Building your aerobic base

On the Second Nature programme, we've discussed the positive benefits of anaerobic/high-intensity training in detail, including weight loss, improved blood glucose regulation, and reduced insulin resistance (or improved insulin sensitivity). However, before you attempt to undertake anaerobic training, it’s important to develop a foundation level of aerobic fitness, known as your ‘aerobic base’.

Why? There are three primary reasons:

1) You'll increase your exercise tolerance and endurance, so you’ll be able to exercise for longer periods

2) You'll start to train your central nervous system to allow for efficient communication between your brain and muscles

3) You'll improve your muscular strength to prevent injuries and allow for a smooth transition into more challenging workouts

How to develop an ‘aerobic fitness base’

You can do this using any activity you like, however, this article will focus on walking and jogging. If you don’t enjoy walking or jogging, there'll be an explanation on how to build an aerobic fitness base with other activities later on.

To begin with, it’s important to gauge your current fitness level. This will depend on many factors, including your age, how much physical activity you currently do, and your weight. In order to establish your current fitness level, you can start with a ‘10-minute tester’.

This involves completing a brisk walk, a light jog, or even a run for 10-minutes. It doesn’t matter how far you run, or how quickly, just complete 10-minutes at a comfortable pace. Once this is complete, rate the difficulty on the RPE scale and write this down.

Activity > Assess > Repeat

Once you’ve completed the ‘10-minute tester’ to determine your current fitness level, you can start to build up. Remember to take this phase slowly and gradually build up your endurance. The key is to do a little more each time than you did in the previous session, even if it’s 30-seconds additional walking.

To help monitor your progress, you can ask yourself the following questions:

1) How hard did you rate your tester?

2) Could you go for longer next time?

3) What is your new target? How much further or quicker would you like to go?

4) When can you achieve this by?

See an example below:

1) I rated my tester at 7/10, I was brisk walking and I felt challenged without being too uncomfortable

2) Yes, I think I could push myself a bit harder

3) I'll walk for 12 minutes next time at a similar pace

4) I'll do the 12-minute walk after work tomorrow

You can complete this ‘activity > assess > repeat’ process after each walk or run. Attempt to complete three to four walks/runs per week. If you feel you could do it more often - then that’s great! They key is to set achievable goals.

How long should I do this for?

As mentioned previously, this will depend on many factors. If you were completely sedentary at the beginning and not used to undertaking any physical activity, then you would need 8-12 weeks to build a sufficient aerobic base before attempting any form of vigorous exercise.

If you were relatively active at the beginning and are used to undertaking physical activity, then you may only need 4-6 weeks before you feel comfortable enough to undertake a high-intensity workout.

Do I need to reach a certain level?

No. It doesn’t matter if at the end of this phase you can only jog for 15 minutes or run for 25, every individual is different. The main aim is to develop your own personal fitness level, and reduce your likelihood of injury when you start to push yourself further.

Can I do this with another activity?

Yes! You just need to apply the same principles to any activity of your choosing.

For example, you could complete your ‘tester’ with any chosen activity, it could be beginner’s yoga, Zumba, swimming etc.

Activity > Assess > Repeat

1) How hard did you rate your tester?

2) Could you go for longer or harder next time?

3) Set your target, how much further or harder?

4) When?

See an example below using Zumba:

Tester: I attended a 30 minute Zumba class for beginner’s today.

1) I rated my tester a 6, I was a lot slower than the rest of the class, but I enjoyed the moves and felt good afterwards

2) No, I could not go harder, I felt it was challenging enough

3) I felt comfortable at how hard I was working and feel that after a few more sessions I'll be able to pick up the pace

4) There’s another class in three days time, I'll attend that

General rules for building your aerobic fitness base:

  • Gradually increase your output, either in time or intensity. Try not to do too much at once, as this may lead to an injury and a negative experience, which could put you off exercise for good.
  • Ensure you're warming up and cooling down before and after each activity
  • Listen to your body, if you feel like you need a rest, have a rest
  • Like with all exercise, try and find something you enjoy so it’s sustainable for the future
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