It’s time to cover 115 things you need to know as a Primal Endurance athlete!
The 115 things on the list have been divided into six categories (Aerobic Training, Periodization, Primal Eating, Strength and Sprint Training, Complementary Movement And Lifestyle Practices, and Recovery) that will be presented in a series of shows. If you want to see the full list, download the free eBook at the bottom of the PrimalEndurance.fit home page.
In part one of this multi-part presentation, I cover items 1-14 under the category of Aerobic Training, offering my color commentary on each item so you have a thorough understanding of everything you need to know to have fun and go faster. This episode reveals why endurance athletes generally tend to carry too much body fat, the fundamental elements of the Primal Endurance approach, and why the conventional approach to endurance training is deeply ﬂawed. You will learn why even the most dedicated athletes still struggle with an excess of body fat, how chronic cardio causes permanent damage to your heart, how moderate exercise schedules actually dramatically increase longevity and why time-consuming training schedules can accelerate aging. You will also learn why emphasizing aerobic workouts delivers the best return on investment for endurance athletes, the importance of developing an efficient aerobic system, and much more!
This is the first of a series putting you on the right track to reach your ambitious goals that support health and hormonal function and longevity. [00:27]
Endurance athletes, in general, carry too much body fat. Many endurance athletes also overtrain. [02:47]
The key factor is to slow down! A heart rate of 180 minus you age is widely promoted. [07:56]
There are many well-intentioned ideas about how to train, but they may fail to solve problems. They do not put individuals’ situations into the approach. [12:08]
Escape chronic cardio. Every day should find you moving frequently at low level, lifting heavy things once in a while and occasionally sprinting. [15:04]
The heart is like any other muscle. It can be inflamed and scarred. You want to stay away from the elevated disease risk factors associated with extreme endurance training. [18:59]
A more moderate exercise schedule can dramatically increase longevity. [22:04]
Aerobic workouts emphasize fat burning and are energizing and minimally stressful. Anaerobic workouts emphasize glucose burning and elicit a significant stress response. [29:50]
If you have a limited amount of time to train, you may want to downscale your goals and focus on events that match your ability to train for them. [35:14]
Aerobic development is best accomplished by training exclusively at aerobic heart rates for a sustained period of time. [38:29]
The cutoff point for aerobic training is the maximum aerobic heart rate defined as 180 minus your age, in beats per minute. You want to remain comfortable. [41:22]
The real magic happens when you can become more efficient at that comfortable heart rate, and you can realize that your training’s working. Regression in MAF test results suggests you are overtraining. [44:10]
- Brad Kearns.com
- Brad’s Shopping page
- Primal Endurance
- Mark’s Daily Apple
- A Case Against Cardio
- One Running Shoe in the Grave
- Running on Empty
- Run for Your Life, But Not too Far, and at a Slow Pace
Welcome to the Return of the Primal Endurance Podcast. This is your host, Brad Kerns, and we are going on a journey to a kinder, gentler, smarter, more fun, more effective way to train for ambitious endurance goals. Visit Primal endurance.fit to join the community and enroll in our free video course.
Hey, and listeners, it’s time to cover 115 things you need to know as a primal endurance athlete. These are broken down into six different categories, and we are going to cover them in a series of shows. So it’s a multi-part presentation. Now, this list is presented at the beginning of the book, Primal Endurance. Mark Sisson and I developed the list as sort of a teaser to all the topics that we were going to cover in the book. So they’re presented in one liner fashion, but on this historic occasion, for the first time ever, I am going to provide color commentary on each one so that you get a pretty darn good understanding of the major important topics that are covered in the book, in the Primal Endurance Mastery course. And that represent this comprehensive, wonderful alternative approach to endurance training, where you can break free from that struggle and suffer mentality that pervades the endurance scene and approach your ambitious endurance goals in a manner that supports health and hormonal function and longevity, and the ability to have fun and enjoy yourself along the way.
So here we go. The six categories that the 115 insights are divided into are as follows, Aerobic training, periodization, primal eating strength and sprint training, complimentary movement and lifestyle practices and recovery. Aerobic training being such a centerpiece, the foundational element of how to excel in endurance sports, for example, There’s 24 insights in that category, periodization. There’s 10 primal eating, there’s 2032 strength and sprint training. There’s 18 different insights, Complimentary movement and lifestyle practices is 18 and recovery with 13. So that totals up to one 15. So we will pace these shows and put them at a sensible length. And by the time you listen to them all, you will be dialed in with your 115 insights. Are you ready?
Here we go. So we’ll start with the category of aerobic training, insight number one, and we call this the elephant in the room in the Primal Endurance book. Early in the book, there’s cute graphic of an elephant wearing a racing singlet hanging out in a room with a bunch of other endurance athletes. And the insight is endurance athletes on the whole or in general, carry too much body fat, a consequence of carbohydrate dependency, eating, and overly stressful training patterns. Of course this could be a whole show on its own and certainly will be because it’s such a topic of major interest, concern, and frustration. And boy, um, a lot of aspects of devoted endurance training promote fat storage rather than fat reduction. Uh, specifically the chronic overproduction of stress hormones due to workouts that are slightly too strenuous and workout patterns that are slightly too strenuous, prompt us to overeat, prompt us to have cravings for high energy carbohydrates. And basically, when we are repeatedly and chronically draining our glycogen tanks, our appetite hormones, our brain gets the message to overeat in order to <laugh> try to hang with this overly stressful training condition.
