Getting Back to Basics: Building an Aerobic Base

getting-back-to-basicsUnderstanding the importance and relevance of aerobic base is not just for athletes and people training for specific events like marathons, but for anyone interested in fitness. The key to effective aerobic base, trainers say is discipline; it takes an abundance of patience and focus to switch gears from high intensity training and workouts to low intensity. Trainers advise that aerobic base is a slow-process, training technique that shouldn’t be hurried and according to, “the sooner you get started the faster you’ll be.”

Whit Reutlinger of Orange Theory, whose philosophy of fitness is ‘Base, Push, All Out,’ explains what aerobic base is and why it’s important.
“Getting back to base, why that’s important? When you get back to base pace, when it comes to high intensity interval training, which is what Orange Theory is, you’ve heard of tabata (training which consists of eight rounds of ultra-high-intensity exercises in a specific 20-seconds-on, 10-seconds-off interval) where you’re getting into your anaerobic zone and you’ve heard about your aerobic threshold, so when you get back to your base pace on a molecular level you’re burning more fat for energy and less muscle for energy,” Whit says.

“So for example, in Orange Theory, you have about a 54 minute class, within that workout you’re in your aerobic base for about half that class, about 25 to 35 minutes. By doing that, you’re going to be burning more fat than you are muscle. If you were in anaerobic for 45 minutes, that would be too much. Not only would you be gassed, but it’s also not the most efficient way to burn fat,” Whit says.

“The difference, when we’re talking body type when we’re training somebody, for example, when you look at a sprinter’s body, an Olympic sprinter compared to an Olympic marathon runner; what do you notice about them,” Whit asks rhetorically. “The sprinter still has muscle; they’re just as lean, the marathon runner is just as lean but without any muscle on their body – they just burn through all the muscle. A marathon runner is in base pace the whole time.”

Lisea Julien, group fitness manager at Crunch in Sarasota, breaks base aerobic down to its base: “The purpose of aerobic base training is to increase the body’s ability to use oxygen to create energy.”

“The concept, simply put, is to go slower in order to get faster. Usually associated with long distance runners or triathletes, base training is a set period of time during which training is kept in the aerobic zone. An athlete might spend several months training at 60-80 percent of max heart rate, with little to no anaerobic training during this phase,” Lisea explains. “In the aerobic zone, the body has the ability to use oxygen, with fat as the fuel source, to create energy. The more work done aerobically, the more efficient the body becomes at this process. Gains in aerobic base then lead to better performance at higher anaerobic intensities.”

Lisea says base aerobic training is a more efficient use of fat to create energy, which improves overall metabolism, adding that an increase in stroke volume means with each beat, the heart pumps more blood and she says that an increase in capillary density delivers more blood to working muscles.

Whitney Bartlett, Director of Training Programs and Corporate Wellness New Balance, Fleet Feet and Molly’s Sarasota believes “building an aerobic base is a crucial part of training for all athletes.”

“I believe one of the most important benefits of a long and consistent base phase is that by slowly increasing the volume of the workout it gives the body time to adapt to the stress being placed on it. This will allow the athlete to be able to perform at high intensities and not have their bodies become overstressed which increases the chance of injury and overtraining,” Whitney says.

“Becoming sidelined with an injury is an athlete’s worst nightmare,” she says, “and being smart with your training to reduce that chance of injury is key in my eyes.”