Sock Doc Training Part II: Build Your Aerobic System – (Move Your Ass Often, But Not Too Quickly)

Sock Doc Training Part I: Aerobic Activity Is the Foundation to Your Health AND Fitness

Building your aerobic system is vital whether you’re in a highly anaerobic sport such as professional hockey, a long distance marathoner, or an average guy or gal looking to be as healthy as possible. But you have to actually develop this aerobic system, which is not done by pushing your heart rate (HR) to extreme levels and holding it for a prolonged period of time. Actually, you want to keep your HR low – such as the 180-age formula or a Zone 2 or Zone 3 heart rate. (Finding your aerobic training zone is discussed here.) This is how you develop your aerobic base for optimum fat burning, overall health, and eventually a strong anaerobic system.

Those who shun aerobic exercise are missing out on these vital benefits – benefits that will not be achieved by interval training alone. I’ve treated several NHL players who stay strong well into the third period because they have effectively developed their aerobic system – not just by skating hard but by doing some prolonged, low HR workouts. Look at another very anaerobic sport such as boxing. I love to watch Manny Pacquio train and fight. He does some 800 meter repeats but he, like other fighters, go out and run long slow distances, just like Rocky. He’s got a superior aerobic system to get him through twelve rounds of a very anaerobic event. In high school, wrestling was my main sport. For those of you who have wrestled, you’ll probably agree that it’s the most demanding six minutes you’ll even endure. Wrestling is very anaerobic, but lasting six minutes and keeping that anaerobic strength is dependent on a strong aerobic foundation.

The amount of aerobic base you need will be dependent on your sport. If you’re interested in all around fitness then your goal is to develop your aerobic system to the max as well as your anaerobic system. If you’re more of a strength and power athlete, then your aerobic conditioning will not need to be as developed as a long distance runner. This may seem obvious to some, but many fail to realize the importance of aerobic for ALL athletes.

Too Much Aerobic?

Aerobic conditioning is best achieved via long workouts several times a week. To some degree, the more the better, (depending on the aerobic capacity you’re seeking to achieve based upon your sport), as long as it is truly aerobic, and eventually anaerobic endurance is incorporated once the base is built. But can you do too much aerobic? You bet you can. There are two main problems I see with those who overdo true “aerobics.” I’ll point out that overtraining the aerobic system is much less common than overtraining the anaerobic system because most people want to go too hard, too fast, too soon in their exercise program. (I will discuss overtraining more in Part IV.)

First are the people who go way too slow and actually never even get into their aerobic training zone. These people train at or below Zone 1 too often, which is best suited for recovery and super-easy days. Running slowly will increase cardiac efficiency but too slowly has what I all “diminishing returns on your investment” – it will take much longer to achieve the same results than if you were training at faster aerobic levels, if you’re able to achieve them at all. It can take years to develop aerobic efficiency, which is why you see many great long distance athletes peaking in the late 30s. If you’re always walking – that’s great – but eventually you need to walk faster, or up and down some hills, or walk/run.

Second, and more common, are distance training athletes who do way too much aerobic for too long and don’t add in some anaerobic training either via intervals or strength work. They fail to maintain an aerobic/anaerobic balance.  I have overtrained aerobically twice (that I know of). The overtraining of the aerobic system comes with symptoms a bit different than those of overtraining the anaerobic system. See signs of symptoms of overtraining. Clinically, the thyroid gland gets run down when there is too much aerobic involvement, as opposed to the adrenal glands taking the hit with too much anaerobic (at least initially). Someone overtraining aerobically will lose some body leanness and muscle mass, they’ll be more mentally fatigued, more physically fatigued, and may have a deep chill – “bones are cold.” Anaerobic overtraining may have similar symptoms but typically results in an injury “that just came out of nowhere” or you “woke up with,” as well as frequent illness/infection or getting a cold that will not remedy easily. Interestingly, rest doesn’t correct this aerobic excess problem but rather some anaerobic activity does. So the prescription is often some hard intervals, hill repeats, and/or strength training to get the individual out of the aerobic excess syndrome. (For the therapists out there and others too, you can read my clinical research paper on evaluating the aerobic and anaerobic system.)

HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training: Good & Evil

I don’t want to call this a fad but it sure does seem to be the new “in workout” though interval training is nothing new. High intensity interval training is basically alternating between a period of high intensity activity, say for 5-60 seconds, and then recovering in-between each set, typically by walking, for a period of time. Yes, these workouts can be very effective at increasing your performance AND your health. They can even increase your aerobic capacity – though they are primarily very anaerobic workouts. Despite the aerobic benefits, continued implementation of these types of workouts over time will break you down; your immune system, your hormonal system – all the systems of your body will all suffer. Additionally, oxidative stress (free radical damage) occurs with anaerobic excess and that can lead to premature aging and many diseases, such as autoimmune diseases and cancer.

These workouts will improve your lactate threshold and even improve how well your body uses glucose in tissues – known as insulin sensitivity. Mitochondria, those energy powerhouses of your cells, are most prevalent in the slow twitch aerobic muscle fibers, but anaerobic training will increase them too – that’s called biogenesis. You’ll also burn fat during these workouts, as well as glucose, and you’ll recruit a high amount of Type II muscle fibers leading to development of your anaerobic endurance. So yeah, high intensity anaerobic intervals are super cool, when you’re ready for them.

Now remember that at low intensity aerobic workouts you’ll burn more fat than glucose but at higher intensity you end up burning more calories over the long run, which can lead to more fat loss. These are all good things, but realize that HIIT workouts, being promoted by some as “the only cardio you need to do” can be very harmful to your health and your fitness if done too often or for some too soon in a training program. Let’s not all forget, especially with the huge focus today on Paleo and the health and lifestyle of our ancestors millions of years ago, we didn’t just sprint, lift, sprint, lift, repeat all day long. Hunter-gatherers traveled across vast areas over time – that’s an aerobic quality. They didn’t run as hard as they could, but they maintained a steady aerobic pace. Look at persistent hunting – one had to be in superb physical conditioning, especially aerobic conditioning, to track an animal for so long, and then utilize the anaerobic system for the sprint in for the final kill (and the throwing of the spear).

Although I feel that a person can begin strength training (discussed next in Part III) relatively early in a training program, HIIT workouts should be excluded from any program until there is a sufficient aerobic base. Unfortunately though, many start these workouts immediately due to time constraints as advocates say they’re “more practical.” It’s a time crunch issue, much like a person looking to take a pill for a quick fix rather than address their health problem. Many people don’t want to, or don’t know how to, develop some aerobic endurance. Many of the studies, such as this one from 2006 in the Journal of Physiology, make special note that HIIT workouts are “time efficient strategies.” That doesn’t mean they should replace all aerobic conditioning workouts. Plus, these studies are short – they’re not following participants for months after the study to see how their health and fitness are progressing. And they’re not advocating they continue in such an exercise fashion either.

HIIT workouts dramatically increase stress hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine, which over time can lead to health problems and injuries. Low testosterone levels in men and low progesterone levels in women occur from training too hard, too often, with insufficient rest. This can come from too many HIIT workouts or too much high intensity “cardio” as discussed in Part I. True aerobic exercise, however, can not only lower stress hormones but increase anabolic hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone.  Anaerobic sprints are touted as a great way to increase human growth hormone (HGH), but aerobic exercise, when done properly, won’t deplete it. Excessive anaerobic can deplete growth hormone as much as proper anaerobic can increase it.

Essentially, without a sufficient aerobic base, you’ll overtrain (Part IV). Once you are ready to implement HIIT workouts into your training, you should follow common sense anaerobic guidelines – adequate recovery (often 48 hours in between workouts), and adequate breaks (cycle weeks on/off depending on your program). In other words, you should not be doing HIIT workouts 3-4 times a week for several weeks (5-6+) without a change in intensity or a break, or you’re destined for problems. The amount of HIIT workouts you can handle is determined by your health, recovery, aerobic capacity, and overall stress in your life.

So remember – those who want to talk anti-aerobic are often the same groups that bash long slow distance training and unhealthy looking, muscle-wasted “skinny” runners. If done properly, your aerobic workouts should be relatively not too easy but not too difficult; some say you should finish an aerobic workout “pleasantly tired.” But for many it’s not low intensity because their health and fitness sucks (yeah, it’s true) and they’re impatient to develop their aerobic system. Oddly enough, if you’re in a “time crunch” as most are, HIIT workouts can be one of the worst things for your health, (I underlined that for emphasis). Sure you’ll develop some aerobic and anaerobic conditioning faster than if you just logged in a bunch of miles, but when you’re already producing a lot of stress hormones from being in that “time crunch” and also most likely eating poorly and not sleeping well, more anaerobic activity in your already anaerobic life is not a good thing. It’s a great way to soon be injured or develop some health condition. That’s fitness achieved by compromising health. It’s not just [all] about looking buff. You might not care to run a 10K in 40min but you should be able to run one in roughly one hour – and not all out anaerobic, which an unfit person wouldn’t be able to sustain anyway. To me, that’s a level of fitness.  You’re not going to get there doing just speed work.