And, uh, Dr. John Jaquish also cites research that, uh, in contrast to strength training, uh, endurance training, you are, uh, prompting the body to become competent at this decidedly non-human activity, an activity that is not aligned with our genetic expectations for health. We’ve been designed to, uh, move frequently throughout the day, but we’re not designed to engage in chronic endurance training nor race marathons or ultra-marathons or things like that. So you’re familiar with the best selling book Born to Run, and this ideal that humans are the greatest endurance athletes on the planet, and so much of that is true. But I think the insight that we have to respect is that we have amazing genetic attributes, uh, to be able to perform magnificent endurance feats once in a while, and to do it day after day is where we depart from our genetic expectations for health, especially when we escalate the pace and get into that medium to difficult range, exceeding the aerobic heart rates and putting ourselves in a high stress state.
And endurance training inherently will prompt a reduction of lean muscle mass, a reduction of bone density, because these things are, uh, supportive of performance. We don’t need to carry around extra muscle mass, uh, that’s not, uh, functional for endurance goals. And so we are going to look, um, uh, emaciated, um, you know, a poor posture, poor structural integrity, uh, fragile bones, and all these things that, uh, kind of tee us up to be a, a lightweight, a greyhound style athlete. Uh, and at the same time, however, uh, rather than dropping excess body fat, there’s going to be some genetic signaling to, uh, preserve that fat on the body because that provides a fuel source, uh, for going hours and hours. And so, uh, back to referencing Jaquish, he’s talking about strength training, in essence does the opposite. It prompts elevated fat metabolism and the building or maintenance of lean muscle mass, an increase in bone density when you put your body under resistant load.
And that’s why, uh, we have a whole segment of the Primal Endurance approach, uh, that entails the integration of strength and sprint workouts to develop broad based functional fitness rather than just being a long distance machine. So the quick takeaway there is that endurance training inherently prompts the preservation of fat and reduction of muscle mass and overeating, excess calorie consumption. And that’s why there are droves of athletes training very hard, very devotedly putting in many hours of training per week. But if they have an optimized diet and they haven’t optimized training patterns and, uh, successfully balance stress, rest patterns and training, you’re going to see carrying around excess body fat. And of course, uh, this is a two-pronged to pro chair. So we want to correct the overly stressful training patterns, and in addition, eliminate these nutrient deficient processed foods, uh, that provide a high carbohydrate load, which fuel the overly stressful workouts, uh, but put you in a pattern, a cycle of overeating.
So when we can modify diet, and of course we’re gonna have a whole host of insights relating to die. That will go hand in hand with making you, uh, a more fat adapted endurance athlete where you don’t need that constant influx of carbs to perform. So that was insight number one.
Number two, the fundamental elements of the Primal Endurance approach are to slow down and emphasize aerobic workouts, balance, stress, and rest, and adopt an intuitive, flexible approach to training. So pretty much speaks for itself, but when we talk about slowing down, this is, so the vast majority of the workouts are conducted in the aerobic zone where you are burning fat using mitochondria, minimizing the stress impact of the workout, and allowing your fitness to build and build and build without interruption from the overly stressful workouts that exceed that maximum aerobic heart rate.
So the key factor here is the 180 minus age principle, uh, widely promoted by Dr. Maffetone as the maximum aerobic heart rate. So when you subtract your age from 180, so if I’m 57, 180 minus 57 is 123, that represents my maximum aerobic heart rate. That’s the point where maximum aerobic benefits occur with a minimal amount of, stress hormones, anaerobic stimulation. So that’s allowing me to build my aerobic fitness in a minimally stressful manner. So the second part of that sentence, balance, stress, and rest, of course, you have to stress yourself and you have to approximate the challenge of what you face on the race course in training, but doing that every day or doing it with excess frequency is going to make you less adapted, less prepared for the race. And that’s where the concept of breakthrough workouts comes in that Mark Sisson has been promoting for decades, whereby most of your training is minimally stressful, well under your capabilities.
And then once in a while, you go and push yourself, whether it’s an over distance workout going for a long duration, or whether you’re doing a speed workout where you’re, uh, going up at, at a, at a faster pace. These are going to prompt the fitness adaptations when you do them once in a while and package it with plenty of rest and recovery. And then finally, uh, adopt an intuitive, flexible approach to training. And this stands in stark contrast to the robotic regimented approach that is so popular that we seem to gravitate to because it gives us this certainty, and I believe it feeds the ego to be able to chart things in a training log and feel a sense of accomplishment when you achieve, uh, these random, uh, goals that are put forth, whether it’s from <laugh>, a magazine article, a book, or a coach, uh, suggesting that if you do this on Monday, do this on Tuesday, do this on Wednesday, it’s going to lead to fitness increases and competitive success.
