Aerobic Training and the VO2-max

If you’re a middle or long distance runner, most of your training is going to be aerobic. No way around it. Aerobic basically means “with air”, hence aerobic training is exercise where your muscles are receiving enough oxygen to function properly, in contrast to anaerobic (without air) exercise where your muscles aren’t getting enough oxygen and as a result lactic acid starts building up. Simplified you can say that during aerobic exercise, you are burning fat and carbohydrates with oxygen through aerobic processes, thereby producing the energy used to perform the exercise. If you want to know more about the exact chemical reactions then I suggest you go study bio-chemistry.

This is probably aerobic, but not aerobic running

Aerobics is probably aerobic, but it’s not running

Some examples..

A warmup is (hopefully) aerobic, as the purpose is to get the muscles warm and ready for a workout, hence it would be pretty counter-productive to accumulate lactate before the workout itself.

Running at threshold pace is aerobic, though by the smallest margin possible.

Aerobic runs are by definition aerobic (duh), and a great way to build aerobic capacity. This is what people mean when they say “I’m going for a run”, and probably the simplest kind of workout there is. You just go out and run at a comfortable pace. Maybe for you it’s 5 minutes per kilometer or 4:30 or maybe it’s 7.

Aerobic capacity and how to increase it

Aerobic capacity is general term for the maximum amount of work your body can do aerobically. You probably know it better from some of it’s more popular names, like stamina or endurance. Aerobic capacity is often measured by a body’s VO2-max, or maximal oxygen uptake, which is the total amount of oxygen consumed by a runner during intense exercise in a certain time frame (normally a minute). Often times for runners it’s relevant to measure the VO2-max relative to their body weight, which is why the unit is ml/kg/min: milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute.

The VO2-max of some elite runners can be seen in the table below:


Although the VO2-max is the yardstick for overall aerobic capacity, a more relevant measurement for a runner’s aerobic capacity is his anaerobic threshold, because it takes into account the running economy which describes how well you can use your VO2-max for running. For example, a runner and a cyclist may have the same VO2-max, but if they go shoulder to shoulder in a 5k run, the runner is still gonna win because his anaerobic threshold is higher which is because his running economy is better. Even though they might have the same general aerobic capacity, the runner is better at making use of it for running.

Increasing the aerobic capacity and increasing the anaerobic threshold is in essence the same thing, so you can check out our page on threshold running for workouts that increase aerobic capacity by targeting the anaerobic threshold. Some other workouts that also increases aerobic capacity without specifically targeting the threshold:

  • 30 minutes to 1 hour easy run. These are more often than not done in the mornings: “Morning runs”
  • 1 hour run uphill
  • 1.5-2 hour long runs at easy pace
  • 6×10 minutes of running just above easy pace. 1 minute rest.

In short, these workouts target milage (high volume of distance run), which is an essential part of building aerobic capacity for runners, especially during base training in winter. Most elites at the 1500m and above run anything from 130km-210km per week.


There are workouts that specifically targets the VO2-max, but because those are anaerobic in nature I will write about them in the anaerobic training page.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate with leaving a comment. I’ll try to answer as soon as I can.

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