7 Habits Of Highly Effective Endurance Athletes, Part 2
Welcome to part two of this show detailing the seven essential habits of highly effective endurance athletes.
In this episode we cover the importance of aerobic efficiency, why following Dr. Maffetone’s method is so crucial, why the best benefits actually come from slowing down, and the seven habits to incorporate into your life in order to become a highly effective endurance athlete.
Enjoy the show!
Aerobic emphasis in your training comes after sleep, stress reduction, rest and balance on your list of good habits for training [00:26]
Don’t forget Dr. Maffetone’s suggested heart rate of your age minus 180 in beats per minute. Don’t fall into that Black Hole. [02:23]
Even if you have a limited time to train, your best benefits are going to come from slowing down. [05:08]
You have to respect the need to engage in blocks of specific training focus as an immutable law of endurance training. [17:27]
Brad summarizes the seven habits of successful endurance athletes. [18:09]
Welcome to the Return of the Primo Endurance Podcast. This is your host, Brad Kearns, 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.
Welcome to part two of the seven Habits of Highly Successful Primal Endurance Athletes. In the first program, we covered sleep, stress, rest, balance in the training schedule, and also making your training intuitive and personalized. So now here we go with the next four. The next is aerobic emphasis. Endurance success is primarily dependent on aerobic efficiency. Aerobic base building delivers by far your best return on investment and is best achieved by strictly limiting heart rate to aerobic maximum or lower during defined aerobic workouts and training periods. Stay out of the black hole and don’t venture into high intensity training blocks before you have a strong base.
So if you’re aspiring to do anything over a 15 minute competition, so a pure 5K runner, which most runners are not, most runners are trying to go across the board and they do their Turkey Trots. They throw in their 10 Ks, 15 Ks. There’s some halfs in there, and, you know, maybe a marathon is their ultimate goal. So anybody who’s going over 15 minutes, so just about every endurance athlete is primarily defining their success by the efficiency of their aerobic system, their ability to burn fat as the pace gets escalating faster and faster. And so if you wanna be a pro and go to Hawaii Ironman and throw down an eight hour, you better be comfortable. And in a primarily fat- burning state, when you’re peddling along the lava fields at 25 miles per hour for 112 miles in the heat, that’s the difference between the who-ha who jumps into the picture to get a few minutes of TV camera time where they’re burning mostly sugar, and they can only maintain that pace for eight miles until they get outta town and get away from the spectators, I guess.
Um, but that’s the difference in conditioning. So by far, your greatest return on investment will come from building your aerobic system, building up that fat burning energy system. And this happens at your workouts, at your aerobic maximum heart rate or below. And well below, like we just said. So walking, pedaling the bike over to the Farmer’s Market and filling up your basket with vegetables and coming home, all that low end stuff builds your aerobic system, builds, improves your ability to burn fat all the way, way up to that magic number, Dr. Phil Maffetone’s maximum aerobic heart rate, which is 180 minus your age in beats per minute. So if I’m 50 year old guy, 180 minus 50, 130 beats per minute is my aerobic maximum heart rate. It should feel very, very easy and very comfortable to operate at that, uh, intensity level. And it’s, it can be so easy and and comfortable that it’s a little frustrating because you have accustomed to become accustomed to training at higher heart rates where you’re really getting that buzz, you’re getting that endorphin buzz afterwards, so you feel kind of euphoric because you push yourself a little bit.
And that’s what we call the black hole. Because if you go into that zone day after day after day, you’re gonna stress the heart, you’re going overstressed the heart, and, uh, increase risk of disease factors. If you do it for years and years and you’re also going to overproduce stress hormones and lactic acid in the bloodstream, it’s gonna be more difficult to recover. And especially when you abuse that fight or flight response because when you do a workout at 80%, 85% of max heart rate, whatever you wanna call it, a tempo workout or something, um, it’s a stressful event to the body. Your body throws those stress hormones into the bloodstream to help you perform at your peak during the session. And that’s wonderful once in a while because it’s called training and preparing for competitive efforts. But if you do it day after day after day, if you jump into this black hole zone, which is above your aerobic maximum heart rate, all the way up to, let’s say, anaerobic threshold, where you can really, really feel that you’re doing a hard workout.
But most people operate in this no man’s land, this black hole where it’s not that hard, it’s medium, it’s not stressful, it’s not straining, you feel fine while you’re doing it, but the energy systems that you’re using are more glucose and less fat than if you stayed and backed off a little bit and just maintained at aerobic maximum or below. So aerobic maximum, that’s where you’re putting out the most, you’re burning the most fat, most percentage of fat to glucose, and that’s where you can get the most benefits, aerobic emphasis.
