XC Running/Track: The Best Workouts for 
Developing Aerobic Fitness

XC Running/Track: The Best Workouts for Developing Aerobic Fitness

Brian Salisbury for Physical Education Update.com

Runners participating in a study to determine the most effective workout to develop V02max found that a "4 x 4" interval training regimen produced the best results.

V02max is a measure of aerobic fitness - specifically, the body's ability to transport and use oxygen. It's an important factor in endurance sport performance.

The Workout Routines Studied
The 28-minute 4 x 4' workout included four intervals of running for four minutes at 90% to 95% of maximum heart rate. Between each interval, the runners recovered for three minutes at 70 percent heart rate.

For example, a person with a maximum heart rate of 200 beats per minute (bpm) would run for four minutes at 180 bpm and recover for three minutes at 140 bpm.

The study included three other training routines:

  • Long slow distance running (LSD) performed for 45 minutes at 70% of maximal heart rate.
  • Lactate threshold running (LTR) performed at 85% of maximal heart rate for 24 1/4 minutes.
  • 15/15 interval training (15/15INT) in which 47 sets of 15-second intervals were performed at 90 to 95% of maximum heart rate. These intervals were separated by 15 seconds of active recovery performed at 70% of maximum heart rate. Total workout time: 23 minutes).

The 4 X 4' interval training system (4X4INT) produced the highest percent change in V02max and stroke volume (V02max = +7.2%), while the 15/15INT system produced the second highest percent change (V02max = +5.5%). The LSD and lactate threshold routines produced no significant changes in V02max.

Other Findings

  • Each routine improved the runners' velocity at lactate threshold (+9.6 percent) - an important indicator of race performance for distance runners.
  • Each routine improved running economy (+7.5-11%) - the amount of oxygen required to maintain a particular running speed.
  • The conclusion was that high-intensity aerobic endurance training is significantly more effective than moderate and low-intensity training in improving V02max over an eight-
  • The 4 x 4' routine was 17 minutes shorter than the long-slow distance workouts so coaches who want to pack the most effective endurance training into the shortest workout should consider using such longer, high-intensity interval training.

Editor's Note
Other studies have found that a similar workout: 5 x 3 minutes with 3 minutes of recovery, has produced similar improvements in aerobic fitness.

1. Owen Anderson, "Lactate Liftoff," c/o Running Research News, 2006. http://www.rrnews.com
2. G. Gregory Half (PhD), "High Intensity Intervals Improve Aerobic Power More than Moderate Aerobic Training." NSCA Performance Training Journal. Volume 7 Issue 2. www.nsca-lift.org.
3. J. Helgerud, K. Hoydal, E. Wang, T. Karlsen, P. Berg, M. Bjerkaas, T. Simonsen, C. Helgesen, N. Hjorth, R. Bach and J. Hoff. "Aerobic high-intensity intervals improve VO2max more than moderate training." Medicine & Science in Sport and Exercise, 39:665 -- 671. 2007.

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