effort sessions in a Lydiard program, because it takes only about 20 minutes (not including warm-up) and hence fits more easily into the time I have available. I hope this will provide good aerobic development while also strengthening my legs.

My current weekly program consists of one longish low aerobic run, a progressive run that gets me near lactate threshold for 5-8 Km (my current equivalent of Lydiard’s ¾ effort session); the uphill strideouts (my replacement of Lydiard’s ½ effort sessions); several easy runs that include a few short ‘alactic’ sprints at the end; and an elliptical session. Overall this program is intended to build an aerobic base while also strengthening my legs and promoting good neuromuscular coordination, with a relatively limited commitment of time. However, it is reasonable to assume that if time was not an issue, I might achieve as much aerobic development by running in the lower aerobic zone for a longer period.  A greater proportion of lower aerobic work would be expected to produce greater development of fat-burning capacity, but less development of type 2a (fast twitch aerobic) muscle fibres than my current program.

I consider that the study by Bishop and colleagues confirms that Lydiard’s recommendation of a moderate amount of upper aerobic work and a large amount of lower aerobic work during base-building is good advice. However, I also think this study indicates that Lydiard’s claim that no further aerobic development can occur once one starts anaerobic development is not correct. Even in a session in which aerobic threshold is exceeded some development of mitochondria will occur. Nonetheless, if you want to achieve aerobic development while also developing speed endurance during a phase of mixed training, it would probably be most efficient to do some entirely aerobic sessions and some separate interval sessions


6 Responses to “Maximising aerobic development”

  1. rick Says:

    I think its possible to train year round with one anaerobic session per week and still improve aerobic fitness, the problems start if you try doing 2 hard anaerobic sessions per week for an extended period [ as I did last summer] the outcome is burnout and hence reduction in aerobic ability!

  2. rick Says:

    but what is the reason that too much anaerobic training causes burnout, is in chemical changes in the body due to lactic acid build up, or muscle damage and lack of time for recovery and adaption, Lydiard believed too much anaerobic work would affect your body’s metabolism and pull the condition down though the effects of lower blood pH.

  3. canute1 Says:

    Rick, there is no doubt that too many hard sessions (either anaerobic or aerobic) is likley to result in burnout, and I do not think anyone knows the complete answer. I do not think that lactic acid production is the main culrpit. I think that muscle damage and cortisol production are each a part of the story. I had been intending to do a post on these issues last weekend but I did not have enough time. Provided I am not too busy next weekend, I will attempt to assemble the evidence that I have been able to find on these issues.

  4. Ewen Says:

    Canute, that looks like a well balanced program, and it should certainly be efficient in developing aerobic condition. Good to hear you’re enjoying the 250m hill repeats.

    For “professional” distance runners, I believe the large weekly volume of aerobic running supports what is usually a small volume of anaerobic running in a mixed-week type of program. Usually the interval-type running in such programs is not highly anaerobic, with the fast intervals being at 5k race-pace.

    There are some “low volume” runners, such as Duncan Kibet, who according to the thread on Letsrun, runs 130-140km per week, but with a higher proportion of that running at high intensity (but still I expect, not highly anaerobic). I wonder if such a model of training could be an efficient method for “normal” runners? Doing more runs at Lydiard’s 3/4 pace for example.

  5. rick Says:

    Age related times for half and marathon runners

  6. canute1 Says:

    Rick, Thanks for pointing out that data on marathon and half marathon performance over the adult age range. The authors emphasize that there is virtually no deterioration in average time to complete the marathon among individuals who remain fit enough to complete the distance, over the age range 20 to 50. However if one examines the data carefully it is clear that the average time for each age group does not tell the whole story. The pace of those at the top 5% of their age group does decline slowly but steadily over the range 20-50, while the pace of the slowest 5% actually improves with age. I suspect this is due to the fact that the least fit cease competing. So the near constant average performance appears to reflect deterioration among the fastest, together a drop-out runners at the slow end of the range. I am therefore inclined towards a conclusion different from that drawn by the authors. Deterioration with age occurs even among those who continue to train well enough to complete a marathon. I believe it is harder for a top class runner to continue to improve relative to the average for his/her age group because there is a greater rate of drop-out among the slower runners. The challenge for us old-timers is to improve our training strategies to compensate for the effects of age.

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