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In my last blog I discussed the importance of training in your aerobic zone in order to build the base of your fitness pyramid. This is an oft-skipped step that only leads to frustration in the end. Now that you know the importance of it, let’s discuss how to do it.

Remember that car and its two energy systems?  We have the solar panels that can take you up to 20 kph and then the gas engine kicks in after that. To train the aerobic system we want to stay under that 20 kph threshold. But how do you know if you are in this zone?

Heart Rate Zones

If you search the internet you will find all kinds of references to heart rate zones. Generally aerobic training happens when you stay between about 55% and 75% of your maximum heart rate. You will also find many simple and complex formulae for calculating your maximum heart rate. The problem is, hearts rates vary greatly from person to person and the only truly accurate way to find out your own personal maximum heart rate involves lots of complicated equipment and a willingness to push yourself until you literally drop.

Fortunately there is a very easy and accessible way to get an idea of when you are in the right zone to train your cardiovascular system and build some solar panels for your car. It involves quite simply trying to talk during your workout. If you can speak normally in longer sentences without taking a breath then you are not working hard enough to train your aerobic system. If you can speak in short sentences without huffing and puffing in the middle of them, you are in that aerobic zone we are targeting. If you are unable to get out more than two or three words at a time, you are now in your anaerobic zone and you need to back off the gas pedal. Yes, it’s really as simple as talking.

Finding the Right Activity for You

What’s not simple, though, is finding the right activity where you can sustain this level over an extended period of time. In order to achieve the benefits we are looking for, such as increased ability for the heart to pump blood and increased capillary density in the muscles, this activity must be sustained in the aerobic zone for at least 30 minutes.

Now some of you may be panicking and thinking, “But I couldn’t possibly run for 30 minutes!”  For some reason when we talk about aerobic exercise people go straight to running, but if you haven’t done any base training then I guarantee that if you try to run you will be using that gas burning engine within the first 50 metres, and that is not what we want. Remember, the goal is to stay in that zone where you can speak comfortably in short sentences.

For some people then, a brisk walk is a starting point. This is something that is easy to do and accessible to most everyone. But remember this isn’t a leisurely stroll. You have to push yourself enough that when you speak you have to shorten your sentences. If your current fitness level is such that walking doesn’t cut it, adding some small one or two pound weights in your hands can help get you up into that aerobic zone. Hills are also good for this.

In bad weather if you don’t have a treadmill, you could do some walking on the spot with small weights in your hands, or step-ups. Just make sure the step is low enough that you can still stay in that aerobic zone. It may need to be just an inch or two to achieve this.

Remember, the key is to stay in the aerobic zone. For the overzealous who think more is better, in this case it is not. If you push too hard you will be onto the gas engine and no longer sprouting solar panels.

Get in it for the Long Haul

Training the cardiovascular system for greater efficiency is slow work that requires consistency and persistence. It takes at least three 30-minute workouts per week in your aerobic zone over a period of at least eight weeks before you will body will respond with physical changes. I know that sounds really daunting but the benefits are absolutely worth it.

Improved cardiovascular heath is associated with all kinds of amazing things such as a significantly decreased risk of heart disease, increased metabolism (i.e. your body burns more energy even when at rest!), quicker recovery when you do that higher intensity exercise class, and decreased risk of diseases such as diabetes. I think we’ve probably all heard that, but these things seem far off and quite frankly irrelevant to the here and now.

The Benefits are Amazing

Where I find the greatest rewards in having a strong aerobic base in my daily life is my ability to keep up to my kids. With regular base training I can easily do things like run six times around the block hanging onto the back of my kid’s bicycle seat as they learn to ride for the first time. We can play soccer in the yard for hours or run around in the park playing tag. I can chase them at the beach and throw them in the water repeatedly.

These kinds of family activities are what make me most appreciate the time I have spent adding solar panels to my car. It gives me such joy to run around with my children, and I know that I won’t be able to if I don’t get myself out there three times a week doing base training. If you need any more convincing, here is one last thought. The single best indicator of your children’s fitness level when they become adults is what you model for them right now. The more active you are the more likely they are to be active and fit when they grow up, and isn’t that exactly what we want for them?  As for right now, I’m just happy that they tire out before I do. I’ll just enjoy that while it lasts.

We see the forest and the trees.

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