Sock Doc Training Part III: Strength Training – Do It. But Make It Work For You

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  1. happyman12 says

    Hello Doc,

    Thanks for the great article. It all makes sense but one question , please.

    My wife, 38 year old mum of two kids, is generally healthy but hasn’t done much sport for 5 years due to the kids. However, she walks a lot every day due to normal living and eats healthily. I would say that in general she lives an aerobic lifestyle. However, she has recently started aerobic classes 3 times a week.
    After reading your articles I’m inclined to think that she isn’t doing any or very little aerobic training and only anaerobic as aerobic classes in general are high intensity. She loves to go as it’s a time to workout to music and sweat. It’s also a time only for her, no thinking or worrying about the kids etc as I’m sure is quite typical for working mums. So what you do think, do the cons outweigh the pros??

    Many thanks Dave

    • says

      Yes I hear this a lot and my wife is in the same situation – she does Crossfit (anaerobic) but balances it with running (aerobic). Your wife, if she wants to take those ANaerobics classes, needs to balance that with some true aerobics. Walking for a job or daily life chores doesn’t count. She needs to actually walk a sustained 30-60 minutes at an aerobic HR. I move all day long – my job is very physical but I do not count it as 1% of my training/exercise.

  2. says

    How often can I safely do aerobic training? I just recently bought a HR monitor and Maffetone’s endurance book, so I am using his recommendations for finding my Max HR. He doesn’t talk alot about frequency of working out during the base period, as it is quite dependent on the person and the goals.

    If during my base building I were to perform an hour of aerobic activity 5 days a week, on the sixth day do a long day hike (i.e. 5-6 hours) in the mountains with my family, and on the seventh day rest, does that sound reasonable? If my legs feel stiff/tired one of those days but I otherwise feel fine, should I take a rest day or can I still go out?

    • says

      Well you can do aerobic a lot if you’re healthy. Remember that moving about all day is (or should be) aerobic, but in regards to aerobic training (180-age or Zone II-III) then that is dependent on factors such as your health, diet, what you’re training for, stress, etc. So much to consider. More is not necessarily better, but to some degree more aerobic is. I’d say that your plan is fine and if your legs are sore one day then you could just train less that day (time or lower aerobic intensity).

  3. Ryan Logana says

    Hey Doc I started training at the age of 13 and literally never stopped ever I have had major knee surgeries 5 or so years ago I have had countless stressful jobs I could not stand I finally said enough is enough and pursued by Personal training career I have an unbelievable passion for the fitness/nutrition lifestyle I’m 26 now at the age of 22-23 I achieved body fat percentage of 2 percent while working a back breaking job and literally sleeping 2-3 hours a night due to my hormone imbalance I didn’t have a spoil meal in 8 months I was finally achieving the look I’ve been longing for for the 10 years I was already training and it was due to proper training times and nutrition little did i know I was already deep in a over trained zone for years before that I used to spend 3-5 hours a day in the gym from the age of 14 through 19 years old i just loved it so much and though more was better as I got older I got smarter I studied non stop this all leads to my decline at age 23 I look back and I know every little thing I did wrong basically al all started at work 3 years ago to make a very long story short I had continued dizziness lack of sex drive for years insomnia all of the above to the 10th degree I know I’ve abused my body not many can say they have done the work i have done in gyms over all these years I left work one night with sharp pains in my abdomen got blood work done got called back a week or so later and was notified in A very unprofessional way that at the age of 23 I had a testosterone level of 73.6 I have all the blood work to prove it from then on I was treated horribly by doctors none believing what I havenput myself through in the prior years basically going into every appointment and teaching each person endos euros physicians etc. About what I believed to be happening to myself they all basically gave me the run around consistently I had my blood drawn an easy 50 times in the past 3 years depression took over my life trying to cure myself naturally took over my life I stayed away from TRT because deep down I knew what I had done to myself and I knew there had and has to be a way of fixing myself naturally I said from day 1 it was my adrenals from all of the prior fat burners and caffiene and stress of money and jobs and daily life issues being cheated on etc. To this day I have found no help because I’m not well off with money I know for a fact there are people out there that can help an lead me to recovery I started to slowly heal myself with no help of doctors and recently felt decent enough to try and compete in my first naturaly bodybuilding contest but ended up back in the hole my test levels are shot which absolutely eats away at me every blinking moment my adrenals are shot I know for a fact no matter what anyone tells me I know my body I’m a smart kid who wants to do things the right way I just need guidance I’ve hit breaking points where unjust question how I can even deal anymore I’ve finally decided to take time off from training which is the only component I would never try because of my love for it but that by itself will not fix the problem completely i need help dr. Please pleaseeee If you know of anyone I will do anything to reach normalcy to be honest with you I think I have been suffering for over 10 years now never really knowing how it feels to be “normal” I reside in Syracuse New York I am an aspiring fitness enthusiast/ nutrition consultant I help others day in and day out but sir I need help badly thank you for reading this there is much more but I’d be here for a week typing. Please help if you can. -Ryan Logana-

