If you are a runner and you are trying to improve your running endurance, one of the best ways is through what’s called aerobic heart training. This is basically a fancy phrase that just means run while keeping your heart rate within a certain zone. The zone is between 130 to 150 heart beats per minute for long periods of time (roughly 30 minutes or more per session).
Heart rate training is by no means a new sort of training method. It’s been around for decades. Recently though, it’s fallen a bit out of favor with strength & conditioning programs favoring the more rapid heart rate training offered by programs like HIIT (high intensity interval training). While HIIT can offer quite a few benefits, it won’t replicate the same benefits that steady state cardio offers.
It comes down the the adaptions generated by the type of training protocol you pursue. If you focus on slow steady state cardio, you are filling your heart chamber with blood and, due to the slower heart rate, this blood, over time, helps to stretch out the left heart chamber. The end result is that over time your heart chamber expands to hold more blood per beat. This essentially gives you a more efficient heart performance with your heart pushing out more blood per beat.
This can be measured specifically with a heart rate monitor by taking your resting heart rate in the morning. If you do steady state cardio over weeks and months, consistently, your resting heart rate should consistently drop. Other tests you can use would be to do a one minute sprint then record how quickly your heart rate drops within a 60 second period. As your heart becomes more efficient, your heart rate will lower after intense activity given a short rest. Steady state cardio will help your heart recover faster after these intense bouts.
So when it comes to improving your running performance — your overall running endurance — consider spending several times a week doing long, slow runs. The key here is to run for at least 35 minutes, several times a week, and each week move your running time up by several minutes. Eventually, you’ll be running for 1 to 1.5 hour intervals while keeping your heart rate around 130 beats per minutes. As your heart gets fitter, your RHR (resting heart rate will indeed lower over time) and your heart rate will stay lower for longer periods of time before increasing. For example, you may be able to run for 1 hour at the same pace while keeping your heart around 130 beats per minute, compared to the 30 minutes at 130 beats per minute before your heart rate starts to jump higher.
The bottom line is that aerobic heart rating training can vastly improve your overall running performance by building up your running stamina and your body’s ability to recover.
Not that this type of slow steady state cardio can also be used to improve your performance in any sport out there: MMA, Wresting, Muay Thai, Jujitsu, Soccer, Basketball, Tennis, and so on — NOT just your running ability.
There has been a lot of research about heart rate training over the years, and the benefits are proven. So don’t give up those long slow runs for short sprint training! There is a place for both types of training protocols.
Breaking down the exact heart rate training is beyond the scope of this article, but check out this training guide for how to improve your aerobic conditioning — it may be about Martial Arts, but the principals are the same. Here is a running specific guide about heart rate training as well.
The key is to get yourself a quality heart rate monitor to help track your heart rate. I personally recommend the Polar heart rate monitors for a no frill, reasonably priced heart rate monitor. Once you have a heart rate monitor, you can start your running activity within the aerobic training zone.