And there’s so many confounding variables here that the, even the idea of adhering to a regimented schedule, uh, simply is nonsensical because we don’t know, uh, what’s going on with your sleep. The other stress factors in your life, your job, your family, your personal life, all kinds of things can, uh, interfere with the, uh, the the straightforward idea that, uh, today’s a rest day and tomorrow’s a hard day, and the next day’s another hard day, and whatever the best laid plans always need to be processed with intuitive reasoning abilities, and be willing to make changes on the fly. So that’s what flexible approach to training means. And as I detail in the book and on videos, this often means heading out the door for an intended workout, such as this 84 mile bicycle loop through the hills. And when you get 30 minutes down the road, you make a change or a decision on the fly that, Hey, uh, today is not my day and I’m gonna turn around and go home.
And that’s when you reach the highest level of sophistication of your athletic training, an intuitive, flexible approach. And of course, there’s room on the flip side too, where, uh, one day you were headed out and you were gonna just, uh, pedal around for an hour, but you feel fantastic and you feel like going for it. So you speed up and you do what amounts to a breakthrough workout that was spontaneous just because everything was aligned for you on that particular day.
So insight number three, the conventional approach to endurance training is deeply flawed, resulting in widespread burnout and excess body fat among even the most dedicated athletes. And so it kind of segues nicely from number two when I was talking about this widespread fascination with fixed and rigid training schedules and trying to figure this out like a math problem on a spreadsheet calculating the progression of weekly mileage.
And oh, smart runners know that they should only increase their mileage by 10% a week, and no more than that. All that stuff is well-meaning well-intended. Um, there might even be scientific research backing some of these popular principles of training. Uh, but when you apply them to a real life living, breathing dynamic human organism, uh, they, you know, fail to, um, to, to, to solve the problem. So, um, this deeply flawed approach, I think there’s so many factors, uh, thrown in there. Uh, especially the, the type A mentality, the highly motivated, goal oriented, driven, focused competitive type that’s attracted to endurance sports can often struggle in this realm. Uh, because you cannot, uh, expect to succeed in such a complex challenge with this linear, straightforward approach of dogged work ethic. It might have worked for you to get through law school and pass the bar exam by studying for eight hours a day for six weeks straight, or all these other ways that we can succeed in life with a dogged, straightforward work ethic approach.
Uh, but training and taking care of the body and progressing naturally and intuitively is far more complex. And we have to, uh, temper these competitive instincts rather than follow the pack. And unfortunately, there’s so many marketing forces conspiring against us, uh, to be, uh, have a calm, relaxed, kinder, gentler approach to endurance training because we’re being sold this programming that is by and large promoting an overly stressful approach to exercise. And this pervades across the fitness industry. So, um, I’m talking about going to the CrossFit gym and doing their template workout of the day, and then coming back the next day and experiencing a different form of exercise stress and coming back the next day and doing something again, more creative and interesting, but all adding up on the one side of the balance scale to be stressful. Same with the home-based fitness programming.
The stuff you find at the group exercise at the gym, um, by and large, it promotes an overly stressful approach to training because it’s difficult to sell and get excited about an easy, Peloton ride of 15 minutes at a low heart rate <laugh>. Instead, we want the Pepe instructor in the music and the excitement of climbing the hills and sprinting, and that’s what sells, and that’s what attracts people. And so that’s great because a vast majority of people deserve to get up off the chair and do more exercise of any kind, right? But as we get more sophisticated with our approach and more refined with our endurance goals in particular, that’s when we have to get smarter. That’s when we have to temper our competitive instincts. And none of this stuff is supported very well with the conventional approach to endurance training.
And that excess body fat mentioned again, is because when your training approach is overly stressful, you are going to hold onto fat and you’re going to overeat. And boy, even the most disciplined, focused, driven, goal-oriented person is not going to be able to override, uh, a disruption in appetite hormones and energy levels prompted by an overly stressful approach to training.
Number four, the flawed conventional approach can be characterized as chronic cardio. And that’s a term that Mark Sisson coined back in 2006 when he published his landmark article on Mark’s Daily apple.com, titled A Case Against Cardio. Go back and read that. We’ll put the link in the show notes. It was a wonderful piece, and he was basically second guessing, essentially his life’s work and his life’s passion as a longtime endurance athlete. And having the realization, uh, as an older person reflecting back on his extreme pursuits when he was a elite level marathon or an Ironman triathlete, that this stuff was not in service to his health at all.
And it was in wild conflict with human genetic expectations for health, uh, as opposed to for example, the Primal Blueprint fitness approach where we are talking about the blend of frequent low level everyday movement, um, regularly putting your body under resistance load to lift heavy things and sprinting once in a while, and making sure to integrate, play, and a variety of, uh, outdoor physical exercise that’s fun and varied and interesting as opposed to with chronic cardio. Talking about racking up those weekly mileage and just going to the extreme to the point where your health is compromised. And the definition of chronic cardio would be too many moderate difficult intensity workouts perform too frequently and lasting too long, insufficient rest and recovery between them overall, in general, a chronic pattern to your training that promotes a chronic overproduction of stress. Hormones, we hear a lot about cortisol.
