My Aerobic Base Training

As you make the transition from a carb fueled endurance athelete to one that burns fat, it is important that you perform 8-12 weeks of aerobic base building.  The purpose of this training period is to transition your body from preferring glucose as its primary fuel to preferring fat.  This training, in combination with removing sugar, grains, and refined oils from your diet, will make you a fat burning beast in no time!

The only rule during this training period is that you stay at or below your aerobic threshold during your training.  As you progress through your aerobic base building period you can perform what is called a MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) test to measure how your aerobic system is progressing.  A MAF test requires you to complete a fixed course at a fixed heart rate (your maximum aerobic heart rate which is 180 – your age) and obtain a finish time.  This can be as simple as running 8 laps around a track at your maximum aerobic heart rate.  Ideally you do this every couple weeks, say every two weeks, and you should see improved times after each test.  This indicates your aerobic efficiency is improving.  If you don’t see improved times, than something is wrong.  Either you are not keeping your heart rate low enough during your training, your diet is off, or you could be injured.

Aerobic Training For Obstacle Course Racing

As someone who is training for an obstacle course race you might be wondering what kind of training you should do during this period?  I had the very same question.  I searched and searched for answers from other obstacle course racers that were perhaps following the same training plan but came up empty handed.  This left me with doing a lot of experimentation myself.  At this point I am more than half way through my aerobic base building period and have fallen into a pretty good set of exercises that I rotate through over the course of several weeks.


The first and obvious one is running.  Obviously obstacle course racers need to be able to run, so this is important.  I run various distances without a real pattern, I base the distance based on how I feel.  I do try to do a “long run” once every other week.  The other type of running I try to include is some trail running.  Pay special attention to your heart rate while trail running as I noticed my heart rate went up quicker than when I was running on the road.  I suppose that makes sense, but unless you have payed attention to your hear rate before this might surprise you.  The other type of running I do is hill intervals on the treadmill.  I have been setting the treadmill at and incline of 7.5% and then run for 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes I remove the incline and walk for 6 minutes.  I do this anywhere from 1.5 hrs to 2 hrs.  As far as how fast you “run” up the incline, that will depend on your heart rate.  I choose whatever speed keeps me below my maximum aerobic threshold (this fluctuates throughout the workout).

Stair Master

Besides running, my other favorite aerobic workout is the stair master.  I throw on my weighted vest with 35 lbs in it and hit the stair master for an hour.  To keep things interesting I play with the pace a little bit.  I will gradually increase the pace after every 15 minutes until I finally approach my maximum aerobic threshold at which point I may decrease it or keep it steady (for as long as I can at least).

Other Exercises

I also enjoy doing the rower at the gym.  I think this gives me a good upper body workout.  Sometimes (if the weather is nice) I will head out for a short hike (approx 3 miles) with my weighted vest on.  Finally once a week I try to fit in a yoga session.  Even though you may not be pushing yourself too hard it is still important to treat your body right.  Doing yoga and/or using a foam roller can really help.  Lastly, I will also occasionally ride the stationary bike and do the elliptical, although these are my least favorite aerobic activities.

Making It Interresting

Of course aerobic training can be quite mundane sometimes.  Sitting on the rowing machine rowing for an hour plus isn’t the most exciting thing in the world.  I try to add as much variety as I can to my aerobic workouts to keep them interesting.  For example, sometimes I will do an aerobic circuit where I run for 15 minutes, row for 15 minutes, and do the stair climber for 15 minutes.  I will do that circuit a few times and that keeps things a bit more interesting.

Another approach I take to keeping my aerobic exercises interesting is incorporating the primal movements and some burpees into them.  For example, I may do 15 minutes on the rower, jump off, and do some pull ups, body weight squats, or 15-20 burpees.  Then jump back on the rower and do another 15 minutes.  I will do this circuit for an hour plus.

Now I know Mark and Brad discourage strength training during your aerobic base building period because strength training is considered and anaerobic workout.

Aerobic Base Period: Train at strictly aerobic heart rates for a minimum of eight weeks to begin your annual season. While there is some difference of opinion on the matter, we favor Dr. Phil Maffetone’s admonition to complete a strict base-building period of aerobic activity only. That means taking a break from any kind of strength training (which is anaerobic by nature), Sunday night adult pickup basketball, and any other activities requiring anaerobic efforts.

I don’t think Brad and Mark wouldn’t consider doing the primal movements or 15-20 burpees “strength training”, unless of course it is a struggle for you to do these movements.  I am assuming you have enough strength to perform the primal movements with ease, if that is not that case than you want to be careful.  Think of performing these during your aerobic base building period as a way of maintaining your strength during your base building period.  In fact Mark and Brad mention this in the chapter on Strength Training in the book.

The first one, the Primal Essential Movements, is a simple concept that entails lifting heavy things (Primal Blueprint law number four), even for just a couple of minutes at a time, on a regular basis in daily life. You can really ramp things up with formal thirty-minute workouts during your intensity-training phases, but you can still put in a baseline level of general everyday strength efforts when you are base building or even during your off season.

As obstacle course racers we need to pay special attention to our stength as it is a key piece to completing the obstacles during our endurance event.  So while we may be building our aerobic systems during the aerobic base building period we don’t want to do it at the expense of the stength gains we have made.

I hope this helps you get an idea of some exercises you can do during your base building period.  I would love to hear what you might be doing during your base building period, so leave some comments below!


2 thoughts on “My Aerobic Base Training

  1. Tommy May says:

    So glad to find your blog! This is some great stuff and there is a real need for this. This blog is just about the only source I have found on primal endurance training for OCR. I would love to hear what your full training plan has been for your trifecta. How has the chase to complete the trifecta gone?


    • Hi Tommy,

      Glad you enjoyed the blog. Unfortunately things have been very busy and I haven’t been able to keep up with it. I hope to get back to it soon. I completed my trifecta in September after finishing the Vermont Beast. I can certainly say that being fat adapted was certainly helpful over the course of doing the 15+ miles and 6000+ ft. The beast took me almost 7hrs and the only thing I ate was the whole time was 2 packets of almond butter! I observed a bunch of people slamming all kinds of food much more frequently than me.

      As far as training goes, the 8 week base building mentioned in the book is a must. The one things I would have changed about my training is to focus more on training for obstacles. The long slow endurance training workouts work for other types of sports but for OCR you really need to also train for completing the obstacles. I noticed a great improvement in my skills when I started training one day a week at a local OCR gym.


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