Aerobic Base Training - The Most Important Exercise You're Missing?

Oct 31, 2021

So much training to choose from!

Pushing weight is fun! Grinding past that nearly stopped point of a heavy deadlift. Stopping cold a big kettlebell at the top of a snatch. Feeling the bar “snap” as you catch it at the bottom of a classic rock bottom clean. Locking tight for all you’ve got at the top of a barbell jerk or snatch while every muscle in your body quivers with the effort of keeping that bar in place. Pushing that big tire through the apex of its’ arc – it just plain feels good.

Then there is the interval stuff – the 15/15s and the 30/30s that make it feel like 12 – or 40 – minutes is forever and gives you that weird hurt that makes you smile to yourself.

That’s good stuff. Then there is aerobic training. You know that aerobic stuff is right for you, but it’s so dull!

But, it makes you stronger. It makes you a better athlete. Isn’t that what it’s all about. So, do your aerobics, but SLOW DOWN! That’s right GO SLOWER and KEEP GOING!

If you’ve been training for strength, you probably have no aerobic base, and that is keeping you from being as strong as you want to be.

You need LSD! That’s not what you’re thinking; it means long slow distance training. This training will increase mitochondrial mass, mitochondrial enzymes that produce energy, and capillary bed density. All this equals more energy, endurance, stamina – you can train harder and longer. You’ll be surprised at the extra reps you can get in before failure; you’ll have more snap at the end; you’ll recover faster; and, you’ll end up stronger.

More energy, more health

To build an aerobic base you have to put your time in and you have to go slower. Do this right, and you can double your mitochondrial mass!1 In time. Building mitochondrial mass and enzyme adaptation is about the frequency and duration of aerobic stress, more than the intensity.2

Over time, newer capillaries will grow into the aerobically stressed tissues.3

Aerobic exercise promotes beta-oxidation of fatty acids in mitochondria for production of energy. This response decreases dependency on glucose for energy production and helps to lower cortisol levels and improve anabolic/catabolic balance. Better sleep and stronger muscles.4

How to train your aerobic base

So, how to train your aerobic base? There are a lot of formulas out there, but the simplest and most effective is the Maffetone Method, promoted by Phil Maffetone, DC.

Here’s the protocol – train at the heart rate that equals 180 minus your age.

If you take medication or are recovering from surgery, illness, or injury, subtract an extra 10.
If your health isn’t robust or you haven’t been training, subtract 5.
If you’ve regularly training for two years or more and are progressing, add 5.

How to measure your results

How do you know your aerobic base is growing? You’ll feel awesome and your other training will go better. You will be able to do more work at your aerobic base training rate.

For instance, someone 50 will train at a heart rate of 130 beats per minute. Rowing a Concept II rower for 5,000 meters initially takes 24 minutes at that heart rate, but after two months takes 22 minutes, they have a higher aerobic base and can do more work while staying at the same heart rate. Another way to measure aerobic base is by pace, a faster pace over time at the same heart rate translates to a higher aerobic base. Body weight and weight training movement can be used, as well. Paced kettlebell cleans, or burpees can do the trick, for instance. Walking, hiking, rowing, treadmill, and biking are usually more ideal.

Enjoy this time aerobic base training. It will immediately help as active recovery, and over time you won’t want to go without this training once you see how fit it helps you become.


1 Davies, K.J., Packer, L. & Brooks, G.A., 1981, Biochemical adaptation of mitochondria, muscle, and whole-animal respiration to endurance training, Archives of biochemistry and biophysics, 209(2), pp. 539-54.

2 Harms, S.J. & Hickson, R.C., 1983, Skeletal muscle mitochondria and myoglobin, endurance, and intensity of training, Journal of applied physiology: respiratory, environmental and exercise physiology, 54(3), pp. 798-802.

3 Billat, V., Lepretre, P.M., Heugas, A.M., Laurence, M.H., Salim, D. & Koralsztein, J.P., 2003, Training and bioenergetic characteristics in elite male and female Kenyan runners, Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 35(2), pp. 297-304; discussion 305-6

4 Molfino A, Aversa Z, Muscaritoli M., Cortisol and the muscle-bone axis, Osteoporos Int. 2014 Sep;25(9):2331-2.

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