That’s the preeminent stress hormone. Um, it’s the, uh, the essential element of the fight or flight response. And the fight or flight response is wonderful to keep us fine tuned and sharp and fit and prepared for, um, the extreme challenges of life, whether it be, uh, getting into the starting blocks for a sprint race or toeing the starting line at the lake for a triathlon, or giving a presentation in the conference room or dealing with, uh, ideally short term stressors that prompt or that call for, uh, heightened physical function. And then, uh, balance with all kinds of, uh, rest, recovery, downtime, rejuvenation. And this can include exercise if the exercise is comfortable enough. So to escape from chronic cardio, we’re talking about slowing down the vast majority of your workouts, minding that maximum aerobic heart rate, and then once in a while, pushing your body hard and achieving those fitness breakthroughs and competitive goals. That’s a big difference from getting out there and grinding away day after day with workouts that are a bit too difficult.
So number five, speaking of chronic cardio, this can cause permanent damage to the heart by promoting chronic inflammation and scarring and hardening of the arteries from repeated micro tears. The heart is like any other muscle, right? It engorges with blood, it pumps harder, it answers to exercise demand, and then it likes to return to homeostasis, beating comfortably, and keeping us alive without interruption for our entire lives. And we get into this in more detail in the book and in some of the video interviews in the mastery course. But, um, there’s a very, very disturbing prevalence of heart problems, uh, that are coming up in long time serious extreme endurance athletes. And it’s the, uh, very delicate left ventricle of the heart that gets inflamed from exercise stimulus, which is okay in a temporary basis, but not when you do it day after day after day.
And so when you have this chronic inflammation, that’s where you get the scarring. That’s where you get the hardening of the arteries and response to chronic inflammation and scarring. It’s a lack of recovery of the heart muscle itself. Just like if you do too many bicep curls and you’re going to, uh, feel that soreness, that muscle damage that inflammation. And so this can take years, but we are now seeing an elevated risk of coronary uh, conditions, especially atrial fibrillation. That’s what happens from the repeated scarring and inflammation of the heart. What happens is the electrical signaling becomes compromised, and you have this fluttery heartbeats inconsistencies and irregularities in your heartbeats that can lead to, uh, at worst case, uh, tragic consequences like the sudden drop dead cases that you’ve heard about, or people that have to go in and get a pacemaker or drastically reduce exercise and have their lifestyle compromised years of excessive use and abuse of the heart muscle.
Now, this is not kind of stuff that happens to the folks that hike on the Pacific Crest Trail <laugh> on the summer and do their 200 mile jaunt lasting a month where they’re enjoying the outdoors in nature and breathing fresh air and being wonderfully healthy and enjoying a lifestyle that more of us deserve to experience. I’m talking about the, the high performers here, and there’s great articles, uh, that I mentioned frequently. One of them’s called One Running Shoe in the Grave, another one’s called Running on Empty. And they chronicle some of these really disturbing cases of high level athletes getting, uh, taken down with heart problems when they look like, uh, and, and feel like a picture of fitness in many ways. And then the heart gives out. So we wanna steer clear from those elevated disease risk factors associated with extreme endurance training with a more sensible approach, especially spending more time in the lower heart rate zones that by and large promote, promote heart health rather than compromise it.
Okay? It brings us to number six, a moderate exercise schedule. For example, running 10 minute miles for a total of one to two and a half hours a week. So that’s a, by most people listening, most people in the endurance scene, that’s a pretty paultry commitment to endurance training. But a moderate exercise schedule can dramatically increase longevity in comparison to a more arduous and time consuming training schedule, which when it turns to chronic, can accelerate aging. Whew. Okay, so when we’re burning this many calories, we are creating oxidative stress in the body by burning energy. That’s a reality of life. And of course, we’re trying to find that sweet spot where we’re promoting health and longevity without compromising it. But by and large, when we put up these daunting athletic goals and stick ’em in our face with that marketing machine that I talked about, um, that represents the marathon distance or the ultramarathon, or the Ironman triathlon distance as the ultimate athletic accomplishment.
These are by and large in conflict with our human genetic expectations for health and the vast majority of recreational participants, It’s too much, it’s too far, it’s too difficult. And there’s no need to put these as the gold standard when I think we would all be better off if the Ironman were really a half Iron Man and the marathon were really a half marathon. Now, it’s great for Eluid Kipchoge to go and run two hour record and be recognized as one of the greatest athletes and watch the, uh, the marathoners compete in the Olympic Games. These are people that dedicate their lives to the highest level of endurance peak performance, and it’s so wonderful to see them in action and provide those forums for someone going for the gold and, and giving, you know, devoting a decade of their life and their youth to pushing the, the envelope of human endurance.