Next one is structured intensity. So intensity can deliver exceptional results for endurance athletes when a strong base is present when workouts are brief and duration and really intense when they’re conducted, only when you’re highly motivated and energized and during defined periods that are short in duration and always followed by arrest period and preceded by an aerobic period.
So this is the part where I think the recent trend toward hacking the game of endurance and doing these quality very specific high intensity workouts, instead of just putting in what people call junk mileage. This is where it’s extremely misunderstood and abused. First of all, we have 60 years now of track record for the world’s leading endurance athletes in every single sport. The world record holders, the Olympic gold medalist got there by doing high volume aerobic emphasis training. So Michael Phelps with his 25 gold medals and two DUIs, he’s got, um, hours and hours per day of swimming that led him to his victories in events lasting two minutes, four minutes, you know, at the most. It’s still building the aerobic system was the key to the success. Same with Peter Snell, the great New Zealand Olympic athlete from 1960, setting the gold medal setting the world record winning gold medal in time of one minute, 44 seconds using Arthur Lydiard, the early pioneer in aerobic training.
You know, the over distance training, the getting strong in the sand dunes of New Zealand, and then stepping on the track and coming off of base training and throwing down a 01:44 world record that still world class and Olympic final caliber to this day. And it was done off of base training. Um, and we go all the way through to today’s elite marathoners who we know are running 120, 140 miles a week, and the elite Iron Man level triathletes who are training 35 hours a week, putting in all that aerobic time to hone that ability to burn fat and become more and more efficient even as speed increases. And then on the other high side, we have the time stressed, amateur recreational triathlete who looks at the example of the pros and says, I can’t train 20 hours a week, I only have eight, so I might as well go hard to get the most of it.
So what you’re doing there is you’re introducing an excessively stressful program into your already busy, stressful life. So even if you have a limited time to train, your best benefits are going to come from slowing down and building your fat burning system. And you have to be very, very careful when you introduce intensity. So the first rule is, um, you gotta have a base first. You have to be efficient aerobically before you even think about high intensity workouts as an endurance athlete. What’s a good base? It’s a steady progress with your maximum aerobic function tests, your MAF test as we call them, which is where you, uh, go out and do a performance test. It’s a, uh, submaximal, it’s very easy because you’re just holding your aerobic maximum heart rate and completing the same course over and over through time. So my favorite example, go to the running track.
You run eight laps at 130 heart rate for me, and you check your time and you do it a few weeks later. You do it a few weeks later. And when you have steady progress, a steady reduction in your finishing time at the same heart rate, that’s when you know aerobic training is working. That’s when you can ease and asage your frustrations when you’re wondering, why am I going so slow? All of my training partners are going super fast and pushing themselves and doing repeats and doing all this crazy stuff. And, uh, talking on Lindsay Taylor’s podcast, was talking about the psychological aspects and the insecurity aspects of that. And she’s mentioning her own personal example of training for, uh, Ironman, Arizona and having to depart from the fun, uh, group workouts because they’re going too bloody fast and she’s honoring her aerobic maximum heart rate, but it pays off and it’s been proven for 60 years.
That’s why I’m emphasizing the, the history of all these sports, Mike Pigg, Mark Allen, the great stories in the book, Uh, go back and read it if you need convincing, but going slow really works and says Brad Kearns. So don’t cut me off and say, What an idiot. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It also works to go hard and get going and push yourself and challenge yourself and simulate race conditions. Like if you’re doing an Olympic distance triathlon and you’re trying to go two hours and be a competitive amateur, yeah, you’re gonna go out there and try to hammer some bike rides and do some enthusiastic runs and things like that. So there’s a time and a place for intensity. That’s what I’m trying to say. It’s very, very valuable and very effective when you do it correctly, and it’s very destructive when you do it incorrectly.
So first you have that base built. Second, when it’s time for intensity, lower the volume of your training so you can recover and put in, uh, quit good quality efforts. Don’t worry about maintaining your aerobic training volume during these intensity periods. Third, uh, make them brief in duration. Dr. Maffetone says that best results come from intensity periods that are only two to three weeks in length. Uh, primal endurance. We put four weeks as the maximum, you know, uh, the maximum duration before you absolutely, positively have to take a rest period and a break from intensity. But let’s say you have, uh, the better part of a month where you have some races planned, you have some intense workouts, you’re doing the crazy stuff in the gym where you’re jumping up and down on the boxes and doing squats and doing all this stuff that actually has a wonderful and direct application to endurance performance, helping you preserve form while you’re fatigued and all the other great stuff we wrote about in the book.
