Any endurance athlete’s progression starts with a basic level of aerobic base conditioning — the ABCs of endurance training. This is the starting point for those new to endurance training (with less than four years of training), as well as experienced endurance athletes who may be coming off an extended break from training (such as a long break due to injury or several weeks of inactivity between seasons). Aerobic base conditioning prepares your body for more rigorous training by building endurance and fostering neuromuscular speed.
During aerobic base conditioning, workouts primarily focus on endurance sessions in the “conversational” zone to develop your aerobic system. These “conversational” zone workouts involve a continuous effort with durations of 20 minutes up to an hour or more. The training effect, or purpose of these workouts is to help your body better metabolize fat and spare glycogen (stored carbohydrate) as a long duration energy source.
During a “conversational” effort, you should be able to breathe through your nose and hold a back-and-forth conversation with someone running next to you (taking turns to speak). Breathing is moderate and not labored.
These endurance workouts actually comprise the bulk of your training hours during any training phase, but the aerobic base conditioning training block focuses almost entirely on this extensive endurance training as a starting point for more advanced training.
During aerobic base conditioning, you will include a handful of “alactics,” or short bursts of speed less than 10 seconds in duration, during at least one or two endurance workouts each week. These alactics stimulate the firing of fast-twitch muscle fibers without tapping into the anaerobic glycolysis (lactic acid) system; this is why they are termed alactics, a- meaning “without” and –lactic referring to the lactic acid system.
These short sprints — also known as, “striders,” “pickups,” “acceleration striders,” or “diagonals” (when run diagonally on the infield of a track) — are punctuated by ample recovery in between. They are especially important in helping runners develop the body’s supporting structures (e.g., muscles, ligaments, tendons) that need to be in place for higher intensity aerobic and anaerobic work. You can think of alactics as “pure speed,” as opposed to the notion of speed as it is sometimes used to refer to activities of a few minutes in duration (such as the 800-meter track event) that do tap into the lactic acid system.
Form drills specific to the endurance activity should also be worked into aerobic base conditioning workouts to further foster proper neuromuscular patterning for economy of movement.
Aerobic base conditioning for new endurance athletes and experienced athletes coming off an extended break might span 3-12+ weeks in your training plan, depending on your particular situation. Endurance athletes with more than four years of training behind them may spend 1-2 weeks in this phase or skip it altogether if they have sufficient conditioning to start directly into a different training phase.
Aerobic Base Conditioning: Key Workouts
The key workouts for aerobic base conditioning, as illustrated below, include endurance workouts and recovery workouts — with or without alactics and drills.
Endurance workouts contribute to your aerobic base. During the endurance training phase, you will be increasing the duration of one or more endurance workouts each week — the weekly “long run” for runners. Ultrarunners might use back-to-back long runs — that is, long runs scheduled two days in a row — to achieve greater volume in preparation for longer events. When stacking back-to-back long runs, do the harder/longer run on the first day. The endurance workout in other training phases will remain relatively constant in duration with the exact length depending on your event and goals. The bulk of your training time during any training phase will consist of recovery and endurance workouts.
- Intensity: At or below your aerobic threshold (AeT)
- Heart Rate: 85-89% of lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR)
- Power: 56-75% of functional threshold power (FTPw)
- Pace: 114-129% of functional threshold pace (FTPa)
Total Time at Intensity: 30 minutes to 6+ hours
Interval Time: n/a
Work to Rest Ratio: n/a
How Often: 2-6 workouts per week during all training phases
Purpose: Used more than any other training zone to build the aerobic endurance base, which allows you to better metabolize fat and spare glycogen (stored carbohydrate) as a long duration energy source.
Sample Workout: 90-minute endurance run
Recovery workouts are central to balancing the application of training stress and recovery; and these are your default workouts. If you find yourself too fatigued to execute a key intensity workout that’s scheduled; then default to a recovery workout. After a recovery workout, you should feel refreshed. You can always shorten a recovery workout or nix it altogether if you simply need to rest that day.
- Intensity: Easy
- Heart Rate: Less than 85% of lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR)
- Power: Less than 56% of functional threshold power (FTPw)
- Pace: Slower than 129% of functional threshold pace (FTPa)
Total Time at Intensity: 20-60 minutes
Interval Time: n/a
Work to Rest Ratio: n/a
How Often: 2-3 workouts per week during all training phases
Purpose: Used to aid recovery from hard days and add to your aerobic base.
Sample Workout: 20-minute recovery run