However, for the recreational participant, that’s when we need to rethink some of these goals. And to put someone out there, uh, on, on the same race course, which is by and large touted as a wonderful attribute of endurance sports, that you can tow the line with the leading marathoner at New York City and run the same course on the same day. But guess what? You know, squeezing marathon training or ultra run training or triathlon training into a busy life with all manner of other stress factors, uh, is simply, uh, too much in most cases. Um, just recording this in, uh, May of 2022, and looking at headline on the internet, that 20% of the participants in the world Championship Ironman triathlon held in St. George, Utah, dropped outta the race. So one out of five people couldn’t finish. why they wonder?
Well, the water was, uh, freezing cold. There was a ton of hills on the bike, and there was also a lot of hills on the run. It was that mild altitude. The weather is usually windy out there. And so they put on this extremely grueling race that people travel from all over the world to participate in and dream of just finishing. And one outta five can’t even finish in a very, very highly trained population. So, um, I don’t know, credit to the people that finished, but also let’s rethink the need to pursue these extreme goals when it’s an amazing and spectacular accomplishment to, for example, finish a 10 k run in your community. But most endurance athletes scoff at that. But I’m gonna put in a vote for, Hey, how about doing something with great competency that really fits nicely into, uh, the other daily schedule and responsibilities that you have?
And maybe try to improve your competency in the 10 kilometer run and go faster and beat your time, and that’s your preeminent endurance goal, rather than always, thinking that farther, further is better and further is more accomplished. I would contend that someone who can run at a high speed, uh, a relatively competent speed for a 5K or 10 K is just as impressive as someone who can shuffle through a marathon or stay out there all day and finish an Ironman. So, um, the research is clear here. There’s Dr. James O’Keeffe, TED Talk, titled Run for Your Life, uh, comma, But Not Too Far and at a Slow Pace. And he shows the, uh, the bell curve research here that, um, there’s a sweet spot in terms of, uh, the level of endurance exercise that promotes health and longevity. And then the bell curve starts to drop.
And the more e exercise you accumulate, you get into the zone where you are literally accelerating the aging, aging process. And as I talked about briefly in the story of my career and my, my nine years on the professional triathlon circuit, all that jet travel around the globe and racing at that level of intensity and training at that volume day after day after day, literally accelerated the aging process in my body. I was out there for nine years, and I contend that I aged probably in a literal biological cellular sense. I probably aged 15 to 17 years, I was probably near double the natural rate of aging. And when I completed my career, finished my career at the age of 30, in many ways, I felt like an 80 year old when I got up outta bed and hobbled down the hallway limping because of my chronic plantar fasciitis that I couldn’t even put weight on my foot until I hopped out to the jacuzzi and put the foot under the jets for a few minutes of warm water. When I had the chronic soreness and difficulty with this joint or that joint disconnected tissue.
Um, and, and my energy level at rest was, uh, you know, insufficient where I was needing to take these long naps every single day and feeling lazy about doing just the basic amount of, uh, housework, yard work that was probably a kin to the spark, the battery power, uh, of an 80 year old specimen rather than a 30 year old. And basically, I’ve been for the last few decades trying to rebuild and regenerate that battery power that was drained dramatically from the training, the jet travel, and just the intensity of that lifestyle and that competition. So we wanna stay away from that accelerated aging pattern. And boy, how can you tell? Hey, uh, there’s a lot of practical ways we can just look at this. I think one of ’em is, uh, describe your level of energy and vitality at rest away from workouts, because it’s easy to get pumped up, psyched up when you show up at the swimming pool, and there you are with your group, and you jump in the water and you start pounding and, and putting up the times and leaving on the rest interval, or getting on your bike and pedaling, and then you go over to, uh, the coffee shop and meet up with the group and off they go for a 50 mile ride.
Those are times when you know the stress hormones are flowing. You’re gonna be, uh, optimally excited and uninhibited to, uh, perform. But then how do you feel at two o’clock that afternoon when it’s time to get up and rake the leaves, and you seem to just want to sink into the couch and reach for another pint of Ben and Jerry’s? And if those kind of things are happening where your energy level at rest is compromised by your athletic pursuits, that’s when we can contend the, that you are accelerating the aging process and having difficulty recovering, producing too many reactive oxygen species, ROS, that’s otherwise known as free radicals. And that’s from the massive burning of calories and burning of energy, of firing those muscles and peddling those legs like pistons for hours and hours and hours, and doing it too frequently without allowing for rest recovery, downtime, and a moderate exercise. Okay, that was number six.
Whew, the critical distinction. Here’s seven. The critical distinction for endurance workout intensities is aerobic versus anaerobic aerobic workouts. The word literally means with oxygen. Aerobic workouts emphasize fat burning, are energizing and minimally stressful. Anaerobic workouts, that word literally means without oxygen emphasize glucose burning and elicit a significant stress response. An anaerobic workout is at an intensity level where there is insufficient oxygen to fuel the desired pace. So you transition over into a different type of metabolism where rather than going through the vastly more efficient, but more painstaking process of producing energy aerobically, And we’re talking about ATP when we’re talking about energy production. That’s the, the fuel source for all cells working at all intensities. So at anaerobic, you can produce ATP energy very quickly, uh, but essentially inefficiently. So you’re really, um, burning through a a lot of, uh, fuel quickly.
