Aerobic Training for Strength and Power

By: Josh Bryant

Rucking is Aerobic with a High Enough Conditioning Level

In many strength circles, the word “aerobic” is a dirty word and as welcome as an ATF agent at a Popcorn Sutton party.

ATF….who’s bringing the chips?

Aerobic training, properly applied, does not mean you need to trade in your barbell for a pink tutu!

In fact, aerobic exercise is a means to accelerate recovery because low-intensity aerobic exercise enhances muscle blood flow; in turn, delivering more nutrients to muscles while removing metabolic waste.  Therefore, you will be able to train harder and more frequent.

The bottom line is, for the strength/power bouncer at the West-By-God Virginia Kick n’ Stab Bar or a tactical athlete, the most important benefit of aerobic exercise is improved recovery between sets, exercises and even sessions of balls-to-the-wall training.

What is Aerobic Exercise?

Aerobic exercise is exercise that depends primarily on the aerobic energy-generating process. “Aerobic” means “relating to, involving, or requiring free oxygen”, and refers to the use of oxygen to adequately meet energy demands during exercise via aerobic metabolism. For the most part, light-to-moderate intensity activities are aerobic and can be performed for extended amounts of time.

Let’s keep it simple, we will define aerobic conditioning as a mode of exercise that elevates your heart rate to its target heart rate for 20 minutes or more.  With the target heart rate being 55 to 75 percent of  your maximum heart rate, which is (220-Age). So, for example, for a 20-year old powerlifter, this means she would have a maximum heart of 200, so aerobic work would be performed at a heart rate 110 to 150 beats.

Aerobic activities can also change as an athlete’s conditioning levels change. For example, jumping rope is a high-intensity interval activity for a 360-pound strongman but for a well-conditioned, lean tactical athlete, it is well within the spectrum of aerobic conditioning.

Potential aerobic conditioning activities include, but are not limited to, the following list:

  • Brisk walking
  • Light strongman training
  • Tempo runs
  • Cycling
  • Jumping rope
  • Ruck
  • Elliptical machine
  • Treadmill
  • Rowing machine
  • Stair stepper
  • Swimming
  • Sled Work
  • Circuit training

Any activity that accomplishes the heart rate parameters for 20 minutes or more is on the table.  It is beneficial to do activities that transfer to your goals;  for instance, a foot patrol officer is more likely to benefit in the field more from tempo runs than swimming. 

Aerobic Training Variables

Taking all this into consideration, look at what will  benefit your goals, what avoids potential overuse injuries and what you prefer.  Preference is important, too; you simply have a better chance of complying if you enjoy what you are doing.

Next, look at training frequency in a given week. With this in mind:  The higher the intensity of aerobic exercise and the longer the duration of it, the less frequent it should be.  For example, brisk walking for 20 minutes daily with a heart rate of 115 BPM will not impede strength, muscle hypertrophy or power development for a 20-year-old marine.  Two-hour daily jogs at heart rate of 150, for this same marine, will impede development or muscle, strength and power.  Aerobic conditioning can be maintained with one to two sessions weekly, and for rapid improvement, three to five sessions weekly is ideal.

What about Strength Athletes?

For strength athletes, brisk walking is my go to.  Ninety to 120 minutes a week, in the prescribed aerobic zone, will improve virtually all health markers, facilitate recovery and have no detrimental effects on strength, it will more than likely improve strength because you recover faster and can do more.

This is total time a week and can be divided as needed.

Final Thoughts

With aerobic conditioning, the higher the intensity, the less it will help recovery.  For instance, light sled drags, where 60 percent of MHR is maintained for 30 minutes, will facilitate recovery better than tempo runs of 100 yards for the same duration with a heart rate maintained at 75 percent of MHR.

Generally, if you are performing a modality where a conversation can be comfortably maintained with full sentences and very little shortness of breath, the training will greatly enhance recovery.  As breath becomes shorter along with sentences, this changes from a recovery enhance to an additional training stressor.

If you are not a strength athlete looking to do the minimum to maximally benefit health and recovery , exercise mode/intensity will evolve and progress.

For example, the power drinker at the local truck stop or the 400-pound super heavy weight powerlifter would be in highly anaerobic zone jogging at a 12-minute mile pace.  But, say that either of these two trained relentlessly over the next two years, running 20 100-yard tempo runs in 17 seconds, with a 45-second break between runs, while inconceivable to most, would be an aerobic training session! 

As your aerobic base improves, exercise progression will naturally come into play; in other words, what was once anaerobic will become aerobic.

Train aerobics to become stronger and more powerful.

Grab Josh’s Tactical Conditioning Certification from ISSA HERE!