    • says

      The best advice I can give you is everything on this site and you should try to find a doc that will address your problems – and the link between them – not just compartmentalizing each one.

  4. Robin says

    Hello Doc
    Do the old fashioned “aerobics” class like step or zumba count as aerobic or anaerobic? I have been using these classes once or twice a week as HIIT. I also do 3-4 regular slow paced runs per week. I am interested in dropping some body fat . My diet is quite good – paleo like with a few more starchy carbs. The fat around the middle does not move while my arms and legs getter leaner.

    • says

      That all depends on your HR. For most, those “aerobics” classes area anaerobic. 1-2X of HIIT a week is fine if you have a good aerobic base. But you can’t do the same routine week in, week out. Intensity and duration need to be adjusted to make it so your body continuously adapts to training.

  5. Juzbo says

    So glad I found your site, so much helpful info. I have been trying to work out why despite a pretty good diet and good exercise, I am still experiencing a number of problems. The answer seems to be too much stress on the adrenal system due to too much anaerobic training and a few other things…. Like needing to cut back on coffee and cocoa and recalibrate my low fodmap diet – it was the fodmap article that lead me here btw. Any way, I have heard before about the need to train at a lower heart rate which for me should be 135 but I love running and run comfortably and slowly at 165 hr for up to an hour or so and haven’t been able to change… Until now. Recent neck problems, a shocking flu and generally feeling antsy and agitated and over focused on food which just doesn’t feel normal has made me reevaluate! I can also see that the classes I do at my new gym are much more anaerobic and hiit type than my old gym which has exacerbated the problem further. So very keen to see how a cleaner paleo low fodmap diet and more aerobic exercise and less anaerobic exercise affects my health and stability.
    Anyway, I did want to ask but I think you have answered it by way of the previous post….. I used to do body combat classes which I loved- shadow boxing to music- generally my heart rate stayed under 135 nearly the whole class… So for me that would make it aerobic exercise right?

    • says

      Yes if your HR is under 135 then for you it would be primarily aerobic. But if you’re adding in strength (not as much with shadow boxing but if you were hitting a bag – or person), then you’d add in some anaerobic components (Type II muscle fibers).

  6. juzbo says

    Thanks Steve, really helpful… I was wondering where boxing classes (against bags/people) fit…
    So tell me (please), I like having strong toned arms….. Would swimming be a good aerobic substitute then for the boxing?
    And would high rep really low weight arm exercises still be mainly aerobic if heart rate is kept in the aerobic zone?
    I’m doing a comp in 4 weeks – 10km obstacle course and need to keep some strength but I want to reduce anaerobic stresses immediately as much as possible for my health.
    Thanks again for the great information

    • says

      You can typically assume that lifting weights is going to be more anaerobic and hitting a bag (or person) will be too. Though this is a gross generalization. It all depends on your health, fitness, and the aerobic base you’ve built (anaerobic conditioning too). Weights can be aerobic somewhat. Swimming can be all aerobic or all anaerobic – it depends. If you’re not a good swimmer you will most likely be more anaerobic because you’re inefficient. Swimming and boxing two completely different exercises regardless though as boxing will add strength much more than swimming.