Let’s make the analogy of the campfire. So an anaerobic workout is where you have a stack of twigs and newspaper and you’re throwing them in the fire and you’re getting this giant flame and the flames going up, uh, and a lot of smoke is being produced. And that would be akin to the, uh, the free radicals, right? It’s a dirty burning fuel when you’re burning fuel quickly and throwing more kindling on the fire to try to keep pace as you stay in the pack or you run your interval workout, or you compete in a race. Versus aerobic where you are, um, using mitochondria to produce energy, because mitochondria require oxygen to produce energy. And this is a more clean, burning experience because you are producing plenty of energy, uh, to sustain your performance for, uh, hours and hours on end. And so that aerobic energy metabolism is healthier in the sense that it doesn’t produce as many free radicals.
You’re not at this, uh, deficit where you’re desperately trying to, um, to get enough ATP into the cells to perform at high level. And that’s what that acid accumulation the burning sensation you get when you’re sprinting is when you’re really maxing out your body’s ability to supply ATP to the working the cells and muscles, and to the extent that acid accumulates in the bloodstream, and, and you feel that, um, that sensation that you can’t continue at that extreme pace. So, uh, the distinction there is that the anaerobic exercise is vastly more stressful and requires more recovery time than aerobic exercise. And so if you can kind of envision workouts as either comfortable or either very purposeful where you’re training the body to handle, um, the anaerobic metabolism and to become better at producing ATP under those kind of emergency circumstances where you’re asking to go, uh, maintain a fast pace for a long time. Those are, uh, should be performed few and far between because of, uh, so much recovery time is needed because of the muscle damage, because of the prompting of stress hormones.
And, uh, in contrast, you can, uh, come get up and perform aerobically, uh, day after day. When you stay in those comfortable heart rate zones. You can put in a lot of work, uh, in a minimally stressful manner. And when you’re able to do so and build steadily at the comfortable heart rates, that’s when you can become, uh, the most efficient and successful endurance athlete. Because amazingly, even the shortest of endurance events from our perspective is predominantly aerobic. A two hour event is 98% aerobic, even when you’re flying down the course, on a Olympic distance triathlon or whatever. Um, even an event as short as 15 minutes, like a or 20 minutes like a 5K run, is vastly, uh, aerobic with just a little bit of anaerobic contribution. In fact, exercise physiology insights, these are not made up, but validated in the laboratory.
A 50 50 effort where your 50% aerobic and 50% anaerobic is an all out effort of one minute and 15 seconds. So that means the, uh, the 1500 meter runners, the milers in the Olympics are by and large aerobic athletes. And you see this in the training patterns of even, uh, guys and gals who are running a very, very fast pace, uh, for four laps around the track. They are predominantly in an aerobic emphasis training program where they’re running a hundred miles a week in order to perform in a race that takes three and a half to four minutes. And so for the average endurance athlete that has competitive goals lasting an hour, two hours, five hours, 10 hours, the vast majority of workouts should be at the aerobic heart rates. And then the goal would be to continue to get more and more efficient so you’re able to go faster and perform more work at the same aerobic heart rate. And we’re gonna talk about that more in different insights. So that’s the critical distinction, aerobic versus anaerobic.
Number eight, emphasizing aerobic workouts delivers the best return on investment for endurance athletes, because endurance competitions even as short as one hour, are fueled almost entirely by aerobic energy systems. Hey, didn’t I jump forward and cover that already in my discussion of number seven? So let’s jump to nine. Developing an efficient aerobic system is like building a powerful, clean burning Tesla engine. Excess anaerobic training with an insufficient aerobic base is like fine tuning a small, inefficient, dirty, burning car engine. So I’ve already kind of gotten into this here where when we can get, uh, efficient with our fuel burning, uh, utilizing that mitochondria to burn fuel cleanly and emphasize fat which burns successfully, um, with oxygen, but is unable to be burned without oxygen.
So as you go faster, you can’t burn fat, you have to burn glucose, And glucose is more dirty burning because it does not utilize the mitochondria and the protective benefits of mitochondria to minimize, uh, the free radicals, the smoke that’s coming up from the campfire, right? So if you are inclined to skip the process of developing an efficient aerobic system and prefer to increase the pace of your workouts in order to get the most fitness bang for your buck, or the most return on investment for your workout time, and a lot of people contend that they have limited exercise time available with all the other life responsibilities. So if they do have time to go out and bike ride, why should they pedal slowly when they can go out there and push their body hard for that hour and get, uh, a much better training response?
And in theory, it sounds sensible, but what happens here is that when you don’t take the time to develop your aerobic base, your fuel burning systems, um, you are basically doing that fine tuning with a, a cheap, crappy car. And so you will no come nowhere near your potential, uh, unless you slow down and take the time to build that aerobic base and get faster and faster and faster at the same heart rate. And that also holds true for people that have, um, minimal time to exercise, and it’s, there’s just no way around it. If you want to be competent in a race that’s gonna take you two hours or four hours, you’re gonna have to put the time in, including some over distance workouts that approximate the challenge of the race. Yeah, I know frustratingly so, but hey, if you really do have limited time to train, maybe you wanna downscale your goals and focus on events that last less duration so that you can train more appropriately for a 5K run.
