Nowadays many people equate a good workout with a tough workout. The harder I’m breathing the better, right? I’m here to tell you this isn’t necessarily true.

To get started aerobic means with oxygen and anaerobic means without oxygen. When you have access to oxygen you should be able to breath lightly through your nose. When oxygen is short, your body will work to get more oxygen with more active diaphragmatic movement and by taking in air through the mouth.

In general our bodies are made to move in the presence of oxygen and can only tolerate movement without oxygen in short bouts of up to 8 minutes (highly trained) and with low Oxygen for 30-60 minutes. If your goal is strictly performance and your sport takes place in bouts of less than 30 min then it is worth it to spend extra time training this system. However, if you are like most recreational athletes and modern humans looking to go on hikes, bike rides, runs, garden etc than it would behoove you to spend more time working on your aerobic capacity.

Further, because our bodies like and need oxygen, the absence of oxygen is stressful to the body. Adding this stress to your body in a controlled manner can be great for cardiovascular health but in my observation people overdue high intensity training. 

So how do we improve Aerobic Capacity:

  1. Get good breathing through your nose. Our noses are made to breathe and best control the proper quantity of air into the lungs. Start by practicing breathing at rest – check in through the day and focus on breathing in and out of the nose with light diaphragmatic (belly)  movements.
  2. Move at an Aerobic pace. If you are heavily reliant on your anaerobic system moving at an aerobic pace will feel boring at first, but it is worth it to train your body to move at a pace with oxygen. Start by going for flat walks and strictly breathing through your nose – if your breathing gets labored or you start having the urge to suck in air through the mouth slow your pace. (Bonus: aerobic movement is great for calming the nervous system). As you get good at this you can start increasing the pace and distance.
  3. Create a thirst for Oxygen. Add nose breathing to more intense activities. Often at the gym I encourage you to do AMRAPs at a pace where you can maintain breathing through your nose. This will train your body to use oxygen efficiently. You can also practice breath hold techniques found in the Oxygen Advantage.
  4. Add Intervals. Finally you can add intervals to increase your aerobic capacity, Start by adding 1:1 interval training. Of about 30s-60s of work followed by 30s-60s of rest. 

If you are looking to improve your aerobic capacity I recommend working on steps 1-4 for at least 6 weeks before adding any Anaerobic training in. At that point, if you enjoy high intensity training, have a need for performance reasons, or want to work some stress through the body then I recommend a max 1-2 sessions a week of high intensity training whether that be moving close to your max pace for up to 30 minutes or doing interval training with suboptimal rest periods.

Sources and continued reading:

Training for the New Alpinism by Scott Johnston and Steve House

The Oxygen Advantage by Patrick McKeown