  7. Patrick McKenna says

    Maybe your signs/symptoms of overtraining list could note which ones typically are from too much aerobic and which are more typically from too much anaerobic exercise (just a suggestion). In the case of too much aerobic, how long does it take before the addition of some anaerobic/strength training will correct the problem. Thanks for all your help, this is one of my favorite websites.
    Ultrarunner with cold bones

    • says

      Thanks Patrick, that will be considered for a later topic. Pretty much most of them are from too much anaerobic though (high intensity). Although marathoners and long distance endurance athletes can overtrain the aerobic system, (as I have), it’s not very common. If you “catch” the problem of too much aerobic and add in anaerobic/strength (and stop aerobic long endurance) you can typically get out of that rut in a couple weeks. If you’re in deep (overtraining aerobic for many, many months), it could take much longer. Then the question arises as to what type of anaerobic – do you do sprints? Weights? Hill repeats? Plyometrics? That’s all dependent on the situation.

      Glad you like my site; I appreciate it!

  8. Tommy says

    Short question: you write about aerobic overtraining and thyroid gland problems. I have low thyroid function for a while now (I just noticed it 2 years ago duing a blood check up). Since then I take thyroid hormones every day which is not really what I want to do for the next 50 years!
    I am age 42 and a runner for 26 years now and have a very good aerobic base, training mostly aerobic (Marathon PB 2h39min).
    Could you a bit more explain the interdependence between aerobic overtraining and thyroid gland problems and how to correct it? Thanks!

    • says

      This correlation (aerobic – thyroid) is one that myself and another holistic doc has made since we’ve seen it occur in various patients. It’s not researched otherwise, but a clinical finding/correlation (which is good enough in my book). Some have noticed low thyroid symptoms, some not. I personally noticed feeling a deep chill “bone cold” and low energy, and it was attributed to my thyroid becoming run down. Also not staying as lean, as mentioned.

      To correct it though is very individualized – not something I can say “do this or that” with, other than consider cutting back on the aerobic and adding in some strength or HIIT.

  9. Dustin says

    Love your principles! How do you know when you have developed a strong aerobic base? What is a good, quantifiable indication?

  10. Susan says

    I have to say that I’ve sort of become an armchair internet expert over the years, but now I’m beginning to think I don’t know anything. I’ve been trying to lose weight (about 30-40 lbs) for about three years, with minimal success. I even had a trainer 3x/ week doing weights and crossfit type workouts– though I lost a little weight, I think I looked terrible — puffed up face, thick through the neck and upper shoulders. I’ve tried to do intervels/ HIIT type exercise for a while with little result and I’m beginning to think I just need to go back to basics. Although I can run pretty fast for about 1 minute, I can’t run straight at a lower intensity for more than maybe 3 minutes. I bought DDP yoga after a rather famous transformation story that circulated the web (I’m a sucker for that stuff) — some of the moves are fairly difficult for me (low squats and push-ups) but he emphasizes keeping your HR at aerobic level and I use a monitor to keep at or around 140 (I’m 40.) I guess I’m asking whether, because of the strength component, this counts as an aerobic workout still. I do enjoy it, and with young kids at home, it’s something I can do easily in my living room.

    • says

      It’s not really “aerobic” when you’re doing strength if your HR is in the aerobic zone, because when you’re implementing strength you’ve got anaerobic-type muscle fibers working. But for most it is okay, but also for most, they overdo the strength by doing too much too often without a solid aerobic foundation.

  11. Susan says

    Thanks for your reply– I truly appreciate your insight. I went for a brisk walk –keeping HR at about 135– last night. I am amazed at how difficult it was for me to sustain the effort. I can run for a minute at 7 mph on a 10% incline, but brisk walking for several minutes was hard– I had to keep taking it down a notch to keep HR in the zone. After years of ever increasing ‘gimmicks’ to try to lose weight/ get in shape– cross-fit, primal burpees, probiotics, fish oil, cold water showers (to increase fat-burning brown fat!); I can’t believe that basic endurance and aerobic capacity never really crossed my mind. I’m just going to focus on building my aerobic base and eating well– thanks for the info.

  12. Mark says

    Great article, very informative. I have started walking briskly in the last week to try and build aerobic fitness, i am 34 and used to play football when i was younger but put on about 28lbs ( I’m 6’3 and 238lbs) and have tried over the last few years to lose it doing anaerobic but it just meant as you say stress on my body and my appetite went through the roof hence i have never been able to shake it. I have tried a number of times to do running programs but never get past the second week.

    I can safely say after reading your article i have probably never had a good aerobic base!
    My question is how long will it take me to build one walking briskly for an 45 minutes to 1 hour a day?