So, um, this stuff is great. I’m not discounting it or ripping on it, but I’m telling you that it has to be done in the proper context, and that’s up to you. So if you go and sign up for the crazy, crazy endurance three day a week, um, boot camp offerings at your local gym, and you do those for 43 weeks a year, you’re going to struggle, suffer and burnout, and you won’t be listening to this podcast in five years. How about that? So if you’re looking for longevity, if you’re looking for the ultimate potential in your peak performance, not hacking to, um, a little bit below your potential faster, but being patient with the process of aerobic development and going and going steadily over time, this is when you’re very careful and structured and regulated with your intensity. So you do a three week block and then you spin back into a rest slash aerobic period to rebuild and recalibrate before you throw in another high intensity block of time.
And this should be how your entire competitive season looks. So you have that aerobic based building period to begin the year, at least eight weeks, preferably 12, maybe 16, maybe an entire year if you’re a real mess and you’re burnt out. Uh, we talked to Debbie Potts about that phenomenon where she was going, going, going super strong for 11 years, did 15 Iron Mans, including six Hawaii’s, and then fell apart and has taken years to try to regain her health because she was on such a wave. So we have that base period. Then we have the mix of brief intensity periods, always packaged with brief aerobic and rest periods, and then the lengthy rest period at the end of the year. Couple more on the list. Complimentary practices, increased general daily movement, spontaneous unstructured play sessions, mobility work such as technique drills and dynamic stretching movement practices like yoga and Pilates and high intensity strength training sessions are essential for success because we live sedentary lives of extreme physical ease.
So remember, you’re an endurance athlete. You signed up for this race. It’s crazy stuff, whether it’s an adventure race or an Iron Man or a marathon. And the concept of getting out there and doing your daily workout that lasts for an hour or two hours or whatever, or 10 hours, 15 hours a week, seemingly a lot of volume there and a big commitment. But with the 168 hours total in a week, if you’re only training, you know, 16, you got a hundred hours to account for. And for most of us, those a hundred hours are spent vegging around in a car, on a couch or at a desk and not challenging ourselves and not broadening our concept of fitness. So even if you don’t have that much extra time to devote, you can find ways to hit these important points. The technique drills, the mobility work.
I have good, uh, videos on this in the Primal Endurance online course where I end every run that I do with five minutes of technique flexibility, drills like the high knees or the hamstring kick outs or the high heel, high toe karaokes, things that help me improve flexibility, reduce injury risk, and kind of count as the, uh, mobility drills. And if you’re just lazing around and relaxing in front of the TV because of your hard training day, know that you’ll recover faster, perform better if you spend some extra time each day, uh, doing the foam rolling and helping, uh, get those trigger points that lead to injuries and aches and pains. You can work through those without disrupting your busy daily schedule because we all have downtime where we’re relaxing and when you’re doing the foam rolling and the ball work.
Another great set of videos from Kimmy and Dawn, the Yoga Therapy Balls. This actually helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, so it will help you relax even more if you’re already in a relaxed state watching TV or just hanging out and chatting at nighttime. We’ve talked so much about the importance of increased daily everyday movement. So parking your car at the far end of the parking lot and walking, walking around for errands, taking your phone calls or in person meetings during your workday on foot where you’re actually moving and walking around. You brain works better, you’re more creative, and it’s a way to get more movement and just be vigilant about those, uh, prolonged periods of stillness. That’s why we are so big on the standup desk scene because you can kind of fidget around and swing your legs around and do some stretches and, uh, things that are a little more difficult when you’re just locked into a chair at your desk.
So make the effort to get into those complimentary practices. Remember Kelly Starrett saying that for endurance athletes, 15 minutes of every hour of your training should be spent on mobility flexibility. That’s an amazing chunk coming from the world’s leading expert on this stuff, but asserting just how important it is and how it will allow you to preserve good form while you’re fatigued. Prevent injuries and get the most out of your body so that you don’t have to report. You train, train, train for a marathon, you do these mileage and you spend all summer training for the fall marathon, and then your hip flexors blow out at mile 20 and you have a disaster because you lacked the flexibility, mobility, technique, drills that are so important to the big picture. It’s not just mileage. I love Kelly’s quote in the book where he says, Endurance athletes seem to care only about time, as in, and this is just paraphrasing now cause I’m not reading it, but he was like, Hey, uh, I got to work faster than ever today, <laugh>.
I did side swipe a few park cars and I got a ticket for a red light, but I beat my best time. And to put that analogy over into your, your workouts where we’re all enjoying logging the hours, logging the miles, seeing, seeing that we do better and we’re putting up more hard work and quantifiable stuff. But the quality or the approach that you use to doing it, uh, also needs to be considered. So don’t side swipe the park cars or run a red light that would be akin to, uh, getting injured or perhaps even exceeding maximum aerobic heart rate, uh, in an undisciplined manner over time.
