CSCS Study Guide Chapter 20: Program Design and Technique for Aerobic Endurance Training

How do you structure a program to improve VO2max, running economy, speed, and fat utilization? Chapter 20 of the Essentials of Strength training and conditioning answers this and other training questions for the CSCS exam.

Chapter 20 of the Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning covers all of the major steps involved in designing an Aerobic Endurance training program.

Program Design and Technique for Aerobic Endurance Training

  • Aerobic Endurance program design involves many of the same steps anaerobic program design does.
  • Training must be specific to the changes you're trying to make.
  • Training should be progressively harder than what the athlete can currently tolerate.
  • Training should be based off of that person and not off a the program of a popular endurance athlete. Good training programs enhance the strengths of the athlete and improve their weaknesses.

Factors Related to Aerobic Endurance Performance

  • Maximal Aerobic Capacity (VO2 max) - the most oxygen that you can use at the cellular level.
  • Lactate Threshold - the point where the body begins to show an increase in the amount of blood lactate that is being accumulated above resting levels.
  • Maximal Lactate Steady State - the point where lactate production is equal to lactate clearance rates.
  • Exercise Economy - a measure of the energy cost of an activity. An efficiency rating. Improved exercise economy can greatly impact performance.

Designing an Aerobic Endurance Program

  • Mode - the type of activity performed by the athlete.
  • Frequency - how often the athlete trains per day, week, etc.
  • Recovery - resting from training sessions.
  • Intensity - how hard a training session is.
  • Overload - training that results in gains in performance.
  • Functional Capacity - the difference between an athlete's maximal max and resting heart rate.
  • Heart Rate Reserve (HRR) - the difference between the athletes resting heart rate and maximal heart rate. APMHR-resting heart rate=heart rate reserve.
  • Age-Predicted Maximal Heart Rate (APMHR) - found by subtracting 220 from age. APMHR=220-age.
  • Target heart rate- (HRR*exercise intensity) + RHR.
  • Karvonen Method - first, find the age predicted maximal heart rate. Second, determine the heart rate reserve. Third, determine the target heart rate of the activity. Do this calculation twice to determine the target heart rate.
  • Percentage of Maximal Heart Rate Method - first, find the age predicted maximal heart rate. Second, determine the target heart rate of the activity.
  • The advantage to using the Karvonen method over the a percentage of maximal heart rate is in accounting for age which, may make up 75% of the variability in heart rate between individuals.
  • Ratings of Perceived Exertion (RPE) - a rating system used to determine how hard the athlete perceives the activity is.
  • Metabolic Equivalent - a measure of the intensity of an exercise based on the amount of oxygen it consumes.
  • Power-measuring cranks used by cyclists to monitor exercise power production provide valid and reliable measures, regardless of the environment. Although they are advantageous, they are likely limited to professional and high level amateurs due to the cost.
  • Duration - the length of an exercise or training session. Closely influenced by the intensity of the exercise.
  • Exercise frequency, intensity, or duration should not increase more than 10% each week when progressing.
  • At a certain point, it is no longer possible to increase the frequency or duration of aerobic exercise to progress. At the point, progression only becomes possible by manipulating intensity.

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Types of Aerobic Endurance Training Programs

  • Long, Slow Distance (LSD) - training around an intensity of 70% of VO2 or 80% of maximum heart rate. "Slow" refers to slower than race pace. Greater than race distance or 30 minutes to 2 hours. Likely improves lactate threshold and fat utilization. Does not use the same muscular recruitment pattern and fibers that will be required in competition.
  • Pace/Tempo Training - training intensity done around the lactate threshold or slightly above race pace. Can be done steady or at regular intervals. Steady is performed for 20-30 minutes. Intermittent is done at the same intensity as steady but, in shorter bursts. This training is done to stress athletes at a specific intensity to improve energy production from both anaerobic and aerobic metabolism. Benefits to this sort of exercise are improved running economy and increased lactate threshold.
  • Interval Training - training intensity done close to VO2max. Work intervals should last 3-5 minutes but, can be as short as 30 seconds. Work to rest should be 1:1. This type of training allows an athlete to train at higher intensities closer to VO2max longer than would be possible in a single session. An athletic base should be established first. The benefits of this kind of exercise are increased VO2max and improved anaerobic metabolism.
  • High-Intensity Interval Training - training done at an intensity greater than VO2max. Also referred to as HIIT. Training at high intensities at or above 90% VO2max with brief periods of rest interspersed between bouts. Bouts may be short and last <45 seconds or long and last 2-4 minutes. These two lengths produce specific training responses. Benefits may include increased running speed and economy.
  • Fartlek Training - training that varies intensity between that of LSD and pace/tempo training. Can be applied to multiple types of sports. Challenges all systems of the body. Benefits include, likely reducing boredom from training monotony, improved VO2max, increased lactate threshold, and improved running economy and fuel utilization.
  • In an ideal world, an athlete's training program would include all of these types of training into the yearly, monthly or weekly training schedule.

Application of Program Design to Training Seasons

  • Base Training - another term for the off-season.
  • Off-season - the time period during the year before participation in the competitive and preseason phases of the sport. The goal of this time period is to develop an athletic conditioning base at a low to moderate intensity. Increases should be 5-10% from week to week.
  • Preseason - the phase of the year just before the competitive season. Aspects from all types of training should be incorporated at this time. The strengths and weaknesses of the athlete determine how much and how often she should perform each type of training.
  • In-Season - the phase of the year where competition is taking place. Program design should account for this in schedule. Low intensity and short duration days should precede competition so the athlete is fully recovered to compete. Strengths and weakness of the athlete still determine the types of training.
  • Postseason - active rest time undergone immediately after the competitive season. Training should be done to maintain fitness, strength and lean body mass but, overall the focus is rest, rehabbing injuries and improving the strength of weak muscle groups.

Special Issues Related to Aerobic Endurance Training

  • Cross-Training - can be used during periods of recovery from injury or active rest. Reduces the likelihood of injury from overuse exposure to the same repeated stresses. Will not improve performance in the sport as much as training specifically for that sport would but, it seems reasonable that fitness can be maintained if VO2max intensity and duration are matched. Benefits include adaptations to the cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal system.
  • Detraining - when fitness levels decrease due to a break in the training program, extended rest, injury, illness or a complete cessation in training. Can be minimized by continued training at a lower intensity and frequency or to a lesser degree with cross-training.
  • Tapering - the purposeful reduction in training stress to avoid detraining while maintaining the current level of fitness. There is an increased emphasis on technique work and nutrition during this time. The idea is to show up on competition day at peak form. There are several different types of models to perform this, a typical taper lasts between 7 and 28 days.
  • Resistance Training - often overlooked by endurance athletes. Data suggests that while there is no improvement in VO2max, short-term exercise performance in both cycling and running have been show. Benefits may also include faster recovery from injuries, prevention of overuse injuries, and a reduction in muscular imbalances.
  • Altitude - the height above sea level.

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Steven Mack is founder and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at the private training studio, Simple Solutions Fitness. He consults for Stronger by Science, a leader in fitness research dissemination, and is a former Mizzou football walk-on. Steven dedicates his professional life to helping people through his writing, speaking, and role as a personal trainer.