Designing an aerobic endurance training program is similar to designing other fitness programs for any individual. We can break down training criteria into different subcategories that can be focused on. For example, an aerobic training program should include the following variables: Exercise Mode, Training Frequency, Training Intensity, Exercise Duration, and Exercise Progression.
As with any training program, however, the program should be structured to the individual's needs. For example, one person may have a history of cycling, so their form or exercise economy does not need as much training. They may have been sedentary for months or years though, so more emphasis should be placed on aerobic conditioning.
On the other hand, an individual may be very active with a wide variety of exercises but does not have a lot of experience running, and they wish to run their first marathon. In this case, not as much attention would need to be placed on their conditioning like the example above, but more time and emphasis placed on their running form and efficiency.
Exercise mode refers to the specific activities an individual must train in to become better at their desired sport or event. Obviously, if one is to become a better runner, swimmer or cyclist, they would need to practice their desired event as that would be the ideal specificity training.
Having said that, there are numerous research studies that have been done showing the positive effect cross training can have on any athletic event. Cross training should try and involve as many of the desired body parts as possible though. For example, it would not be as effective for an athlete who is training for a cycling event to spend a lot of time on the bench press.
Training frequency refers to the number of training sessions an individual would have in a set period of time (usually a week). Many different variables can factor into planning an individual's training frequency such as their current fitness level as the less trained an individual is, the more recovery days they would require.
Sport season also influences the training frequency. A seasoned cyclist for example who is participating in an upcoming event may taper their number of training sessions per week.
As with any training program, recovery days are just as important, if not more important than the working days. On recovery days, it is important for one to refuel their nutrient and hydration levels in order for their bodily systems and tissues to repair and recover. Studies have also shown an increase in performance after a rest or recovery period of a day or a few days, which is not all that surprising.
For the most part, the longer a training session is, the less-intense it is and vice-versa. Our muscles consist of a combination of type 1 and type 2 muscle fibers. Type 1 fibers are more fatigue-resistant because their primary energy source is derived from aerobic metabolism, although they cannot create as much power as type 2 fibers can.
Type 2 muscle fibers are more intended for power and speed, although they do so by producing energy by means of anaerobic metabolism. As the intensity of any activity increases, the body begins to transition from mostly type 1 fiber recruitment to type 2, although this is never a black and white transition, there is always some time with overlap.
By training both of these muscle fibers and their subsequent energy systems by using aerobic exercise, you are able to increase the fatigue-resistance of the type 2 fibers by training them to be more aerobically efficient. By doing so, you improve your overall aerobic performance.
The trick to aerobic training is to not train too intensely because a training session would be cut too short, but to also not push the envelope too far, so to speak, as you would not be improving the efficiency of your energy systems.
To date, there are a few different techniques that an individual can use in order to monitor their level of effort that I have listed below.
One of the most widely-used methods of monitoring exertion due to its close relation to oxygen consumption. Most individuals have used methods of calculating a heart rate zone based on their theoretical max heart rate (%MHR). This can be done by subtracting your age from 220 and then multiplying it by a certain percentage or percentages to get a range.
For example, for myself, since I am 26 years old, my %MHR would be:
220 - 26 = 194
85% x 194 = 165
Another heart rate calculation that is also widely-used due to its close proximity to %VO2Max is the Karvonen Method. This is done by first calculating your age-predicted max heart rate (220-age). You then subtract your resting heart rate from this number to get your heart rate reserve (HRR). You then take your HRR and multiply it by your desired exercise intensity and finally add your resting heart rate. Written out, for myself who wants to work at 85% intensity looks like this:
220 - 26 = 194
HRR = 194 - 52 (resting heart rate) = 142
85% intensity = (142 x 0.85) + 52 = 173 beats/minute
Exercise duration simply refers to the amount of time an exercise session lasts. As mentioned previously, the more intense an individual works, the shorter the duration will be.
For example, exercise that is conducted at an intensity above maximal lactate steady state (approx. 85% VO2 Max) will have a short duration of 20-30 mins. On the other hand, exercise that stays at a steady 70% of VO2 Max can last for an hour or more.
As with any type of physical training, aerobic exercise must also follow a progressive overload training style in order to continually challenge and therefore improve the body's performance.
Typically, exercise frequency, intensity, or duration or a combination of all three should be increased from week to week during a training block. Having said that, none of those three categories should be increased by more than 10% at any given time.
Once an individual has reached a sort of upper limit for a certain variable, you can then use the other 2 variables to continue progression. For example, if an individual only have 60 mins on any given day to train, they start at 30 mins of running, 4 days a week, with a 10% training increase each week, they will eventually reach their maximum of 60 mins sessions in a few weeks. You can then "cap" each session at 60 mins, but continue progression by increasing intensity.