And uh, the last on the list is periodization, which we’ve already talked about a bit. So a quick summary. An annual program always commences with an aerobic base period, minimum eight weeks. And then with success during the base period, high intensity periods can follow minimum, maximum duration four weeks. So two to three weeks are the best. Then you follow those with micro periods of rest, aerobic rebuilding, and then another intensity competition phase. Annual program always ends with an extended rest period or off season, followed by a new macro aerobic base period to commence the new annual program. This overview offers plenty of flexibility, but you have to respect the need to engage in blocks of specific training focus as an immutable law of endurance training.
So in summary, we have the seven habits of highly effective primal endurance athletes. Number one, sleep and minimizing artificial light and digital stimulation after dark, creating that ideal sleeping environment. Number two, stress, rest balance. So higher highs, breakthrough workouts and lower lows, more rest, shorter, easier recovery workouts, making sure that you stay at or below maximum aerobic heart rates so that you don’t stress yourself a little bit on a day after day after day basis with doing the black hole workouts.
Same with strength training, which I didn’t mention earlier. Um, go in there, get into business, go hard, and then go home. Don’t linger along and throw in one of these what we call blended workouts where the workout’s taking too long and the stress hormones are being circulated for too long and it turns into something that’s difficult to recover from and promoting over stress. So stress rest, balance number three, intuitive and personalized. Your training schedule is sensible, intuitive, flexible, and even spontaneous. Instead of regimented and preordained. Take what your body gives you every day and nothing more. Number four, aerobic emphasis. So your success in endurance sports, anything 15 minutes or beyond is hugely and primarily dependent on your aerobic efficiency. Your ability to efficiently burn fat even as the pace escalates up to your race pace. And your by far greatest return on investment is to put in those workouts at your maximum aerobic heart rate or below.
Next is a structured intensity. So the intensity can make huge and quick fitness breakthroughs for you, uh, sprinting strength training and also the interval training and the race specific training that we’re doing. But these workouts have to be, uh, carefully structured on the heels of successful base building. The duration of an intensity training block, uh, ideally is two to three weeks, maximum, four weeks no matter what, and then have some rest period after. And again, uh, doing this hard stuff when your body’s ready and willing. So just because you’re in an intensity training period and you only have three weeks to do it because, uh, Prime Hunt endurance recommends no longer than that and you miss a day because it’s raining or because you got called on a business trip, um, too bad just wait till the right day. And if you’re, uh, not up to it, delay the intense workout until you’re really feeling great.
Uh, tons of flexibility inside these, uh, structured parameters of periodization. Next, complimentary practices increase general everyday movement. So everything counts as a workout. Walking to the mailbox counts, walking from the parking lot and taking the stairs up to the seventh floor instead of the elevator. All this stuff is actually developing your aerobic system and it’s very healthy and contributory to endurance training success. Remember my cruise ship analogy that I talked about in a couple other podcasts? Even the very lowest end of energy production such as a walk is still being used when you’re hammering out there at race pace. Other things are play sessions, mobility work, technique drills, dynamic stretching, yoga, Pilates, all that stuff, complimentary practices and all the recovery practices that we talked about in the book like cold water therapy and so forth. And finally, periodization. So you wanna have some structure. You’re gonna be intuitive and spontaneous inside the structure, but you need to start each year with aerobic base period.
Then you introduce intensity and competition periods and short duration blocks, always balance with an aerobic and a rest block afterwards. And finally, an off season rest period and extended rest period where you not only gr greatly reduce your training, but also thinking about training and stressing and worrying about squeezing workouts in so you have an off season to be a normal person. Again, socialize with normal people, maybe not even athletes, maybe find some other people and enjoy it. And then get that, uh, chomping at the bit sensation when it’s time to, uh, get back into training and, uh, goals for a new season. So thank you for listening to the seven Habits of Highly Effective Endurance Athletes. Remember, go to primal blueprint.com/endurance to write your questions for the show or give me any kind of feedback you like there in that, uh, convenient form. And also take the time if you can, to write a review for this show, like on iTunes or Stitcher, wherever you get your podcast.
YouTube, if you’re watching the videos, um, it really helps, uh, spread the word and attract other people to the program. But I sure do look forward to hearing from you, especially with suggestions or things that you like to, uh, see covered on the show. They Primo Endurance podcast as your host, Brad Kearns up. Ba ba I hope you enjoyed this episode and encourage you to check out the Primal Endurance Mastery firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 minicourse 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.