  13. Craig says

    Sock Doc,

    Interesting web site!

    I stumbled on you via a link posted at another site, and read through some of your stuff on building an aerobic base. I had previously encountered the Maffetone method while web surfing, and done some reading on the subject, but hadn’t really attempted to incorporate any of this into my personal exercise program.

    Thought I might ask you to address some questions I have:

    1). Most of the information that I find on aerobic base building seems aimed at people who are engaged at some level in competitive distance activities: distance running, triathalon participants, etc. From reading about how athletes do this, I get the feeling that aerobic base building is pretty activity specific. In other words, building an aerobic base by swimming probably doesn’t help your aerobic base for running all that much? Is that correct?

    2). If you aren’t interested in competing in any kind of distance racing, is there some general health benefit to be derived by aerobic base building? I’d guess there must be benefits to the heart and lungs, but has it clearly been demonstrated that aerobic base building does something uniquely valuable specifically for the health of the heart?

    3). Assuming there is a general health value (above and beyond being able to more safely participate in a stressful distance race), is there a preferred way to acquired the heart benefits? What would constitute the minimum time/volume needed to get most of the health benefits? Should you stick to one form of aeobic conditioning, or should it be OK to mix it up, and just go by heart rate for whatever activity you are doing at the moment?

    By way of background: 30 years ago, I used to do a moderate amount of running, 20-25 miles per week at a moderate pace, 8 minutes per mile or so. I didn’t race or compete. I got into it after reading Ken Cooper’s book, and then continued because it was relaxing, and I liked the way I felt afterwards.

    Unfortunately, around the time I turned 30 (I’m 60 now), I developed a severe case of achilles tendonitis, which lead to some adhesions (or so I was told) that would subsequently cause tendon problems whenever I attempted to resume running. I did eventually get that problem mostly cleared up. But every attempt I have made since then to resume jogging has been derailed by injury: heel spurs & plantar fasciitis, pain behind the knee cap, and then multiple episodes of MCL sprains, as well as the occasional reoccurrance of achilles tendonitis. So for the past thirty years, my aerobic conditioning has been done on an exercise bike, a nordic track skier, and elliptical machines.

    Just wondering how to fit aerobic base building into this situation.

  14. David says

    This is the best article on the Web about HIIT. I have been guilty of pushing too hard of late, and must give my body sufficient rest. I have a habit to stick to a certain training schedule, irrespective of whatever else is happening (e.g., insufficient sleep, trained too hard the day before, sore muscles, tired) — but I can see now that this has been a big mistake. One must listen to their body and improve gradually over time, rather than just rushing things and “hoping for the best.” This article hit the nail on the head for me, especially this part–

    “you should not be doing HIIT workouts 3-4 times a week for several weeks (5-6+) without a change in intensity or a break.”

    Haha! This is exactly what I’ve been doing — without breaks. Live and learn I guess…

  15. Mario says

    Really confused on determining proper heart rate and where aerobic/anaerobic kick in for me.
    Quick background on me:Male, 42, 5’10 218lbs, down from 265 2 years ago. I’ve been doing TaeKwonDo 3x week for the last two years. Prior to that, zilch:couch-potato, desk jockey for the previous 20 years.

    A few months ago started a Couch to 5K program and have made slow progress but I’m up to week 6 of 9.

    Here’s where I wonder if I’m over doing it. Based on Maffetone Method my Aerobic threshold is 138.

    I use a Polar HRM and last week did my first 20 minute jog (avg 10min/mile) and here’s a break down of my heart rate:
    5 minute walk:bpm’s in the 120’s
    1st 10 minutes of the jog: between 175-180
    2nd 10 minutes of the jog: 180-185
    5 minutes walking: 140’s

    In the past while jogging, heart rate has hit as high as 195,for a short interval, which I’ve set as my max in Polar, so my zones are based on that.

    For me to cut it off at 138 bpm means I’m not really jogging but just walking fast. Is that right or does my heart just run at higher RPMs?


      • Joseph says

        Well my track season ended towards the end of may. I just started getting back into it about 2 weeks ago. I was doing a lot of anaerobic speed work/ long runs, tempos during the season. I took off two months because I’ve been dealing with a lot of pain in my neck and back throughout the last 2 years and I’m trying to do more aerobic running now. Do you think the running would effect my neck? I’m transitioning more into minimal footwear as well and I’m really cleaning up my diet a lot.