And so if you’re a 5K rather than a marathoner, right? An over distance session for a 20 minute competitive event, uh, might just require an hour of slow pace, comfortable aerobic training rather than, um, you know, an ultra-marathon runner who’s trying to run a 50 mile or a hundred miler. Okay? So that was number nine, building that, that clean burning, uh, solar engine versus the dirty burning fuel source.
Number 10, aerobic development is best accomplished by training exclusively at aerobic heart rates for a sustained period of time. This enables a steady progression in fat burning efficiency without the interruption from stressful high intensity workouts. So you’re trying to become a fat burning beast, and every time you introduce a high intensity session, you are diverting a whole bunch of resources including the of energy, energy you have available to train.
Uh, you’re devoting that to your interval workout, uh, to your strength training session in some sense. And you only have, if you imagine a, uh, a pie chart with energy available to train, um, we wanna devote the vast majority of that energy to aerobic development without the interference of these giant pie slices that come when you go out there and do a time trial or run intervals and require that recovery time and also, um, send some hormonal and genetic messaging to be a glucose burning athlete rather than a fat-burning athlete. So of course, we need to go fast to reach our competitive potential, but this is best handled in a periodized manner where you take the time to focus different times of the year and emphasize aerobic development. Or at other times you’re gonna emphasize, uh, some anaerobic work and tone down, uh, the amount of energy you, uh, you devote to the over distance aerobic workouts.
And so, in general, we’re gonna talk about periodization a lot more. But it’s very valuable to just allow the aerobic base to build and build and build without interruption, without the high stress impact of high intensity workouts, however valuable they might be, uh, at a certain time. And basically, when that time comes, it’s on top of a very successful development of an aerobic base. That’s why they call it a base. You elevate your base as the launching point for more difficult workouts. And if you’re sitting back marveling at the, a amazing ability of the world’s lead athletes to go so fast on the race course, I mean, someone doing a 7:30, Ironman distance race or running a marathon in two hours, it appears that they are essentially sprinting, uh, for the entire time because their pace is, they’re, they’re so comfortable and so efficient at their aerobic heart rates.
They’re essentially trying just as hard as you and I, right? Their heart rate is at 80% of maximum, they just happen to be pedaling 27.5 miles an hour for 112 miles. Okay? So the secret is, is taking that time to become more and more and more aerobically efficient. That was number 10.
Number 11, the cutoff point for aerobic training is the maximum aerobic heart rate defined as the point where maximum aerobic benefits occur with a minimum amount of anaerobic stimulation To calculate your maximum aerobic heart rate used Dr Maffetone’s. formula 180 minus age in beats per minute equals your maximum aerobic heart rates. And for those enthusiasts of Maffetone and also echoed here in the Primal Endurance method that we cover in the book and in the course, uh, there are some adjustment factors from that 180 minus age. Everyone’s trying to grab more beats and get permission to add five beats to their number.
B`ut the essence of it here is that you wanna remain super comfortable and there’s, uh, a lot of justification and a lot of benefits for training well below your maximum aerobic heart rate. So everyone’s frustrated they wish they could go faster than their maximum, cuz it is, it feels slow if you’re used to this training in a haphazard manner and exceeding that maximum aerobic heart rate frequently. But don’t forget, as you work hard to become aerobically efficient, your pace is going to get faster and faster and faster at that same 180 minus your age heart rate. Okay? Uh, the maximum aerobic benefits occur there. That means this is, uh, strongly correlated, right? It’s an estimate 180 minus age, but it’s strongly correlated with the point of maximum fat oxidation per minute by your body. What this means is at that heart rate of 123, in my example, I am burning more fat calories per minute than at any other heart rate.
If I were to speed up and take my heart up to 133 or 143 or 153, I would of course be burning significantly more calories per minute, but I would be burning less fat and dramatically spike up or ramp up my glucose burning. So if you envision this graph where you’re burning more and more fat as you, as your heart rate increases from, from a walk to a jog to a trot, and if you’re super fit, you’re cruising along at a pretty impressive pace at maximum or aerobic heart rate, you’re burning the maximum fat calories per minute, and now it’s time to speed up again into a tempo pace or whatever. And then the graph drops, the number of fat calories per minute starts to, uh, dive downward. And then meanwhile, another line makes its way into the picture on the familiar, uh, two axes of the graph.
And that’s the glucose burning spiking up from, uh, very little when you’re going at a walk or a jog and then boom, ramping up like crazy to the point where you’re, when you’re sprinting, you’re burning almost entirely glucose and not much fat. Okay? So that 180 minus age key principle there.
Number 12, endurance athletes have extreme difficulty slowing down into what feels like a disturbingly slow aerobic heart rate zone. But massive improvements can occur over time by becoming more efficient that is faster at the same comfortable conversational aerobic heart rate. I’m gonna go straight into number 13. Aerobic improvement can be tracked by conducting Dr. Maffetone’s maximum aerobic function test the MAF test. Hey, that’s the first three letters of his last name too. Isn’t that clever? So the math test is where you, uh, complete a fixed course the same course every time for test consistency at the same heart rate.
