Aerobic Power Training

Posted by Scott Christensen

Documented training schemes designed to improve aerobic power velocitym (vVO2 max) in distance runners were first described by the Soviet Sports Institute in the 1970’s. Besides the Eastern Bloc countries, one of the athletics organizations to quickly pick up on the training concept was the British Milers Club in the early 1980’s. Frank Horwill and a bit later Peter Coe were two of the coaches to understand the value in improving aerobic power with very specific stimulus applications.

Meanwhile, in the United States, David Costull Ph D, David Martin Ph D, Joe Vigil Ph D, and Jack Daniels Ph D were working distance runners through aerobic power training schemes and documenting their progress by rigorous application of the Scientific Method. These pioneers have shaped the modern day training protocol addressing improvement in aerobic power.

Since the early days, it was well known that aerobic power development was one of the four training domains in preparing distance runners. (See also Coach Christensen’s 2 related articles: Aerobic Power Primer and Aerobic Power Principles.) Consider the standard track events of the 800 meter meters to the 10,000 meters. Anaerobic energy system development hinges on increasing lactate tolerance, while aerobically the three domains are: improving running economy, shifting the lactate threshold, and boosting aerobic power. These four domains have varying influence based on the distance of the race. In races from the 1600 meters to the 6000 meter race in cross country, aerobic power is the major training stimulus used in affecting performance.

CTF-cross country training

Aerobic power training sessions can be either continuous efforts or interval style in design. Aerobic power directed workloads are most effective if run precisely at date pace vVO2 max. Since this marker presumably improves as fitness improves during the macrocycle it is a progressive value that must be closely monitored for each runner. It is recommended that vVO2 max markers be updated once every three weeks with either a quantitative field test or a race that is comparable to theirvVO2 max. Each runners date pace vVO2 max value should be part of their individual’s athletic profile that is then used to structure many different aerobic training sessions.

The total volume for each aerobic power training session should be within the range of 2400 meters to 6400 meters. The only exception may be an occasional 1600 meter total volume session during the tapering portion of the competitive training phase. If done as intervals, aerobic power work should always have a work to rest time ratio of 1:1 to insure a proper end of the session stimulus. Since vVO2 max varies from individual to individual, the recovery interval becomes problematic in a large and diverse training group.

With clever administration and monitoring of the group these problems can be minimized. Since aerobic training loads are intensely done at an energy system contribution of 87% aerobic and 13% anaerobic, a race day warm-up of at least three miles is recommended, with all the dynamic movement diversity need to be ready to run at that velocity from the word go. Aerobic power training sessions must be done at least once during each microcycle while in season.


Aerobic power training sessions done as a continuous effort:

A continuous run at vVO2 max serves two purposes: it can be used as a date pace aerobic power fitness field test, or in practice it can be implemented as the single training stimulus itself. The single effort can never exceed 3200 meters in length. If the training theme for the day is to update the vVO2 max field test, then it must be treated as a 2 mile race among teammates at full effort. Once the final times are recorded for all of the runners, each effort can be cut in half to determine present day vVO2 max pace and the data can be placed in the updated individual athlete profile.

As a training session, a single continuous effort done at vVO2 max could vary from 2400 meters to 3200 meters. These workouts are typically done on foul weather days or during the tapering period in order to minimize time at practice. It is also an appropriate developmental workout for novice runners. The pace should be done precisely at date vVO2 max. There is no recovery interval to address, so a 4-5 mile continuous effort at gentle aerobic threshold pace could be added after the hard effort to supplement the workout.


Training Resource: The Training Model for High School Cross Country


Aerobic power training sessions done as interval style efforts:

An interval style aerobic power training unit allows more than 3200 meters of total volume to be done for the training session. The work can vary from many repeats at 400 meters to a couple of repeats of 3200 meters. The more the repetitions, the more the recovery intervals, which again must be closely monitored with a work to rest ratio of 1:1.

The total volume of the session rarely exceeds 6400 meters, but can go as high as 8600 meters in experienced runners. Aerobic power workloads require a 48 hour recovery before a similar training stimulus should be applied. A few examples of specific training units can be found in Table 1.

CTF-Aerobic Power Training.T1

Aerobic power training sessions are cornerstone workouts for distance runners in the 800-6000 meter events. In races of this length the ability to utilize oxygen by the working muscles of the athlete is the limiting factor. Aerobic power training sessions are designed to improve the maximal use of oxygen.

Years of scientific research has presented to the coach the precise parameters of the aerobic power training stimulus that should be applied to gain the greatest VO2 max development in the least amount of time.


Scott Christensen - Scott Christensen’s teams have been ranked in the national top 10 eight times. He won the 1997 High School National Championship and his squads have captured multiple Minnesota State Championships. Scott has coached 13 Minnesota State Championship-winning teams and 27 individual Minnesota State Champions. He was the USTFCCCA Endurance Specialist School junior team leader for the World Cross Country Team in 2003 and the senior team leader in 2008. Scott is a 14-year USATF Level II endurance lead instructor.

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