Threshold Intensive Training

How can I use training in general to improve my aerobic and anaerobic thresholds?

Physiological indicators imply much about the preparedness and performance of endurance athletes. To effectively train for an endurance event, or coach an athlete who is competing in one, accurate physiological data is paramount to guide and monitor training performance and intensity. Once specific performance indicators are known, such as the aerobic threshold (AeT) and the anaerobic threshold (AT), specific workouts can be prescribed to increase an athlete’s AeT and AT. Prescribing key workouts associated with an individual athlete’s AeT and AT allow training to be focused on key areas for performance growth instead of using a cookie-cutter approach to training. 

Ways to Improve AT

The anaerobic threshold (AT) is the effort level between aerobic and anaerobic training. The AT is the point during exercise when an athlete’s body must switch from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism. The AT is a useful measure for determining exercise intensity for training and racing in endurance sports. Athletes often use their AT to learn how to train and what sort of a pace they can maintain during endurance sports.

Tempo Workout

Athletes can improve their anaerobic threshold, regardless of the sport, through tempo workouts. A typical workout consists of a 5 to 10-minute warmup, followed by 30 minutes at or just below AT, and concluding with a 10 minute cool down. When an athlete is at this point he or she cannot talk easily. The athlete is usually sweating quite a bit and cannot maintain the pace for more than 30 minutes.  

 Interval Workouts

Athletes and coaches can also include interval workouts in a training plan to increase AT. An interval workout consists of a 5 to 10-minute warmup, four 10 minute intervals at or just below AT with a 2-minute recovery in between, and concluding with a 10-minute recovery. The number of intervals and time spent at or just below AT can vary depending on training distance and goals.

Ways to Improve AeT

The aerobic threshold is an essential marker of intensity for endurance athletes. The aerobic threshold is the uppermost limit of exercise when the production of energy starts to become dominated by anaerobic glycolysis rather than the oxidation of fats. 

Long Slow Distance (LSD)

Long slow distance (LSD) workouts are long in duration and low in intensity. Regardless of the sport, athletes and coaches can include LSD workouts in a training program to see an increase in the AeT. An LSD workout would last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the condition of the athlete and the sport requirements. The intensity would be at or just below the AeT. When an athlete is at this point he or she can talk but not sing. The athlete is warm and maybe sweating slightly but can maintain this pace for a long period of time.

Regardless of the sport, athletes and coaches can make small changes to a training plan to include tempo, interval, and LSD workouts and see measurable gains in performance. For endurance athletes, both systems are necessary to train. The aerobic energy system provides long-lasting energy because it burns predominantly fat stores and the anaerobic energy system produces energy more quickly and allows an athlete to exercise at higher intensities. The combination of the two is required for high performance.

Kristen Hench

Kristen Hench, Ph.D., is a certified coach through USAT, USAT Para, ACE, USAC, ASCA, ASFA Yoga certified, and is a RRCA certified race director. She has trained beginner through elite athletes helping many to reach podium finishes as well as meet their personal goals in triathlon, running, track, and swimming. Kristen coaches adaptive sports with the USAF AFW2 program as a cycling coach and also works with a variety of able-body and parasport athletes through TRIMotion3. She enjoys helping children and youth get healthy, learn new life-long skills, and build confidence. She has coached internationally and was selected to coach in the 2018 and 2020 Invictus games. Kristen has also directed numerous family races and competed in several triathlons herself, including the Ironman distance events. She placed in the top three for her age group in the inaugural year of the Mountaineer Half Ironman and was one of the top swimmers in the 2004 Lake Placid Ironman. Besides triathlons, Kristen also enjoys marathons (with a PR of 3:15), triathlon, swimming, and a multitude of boot camp activities.

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