And that heart rate would be your, MAF heart rate. And so, uh, you get your number. Mine’s 1 23 as I keep mentioning. And I’m gonna go out to the running track and jog eight laps around the track, trying as hard as I can. It’s difficult, but I’m trying to peg the heart rate at 123. So it’s gonna bounce around, it’s gonna go up to 1 26. I’m gonna have to slow down a little. It’s gonna go down to 121. I’m gonna try to see how close I can keep it right around that 1 23 as I’m trotting around the track, or maybe I’m using a bike trail with measured distance. You can even do this on exercise equipment. So you’re going on the treadmill for one mile or 1.5 miles of distance, you’re doing the rowing machine. You’re cycling up a hill from the bottom to the blue house every time you’re doing the same exact course at the same exact heart rate.
And boy, isn’t that fun to track your progress because even though it’s a frustratingly slow pace, it’s nothing like doing a time trial and setting a new personal best on your 10 mile course in your neighborhood. Um, that’s another realm of training, uh, that of course can be beneficial. But this is where the real magic happens, because when you can become more efficient at that comfortable heart rate, that’s when you realize that your training’s working. And in contrast, uh, this is number 14. So improvement in MAF test results means your training is working. You are more efficient at burning fat at aerobic heart rates, therefore you can start to go faster and your heart rate’s gonna stay in the same zone. Regression in MAF test results suggests that you are over training and or overstressed or of course, uh, I’ll add you could be detrained, right?
So if you take a lot of time off and you’re not out there doing much training, you’re probably gonna have a inferior MAF test result to when you’re in peak form. But generally speaking, if you can perform this test every few weeks, uh, and have a nice accumulation of results over time. What we wanna see is a steady progression, a steady improvement in your finishing time, right? So we have the fixed course, we have the fixed heart rate, and so then the variable is the result. So when I jog eight laps around the track, uh, at the same heart rate, I’m gonna record my result 10 minutes or whatever it is, <laugh>, or 16 minutes or 23 minutes or whatever it is. And I like to have a test that lasts, oh, somewhere between eight and 15 minutes. It depends on your competitive goals and everything.
When I was a pro triathlete and, and, you know, training at a high level, I would do a test that lasted around 30 minutes. So that was a five mile run around the track at aerobic heart rate. Uh, so now I’m down to, you know, doing around a 10 minute test result. The longer duration your competitive goal, the longer the MAF test can be, and you can go for a eight or 10 minute result if you’re doing endurance events that are lasting an hour or less. Okay? So whatever you choose, uh, you’re gonna do this, re do this test frequently. And if you notice a pattern of declining performance, in other words, slower times, uh, we really gotta take a look at things because the training is you’re not adapting to the training load and most likely it’s excess life stress over training patterns and then very unlikely but possible to be de training.
Now interestingly about the heart rate, there’s so many variables that affect heart rate. One of ’em would be, uh, having a cup of coffee in the morning, right? You’re gonna get kind of an elevated heart rate and that could adversely impact your test result because you’re putting your body under a little bit of stress from the central nervous system stimulant. So we wanna be in a relaxed state. You want to pick days where you feel great, even though you’re not going fast. It’s not a time trial to beat your time on the 10 mile course and put it up on, uh, the internet for all to see. You wanna feel good because this is gonna be the most legitimate test result for your, uh, current level of conditioning. So you don’t wanna do it on a day where you’re tired or coming off difficult workouts.
I think at number 14, that’s a good point to break. We are working our way and we only have 101 to go. Hopefully those things made a lot of sense. Give you some food for thought and love to know your feedback firstname.lastname@example.org. And be sure if you haven’t already, go over to Primal Endurance.fit and sign up for the free mini course. That’ll give you, uh, a wonderful glimpse of what the full on Mastery course is all about. And I can’t wait to see you as a student in the course, looking forward to supporting you through that student journey and learning so much reading, watching the videos from the greats, everything we can do here to help you out and make things, uh, kinder, gentler, more fun, more successful. Thanks for listening.
I hope you enjoy this episode and encourage you to check out the Primal Endurance Mastery course at primalendurance.fit. This is the ultimate online educational experience where you can learn from the world’s great coaches and trainers, diet, peak performance and recovery experts, as well as lengthy one-on-one interviews from several of the greatest endurance athletes of all time, not published anywhere else. It’s a major educational experience with hundreds of videos, but you can get free access to a mini-course with an ebook summary of the Primal Endurance Approach and nine step-by-step videos on how to become a primal endurance athlete. This mini-course will help you develop a strong, basic understanding of this all-encompassing approach to endurance training that includes primal aligned eating to escape carbohydrate dependency and enhanced fat metabolism, building an aerobic base with comfortably paced workouts, strategically introducing high intensity strength and sprint workouts, emphasizing rest, recovery, and annual periodization. And finally, cultivating an intuitive approach to training. Instead of the usual robotic approach of fixed weekly workout schedules, just head over to Primal endurance.fit and learn all about the course and how we can help you go faster and preserve your health while you’re at it.