        • says

          Sure anything can affect anything. I’ve seen people with neck pain from running imbalances – often the shoulder girdle is not functioning well resulting in upper back & neck tension.

          • Joseph says

            But do you think I should continue the running? I get a lot of headaches throughout the day and my neck is EXTREMELY tight. I’m currently seeing a chiropractor but i’ve been intrigued by your site. My neck doesn’t seem to flare up after my runs, but I just want your take on it? Do you think it is a good idea to keep running?

  16. GoldStarGay says

    Great article! I have tried to begin an HIIT regimen several times and even with a high level of aerobic conditioning have found myself suffering from overtraining syndrome after only 3 or 4 sessions… each and every time. I think sustained aerobic activity coupled with weight lifting will have to suffice.

  17. Amanda C says

    Thank you so much for posting this. I was searching for an answer because over the last few months, any time I do a HIIT workout, I wake up in the middle of the night with chest pains (when breathing) and chills for about 3 hours. The only thing consistent when one of these “episodes” happens is that I have done a HIIT workout the day before. My guess is that I am not yet to a point in my overall health and weight loss that the HIIT can be beneficial to me. Looks like it’s back to slower 5k runs and the elliptical for me. :/

  18. Pitre KS says

    I am 50 year old. Have been playing sports throughout my life being an ex army guy. I started running in mid 2012. Generally had followed an aerobic routine. However in all 3 half marathons I ran i could not keep the target pace after 13-15km and finished in 2:04 in the last marathon in Jan this year. I find running below 130 very tiring and a comfortable pace for a 10K run is 6 -6:10 min/km, but the HRM is between 135-145.
    How do I improve my endurance at my marathon pace(5:40min/km)?

  19. Zuzana says

    I used to run a lot, now it is more elliptical work due to bad knees.
    I have a pretty low RHR around 49-55.
    Would this mean that my aerobic HR is lower as well?

    When I do HIIT, it goes up to 160- very hard,
    but when I run, it is about 115. Is this good aerobic base?
    I can go faster to be in 130 but I figured since my low resing rate, 115-120 is ok?


    female 30 years,

    • says

      I’d still have you follow the 180-age formula I discuss in the article and if you feel you’re not progressing then have your LT levels checked. Over time, 115-120 might not provide much benefit if it is too low.

  20. Ricki says

    Hi Dr. Gangemi,
    I understand that running is very personal, but I was hoping for some clarity around ‘Aerobic conditioning is best achieved via long workouts several times a week’.
    What is considered ‘long workouts’ and is several 3 or 4 or 5……..
    Also, there isn’t much out there on heart scarring. Does heart scarring still occur if you’re running long (2-3 hours) but at a zone 2 or 3?

    Thanks so much, I have learned so much from you.

    • says

      For those not very fit, long means 30 mins. For those who are, then it can be 1-2 hours.

      Heart scarring should not occur in a healthy person who is aerobic. So definitely not at zone 2. But prolonged at zone 3 – possibly over time. Again, that could mean 1 hour in one person, and running an ultra in another. So many factors – nutritional status I’d say would be a huge one.

  21. Seb says

    Hi Doc,

    Thanks a lot for sharing the importance of building the aerobic system. I would kindly appreciate your comment about easy training paces developed by Jack Daniels. What I mean is that if training at those easy paces I’ll be training in my aerobic zone calculated according to dr. Maffetone 180 formula?

    Thank you,

  22. Ram says

    Thanks Doc for the great article. I am 39 years old and have been training in the 140-146 HR for the last 7 months. i find that my avg pace varies between 7:10 min/km and 7:45 min/km. I did an HM in October 2013 in 1hr59min but the avg HR was 168 then. Since then i read a bit about the aerobic base and have switched to the 140-146 HR. I notice that my avg pace is not improving much. I wish to get it close to 6:30 without compromising on the HR. Any pointers?

    • says

      Hard to say without knowing more as this can happen from improper training, health issues, and especially too much stress – namely dietary (caffeine, carbs, lack of healthy fats).

  23. Michelle says

    Well I started with hiit years ago and I’ve been doing it for 4 days a week as a vegetarian and I haven’t had any problems. some days are more intense then others. I don’t feel it has done any of the negative things stated in this article. I don’t do steady state cardio, not because I think its not effective, but because its the most boring workout I can think of. It’s about as interesting as watching paint dry. And I have better things to do then be horribly bored.

