My Experience With Aerobic Training (So Far)

This is the first post I've written in a while...so apologies if you check this blog occasionally and haven't seen anything new. Having got suddenly pretty busy with work (loads of fantastic new clients - hooray!) and other commitments, I've only just found the time to sit down and continue blogging. I actually have another post that's been in the works for a month as it's a big one; expect to see it online next week once it's been edited down.

This post is a quick overview of my personal experience with aerobic training. I've often found over the years that reading blog posts of peoples' experiences with training and nutrition to be hugely valuable, especially if they have similar goals to mine. Although this blog post wouldn't stand up to intense scrutiny in the way a scientific paper would, it will clearly show the benefits of aerobic training done properly.

A quick bit of background information first, though. 

I, for a personal trainer, am not very aerobically fit. I'm lean, strong (strong enough, anyway) and carry a decent amount of muscle for a guy with a small frame, but I'm not quite as fit as you'd think. This has bothered me for the last couple of years - it's an area of my own health and fitness I've not worked on properly - and only now that I'm settled into my new routine here in Blackrock and things in the business are building nicely have I finally got the time and the headspace to do something about it.

The things that gave away my lack of aerobic fitness were:

  1. A high heart rate on an easy jog (I'm talking average of 160 bpm at a pace I thought to be slow)
  2. Slow recovery between sets in weight training sessions
  3. I'd sometimes find myself a little bit out of breath from moving a few plates around during a client's session (kind of embarrassing considering personal trainers should be fit and practice everything they preach!!)

Luckily, I'd done a ton of reading and had the necessary equipment to make some powerful changes.

I discovered that low intensity, long duration aerobic training was what I needed to do a lot of. Since the age of 16 when I stopped doing P.E in school and discovered the joys of making music on a computer (see here and here for my very old Soundcould pages), I'd done almost zero aerobic exercise until about two years ago, which meant I'd had 10 years with nearly no aerobic training...oops. I had friends that played sport, cycled everywhere and were much more active than me whilst I sat down and wrote music or lifted weights. 

I did loads and loads of weight training and have benefitted hugely from it, but another sign that I needed to get my act together was that my resting heart rate was often quite high (anywhere from 65-80 bpm depending on stress and other things) and at odds with how I looked. In short I was, until recently, feeling pretty unfit. Weight training will make your heart stronger, but the benefits of aerobic training are much more potent for the heart. It will lower resting heart rate over time as the training makes it much more efficient.

So in September I began running in earnest. My lovely wife bought me a Garmin Forerunner a few years ago to track runs and bike rides on and it seldom got used until this year. I have been taking it slowly and building up the mileage. There's been a couple of weeks where I've not felt 100% so haven't done much but I'm now into a great rhythm and on track to hit my target of 3 - 3.5 hours per week, every week. 

Even after only a handful of runs I can feel a big difference, as the below pictures will illustrate. When I did my first run my average pace was 5:49 min/km with an average heart rate of 153 bpm. My most recent run was at an average pace of 5:16 min/km with my average heart rate being 145 bpm. The graphs in the gallery below show the improvements in average pace and average speed, and also how my heart rate has stayed roughly the same while the pace and speed go up. I've only enough data to show the trends over the last four weeks, but it's looking pretty promising so far:

I've noticed a few key things need to be just right to see consistent progress:

  1. Sleep. Without enough sleep, my heart rate on the runs feels too high and energy is lacking. This week's better sleep helps explain the sudden jump in progress. I also find that a run helps me sleep in a way that a big weights session doesn't.
  2. Hydration. Not drinking enough water has a huge impact on energy levels and heart rate is increased when running.
  3. Volume (or weekly training time). Three runs a week of at least 45 minutes seems to be the minimum that I can do and see noticeable progress week after week.
  4. Nutrition and supplementation. Sufficient protein and carbohydrate intake have been crucial for energy levels. Magnesium supplements have also helped with recovery thanks to better sleep.

There are of course several other variables that might explain the drastic change in the last week or two in the rate of my progress. One of them is temperature: when it's colder heart rate is less likely to rise as much as when it's hot. State of mind (such as how stressed/anxious/happy/optimistic I feel) can play a big role as well. Approaching a run in a negative frame of mind never feels as beneficial as when I'm itching to get out there.

There are too many other variables to list in this post, but I think it's safe to say that I'm developing better aerobic fitness. It feels great.

If you'd like to give it a go, I'd recommend that you:

  1. Start slow and easy - follow the advice in this article to find target heart rates and ramp up the distance slowly.
  2. Monitor progress using a GPS watch or phone app in conjunction with a heart rate monitor. 
  3. Remember that it takes time! You can see massive changes in four weeks of weight lifting, but the first markers of progress and increases in running pace might take longer than four weeks. 
  4. Recovery is key. You adapt when you recover. You can't recover and repair as well if you run seven days a week.

I'll post another update in the new year on this same topic.