What is aerobic capacity and how do I improve it?

July 19, 2021

When we exercise or engage in physical activity it is common to hear the term aerobic capacity. However, many people have difficulties in recognizing what aerobic capacity is, how it differs from anaerobic capacity and the importance of improving this capacity to reduce tiredness or fatigue after physical activity.

In this sense, aerobic endurance is recognized as the capacity of the cardiovascular system to work efficiently when performing physical activity, specifically when it is a reduced effort for a prolonged period of time.

For this reason, aerobic capacity is related to oxygen consumption and its transport and exchange in the cardiovascular and circulatory system. This occurs when an effort is made that involves a greater consumption of oxygen.

Among the main characteristics of aerobic capacity we can find:

  • Sustained rhythm, without interruptions.
  • Sustained effort, without the need to increase the intensity of the exercise.
  • Long duration exercises.
  • Low intensity exercises.
  • Total recovery after exercise.
  • Heart rate between 140 and 160 beats per minute.

How to measure my aerobic capacity?

As we have mentioned, aerobic capacity is related to oxygen consumption. For this reason it is not surprising that in order to establish a measurement of aerobic capacity it is necessary to calculate the level of oxygen in the body. This is done through maximal oxygen consumption or VO2 Max.

In this case, VO2 Max is that measure used to measure aerobic capacity. It represents the maximum amount of oxygen that the person uses, establishing measurements in millimeters, per body kilograms and per minute. A ratio ml/kg/min is established.

In this way, it is possible to calculate the level of efficiency of the human body with respect to oxygen consumption during physical activity. In other words, aerobic endurance, considering that the higher the figure recorded, the greater the cardiovascular and circulatory endurance. It should be noted that this in turn is manifested in the reduction of fatigue and tiredness. As well as recovery times after sustained exercise over a certain period of time.

Differences between aerobic capacity and anaerobic capacity

It is common for difficulties to arise in differentiating between aerobic and anaerobic capacity, as they may appear quite similar at first glance. However, the most representative difference, and at the same time the easiest to identify, is related to the time or prolongation of physical activity.

As explained, aerobic capacity is manifested when low-intensity physical exercise is performed for long periods of time. This allows a shorter recovery time and decreases fatigue. In the case of anaerobic endurance, we can observe that this occurs when the body is subjected to high-intensity exercise for a short time.

In this case, the energy necessary for the body to perform the intense activities and movements demanded is not oxygen, but comes from glucose and phosphocreatine, as well as lactic acid, which is present in the muscles.

Evidently, when combining exercise routines that demand intense and endurance physical activity, it is difficult to differentiate one from the other. For this reason, it is considered that in exercise, aerobic or anaerobic endurance may predominate one over the other. But this does not imply the total annulment of any of them.

How to improve my aerobic capacity?

To improve aerobic capacity it is necessary to improve physical endurance. Considering that this implies performing sustained physical activity for long periods of time, as long as they are low intensity exercises that do not require greater physical effort. For this reason, here are some tips for physical activity to improve endurance:

  1. Running or walking long distances at a slow pace for a long period of time is ideal for improving the cardiovascular system, and in addition, it is an ideal exercise for burning fat.
  2. Combine intensity exercise to increase anaerobic capacity, improve aerobic endurance and strengthen muscles.
  3. Establish a daily exercise routine to maintain physical fitness and progressively increase aerobic endurance.
  4. Maintain good eating habits, especially to replenish energy and be able to meet the demands of exercise, whether in terms of intensity or duration.
  5. Consult with a specialist who can establish functional exercise routines. These should be in accordance with your capacity to improve endurance progressively.

What is “normal” aerobic capacity?

Generally, the normal is between 55 and 65 beats per minute when the body is at rest. However, when aerobic capacity is being worked on by performing constant low-intensity exercise for a long period of time, we can reach 140 to 160 beats per minute. This implies that the cardiovascular and circulatory systems are working at least twice as fast as when the body is at rest.

Aerobic capacity and genetics

Today it is still a great challenge for science to determine if the athlete is born with certain qualities that allow him/her to manifest a greater efficiency than other people when performing physical activity. What is certain is that some people are born with certain genetic characteristics that favor their performance. Such as muscular capacity and cardiorespiratory capacity, which are precisely those associated with aerobic and anaerobic endurance.

This means that it is possible that genetics may influence the facility to develop or improve the body’s resistance when performing physical activity. However, this does not mean that some people do not have the capacity to do so. Rather, their body requires different processes, specific exercises or gentler routines to develop these abilities little by little. For this, it is advisable to exercise constantly and maintain healthy habits.

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