    • Michelle says

      and one more thing… I’ve always been a hard gainer. my sister was a runway model. i’m 33 and so many people think I must be a runner or something. I see people who are overweight doing way harder workouts then me, including running long distances, and for some reason they’re still overweight! how is that even possible? I can eat bread, potato chips, cheesecake, bagels, brie, ice cream and I don’t gain weight. My friend is 43 and he has abs even though he doesn’t work out at all, he just doesn’t have an ounce of fat. I don’t even know why these paleo people think carbs make you fat.. it obviously doesn’t make me or my friend fat. Are we the next stage or evolution? is there something wrong with us? or is there something wrong with them?

  24. Charles Nankin says

    hi doc. are there studies linking overtraining to lowered immunity or gut microbiome changes? anything that shows us when we start overtraining? or where hiit starts to become a negative thing?

    i feel happy with short bursts of all-out sprinting with full-recovery rest intervals. but these workouts which aim to push you to your puking limit just seem wrong, esp if done week in week out. somethings gotta give.

    • says

      There are plenty out there on lowered immunity (a lo discuss antioxidant depletion as part of that). I’m not sure what’s out there on gut biome but that’s all the hype today. And yes, a body can only take so much HIIT at a time.

  25. Don Pendergraft says

    Sock Doc,
    Great article! Sorry I’m late to the game. I’m 50 years and have done 6 ultra marathons. I feel at this point I have neglected my aerobic base badly. I did a MAF test for the first time in a few years and saw how badly I regressed. Back to base building. My question is whether I can work some hill training, intervals, strides, whatever into aerobic base building (keeping my HR close to 130) without totally derailing my plan to build base? I think I safely say that strides are probably OK. I mean, if you run at aerobic pace for 2 hours, and then do a 1 minute stride, it’s not going to negate the benefit. But I’m wondering if I worked in a day or two of high intensity.
    If that’s not possible, and you had a 100 miler in 9 months, would the better course be to be strictly aerobic for a maybe 6 months and then hit the high intensity stuff a few months out of from the race? I’m really at a loss on what to do. I can read all about HIIT and Maffetone, but not how they can work together which I think is required. I want to be a well rounded runner. Thanks!

  26. muhammed hady says

    hey doctor iam glad i find someone to talk to him about my problem i have been doing HIIT workouts constantly for the past 8 months everyday ( 6 days a week and 1 day off ) i was doing workouts like insanity , insanity asylum , p90x hybrid and now i have sustained a hamstring injury grade 2 i dont understand how i didnt do anything wrong in the workouts i might have been on a strict diet not everyday i ate good i was about 100kg and down to 84 kg so please would you help me understand cuz i need to return back to my workouts when my injury heals

  27. MT Smith says

    Hi Doc, thanks for the great info above! I am a diabetic and have been doing the Insanity 25 minute workout for 2 years now consistently. I have done it 6 days a week. It definitely helps burn my blood glucose, but I have developed some serious health issues, especially over the past 6 months. To make a long story short, I have what I think are tension headaches every night and many mornings. They have affected my sleeping, eating, and my thyroid function. You are the first one to tell me this much training is bad for me, really bad. But since I am a diabetic, I need the HIIT for blood sugar control. So what do you think? What is the best training program for HIIT and brisk walking mixed together? Lastly, how long of a break should I take from HIIT before resuming again. Thanks for all your help!

    • says

      No you don’t need HIIT for blood sugar control. That’s a myth spurred by dieticians and other medicially-minded folks who teach diabetics to eat more sugar when their blood sugar is low and then take medication or exercise intensely when it is high. If you take care of your health and develop a healthy aerobic system you’ll burn primarily fat as fuel and won’t be chasing your blood sugar all day long. Personally I’d never have a diabetic do any HIIT training until they have a superb aerobic system.

  28. Moby says

    Hey Doc, very educational article. I basically have been doing this wrong my entire life. WOW! I am preparing for soccer tryout in early December, and I would like to build up stamina and endurance. Would indoor rowing , following the 180-age, help me build up The needed stamina? I am assuming that as my fitness improves, so will my heart rate-zone 2. I can say i am starting from low stamina, which point can I incorporate plyometrics rig? Or suicide workout?

    • says

      Yeah that works but even better to run aerobically since that is more in-line with your sport. You do HIIT workouts (suicides, etc) after your have a relatively healthy aerobic system per the guidelines I discuss in the articles.

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