How can I increase aerobic fitness?

After having been thoroughly tested to establish an aerobic base, the HR max has to be established. There are three zones of training, the first being the (fat burning zone) recovery or cardio base zone, this is at 65 to  75% of HR max. Next is zone 2 and it is at 80 to 85% of HR max and is closer to the AT ( anaerobic threshold or lactic acid threshold) and then zone 3  at 86 to 90% of HR max and is considered closer to peak training. By using this system the aerobic performance is maximized and is safely achieved when monitored and progressed by the Fitness Professional.

Mr. Donovan Green
Athletic Training
Increasing aerobic fitness can be done in a very simple way. All you have to do is choose one of your favorite total-body exercises such as sprints, jump rope, deadlifts, or even hitting a heavy bag. Set a timer for 1 minute and go as hard or as fast as you can for that period. Rest for at least 60 seconds and go again for about five rounds. This type of training will aid in firing up all of your major muscle groups including your heart.
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In order to increase your aerobic fitness, it is important to increase the intensity of your aerobic workouts.  Depending upon how many days per week you include an aerobic workout, you may want to have one day that you spend in the 65-75% maximum heart rate range.  The formula for calculating your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. 

There are basically three Cardio Training Zones.  Zone 1 is 65-75% of your maximum heart rate, Zone 2 is 80-89%, and Zone 3 is 90-92%.  Here is a 3 day per week example:

You may spend cardio day 1 of your week in Zone 1.  Cardio Days 2 & 3 of your week, you will want to perform intervals by starting out slowly for approximately 5 minutes to warmup.  Then move into Zone 2 for a couple of minutes, then back down to Zone 1, then possibly up to Zone 3 for 30 seconds, and so on.  The intensity and duration of the intervals is based upon your current cardio conditioning level.  Its best to check with your doctor first, then work with a personal trainer in order to ensure you are working at the proper intensity in order to reach your goals.

Jumping rope continuously for ten minutes is an excellent way to increase your aerobic fitness.   Jumping rope may or may not come easy to you at first, but it has been my experience that the third time is the charm.  It should only take performing the routine three times a week for four weeks to become comfortable with it and get results.  It doesn’t matter what style of rope you choose, only that the length is correct.  When you stand in the center of the rope, the handles should come up to your armpits.  Your elbows should stay close to you sides as you use your wrist to flick the rope.  Only jump high enough to pass the rope under your feet.  Breathe in through your nose for three counts and exhale through your mouth for three counts.  Most people find it easy to breathe in, but difficult to control their exhale.  You may experience dizziness the first few times you do the routine, because you’re not used to taking in a lot of oxygen.

In any health realm, you need to question everything anyone tells you. In fact, that is probably true in every facet in life. Aerobic fitness is important and we all want to improve our own. Remember this: repetitive movement and high impact activity breeds injury; it is one of the main reasons so many physical therapists have busy schedules. Personally, I prefer to build endurance by engaging in body weight circuit training because it provides strength development, aerobic development, corrective flexibility, and fat loss all at the same time. After a short phone consultation I can provide you with some great bodyweight exercises you can do anywhere to accomplish those results. Let's get started! 
Aerobic activity (cardiorespiratory)should be increased gradually to prevent overtraining which results in injury. There are three training zones referring to Nasm guidelines. First you determine your maximum heart rate. This is done by subtracting your age from the number 220.

Example: A 40 year old man has a maxium heart rate of 180 his zone one would be 117 to 135.

Zone one would be maximum heart rate x 0.65/0.75%.

Zone two would be maximum heart rate x 0.80/0.85%.

Zone three is maximum heart rate x 0.86/0.90%.
There are many exercise methods to improve your aerobic fitness. But the most important factor to consider is starting slow and gradually increasing the duration and intensity of your exercise routine. Strive for a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderately intense exercise. This will help your body adjust and adapt to exercise building an “aerobic base”. After you have built an aerobic base, adding intervals into your routine will further increase your aerobic fitness. Interval training combines short bursts of high intensity exercise (such as a sprint) with moderate/low intensity exercise (slow jog). Since your workouts are getting longer and more intense, it will be equally important to rest and recuperate between workouts to help your body recover and minimize the risk of injury.

The bottom line for improving aerobic fitness is to perform activity that is consistent and maintain a heart rate or level of exertion that makes it difficult to talk for long periods of time. Three programs you can use improve your fitness are as follows:

1. Beginner: Cardio Equipment- Pick a piece of cardio equipment, preferably a treadmill as they utilize many muscles at once, and a walking speed that is moderately difficult. WARM UP for 3 min at an easy to moderate speed. Then increase your speed to your WORK ZONE speed, which is the speed that makes it difficult to talk for an extended period of time and/or noticeably increases your breathing rate. Walk at this speed for 25 minutes. COOL DOWN for 2 min at your original warm up speed for a total of 30 minutes. Do this 3-4 times per week.

2. Intermediate: Cardio Equipment – Pick a piece of cardio equipment that you can easily change the level of resistance or speed and perform the following program 3-5 times per week.  (TREADMILL USED): After your warm up, proceed through Zones A-C: THREE TO FIVE TIMES depending on your fitness level. Maintain a tall, straight posture, with a firm belly and butt.

 1. Warm Up: Slow Walk, approx 2.8 mph, 0% Incline, 2 min

2. Increase your speed to Zone A: Moderate Walk , 2.0-3.0 mph , 0% Incline, 3 min          

3. Zone B: Moderate Incline Walk, 2.2-3.2mph, 3-4% Incline, 2 min

4. Zone C: Jog, 4.0-5.5 mph, 0% Incline, 1 min     


Cool Down:   Walk, 2.5 mph, 0% Incline, 3 min

 3. Advanced: Resistance Training –  The following is a resistance training circuit that will help to improve aerobic fitness on its own or in combination with one of the programs above or another strength training program:

1. 20 Body Weight Squats

2. 20 Cable Rotations (10 each side)

3. 10 Knee Push Ups

4. 20 Cable Rows

5. 20 Box Step Ups (each leg)

Perform all exercises down the list without rest in between---- REST 45 seconds after all 5 exercises are performed ------ REPEAT 2-3 times.  Good luck and have fun!!

There is a lot of different way to increase aerobic fitness, but there isn't one size fits all type of exercise. Depending on the individuals needs, ability, preference and goal circuit training is a good start to build a base and some muscle, which is going to help later on with the endurance. Different cardio machines are a good options, jogging and running in the park and swimming and bouncing for those with weight or joint problems. The most important thing is to have fun and love what you do so you can keep it up on the long run.
Some studies have shown that anaerobic work can actually increase your aerobic fitness.  Anaerobic work can be done by short buy intense bouts of exercise, whether on a bike, elliptical or on a track. Check out interval training.

Periotized Stage & Zone training will get the job done. Zone One is your base. Here you will improve heart and lung capacity for the storage and transportation of oxygen and nutrients for energy. Warm up and recover here. Heart rate levels are between 65-75%. 

Zone Two is high intensity with your heart rate between 80 and 85%. This zone builds your energy level for strength and endurance in both your legs and cardiovascular system.

The higher the intensity the body can train at the while still remaining aerobic, the greater the number of calories burned from fat.  

Zone Three-heart rate between 86 and 90%. This zone will increase your power, speed, metabolism and anaerobic capacity by pushing you to your limits and improving your resistance to fatigue. This level used for interval training only. You’re here from 30 seconds to 2 minutes and you’re out of there.

One of the main goals of cardio training is to increase anaerobic threshold. Anaerobic threshold is what athletes term, hitting the wall. It is the point at which you begin working your muscles without oxygen. Anaerobic exercise is exercise intense enough to trigger anaerobic metabolism. It is used by athletes in non-endurance sports to promote strength, speed and power and by body builders to build muscle mass.

Invest in a heart rate monitor! It will really show you where your heart rate is at throughout your workouts. I love the Polar FT60 model because it programs your heart rate zones based on your resting heart rate, age, height, weight, etc. Timed interval training and tabata training are great ways to increase your aerobic fitness! With a heart rate monitor it's easy to push yourself to reach your different heart rate zones and you will then see your cardiovascular endurance improve over time. 

Dr. Mike Clark, DPT
You can increase your aerobic fitness by doing exercises that get your heart rate up (take 225 - your age x 70%) for 20 minutes or longer.  Examples of exercises include; fast walking, jogging, treadmill, bike, swimming.

The first step is to identify how much aerobic activity you are doing presently. Aerobic activity is when an individual works at or around 70% of their maximum heart rate. A generic formula in determining this level is 220 minus your age, and multiply that number by 70%. If you are on beta-blockers consult your medical doctor. 

When identifying your current aerobic activity, do not constrain yourself to just traditional types of activity. Measure any and all activity that puts you at 70% of your MHR. Do not be surprised that lawn mowing and playing games in the backyard bring you to 70%.

Once you have identified exactly how much you are doing on a weekly/daily basis, a strategy needs to be developed to progress the activity amount. For example, if your starting point is at 3 times per week for 10m duration, you could:

  • add in an additional activity for a certain duration on top of
  • add in additional time for the activity (a sound strategy is to increase by 10% per week)
  • add an additional day per week at same time

These are just a few strategies that you can implement, but it is important to remember your strategy should be congruent to your current thresholds, your needs, and goals. Above all include FUN activities; this will enhance your success.

Kelly Traver
Internal Medicine

To increase aerobic (cardiorespiratory) fitness, do higher-intensity workouts that get you up to 60 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate for at least 20 to 30 minutes three times a week. This should be in addition to your base activity of 30 minutes a day.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.