Low HR Training


Ernst Van Aaken in a nutshell (Read 7776 times)

Wasatch Speedgoat

    Ernst Van Aaken


    Most people attribute "jogging" a greater emphasis on longer distance running to Arthur Lydiard. While he may have popularized the idea of building a big base of steady running, others around the world were coming up with the same idea at similar times. In 1947 Doctor Ernst Van Aaken first published his ideas on the "pure endurance" method in an article entitled "Running Style and Performance." He said that he had been working on this idea since watching Paavo Nurmi run in the 1920's. This German doctor was another of a long list of coaches who was ahead of his time in his ideas and thinking. His most known runner was probably Harold Norpoth, who was a silver medalist in the 5,000 at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He had a 5,000m PR of 13:20 and held the world record at 2,000m.


    His method consisted of mostly slow running. In fact Harold Norpoth's training consisted of 90% of his runs at between the heart rates of 120 and 150. Even during his harder tempo runs at race pace the heart rate only elevated to about 180, still not near his max. He believed that the key to running was to get oxygen into the body and increase the size of the heart.

    To do this he recommended running long distances at slow paces, thus lower heart rates (about 130bpm) and to only rarely accumulate any oxygen debt. This was revolutionary thinking at the time because he was directly contradicting the famous German interval method designed by Woldemar Gerschler that said you run repetition raising your heart rate to 180 and then recovering until it reaches 120.


    His recommendation for training was long runs with a heart rate of 130 and a tempo run at race pace over a small portion of the desired racing distance. An example of this might be 3x500m at mile pace with plenty of recovery, maybe 5 minutes, after an easy run. If your training for the 5k, then an example would be 2-3x1000m at 5k pace with several minutes recovery. One example given is for a 15 minute 5k runner to do 12x 400 in 72 seconds with a full recovery of 200 meters of walking or 400 meters of slow jogging.


    In addition to his "pure endurance" method, Van Aaken thought that several other things would change in the future in training to allow for superior performances. One example he gives is of a runner who wants to run 3:20 for 1,500 and 12:45 for 5,000m. He says that this athletes training might include up to 40 kilometers a day spread out over between 2-3 or up to 5 runs per day. In addition to this, he thought that the limiting factor in distance running was getting enough oxygen to your cells, thus aerobic development was key.


    Van Aakens views on Speed and Mileage:

    In Van Aaken's book he has a chapter entitled How much? How Fast? to answer these questions. He gives a generic chart that tells based on the distance your training for how much mileage you should do every day. These are just guidelines and can depending on where the athlete is and how developed they are, more or less can be done.


    His chart for mileage per day based on event:

    Race Training done per day

    400 meters - 6 kilometers

    800 meters - 10 kilometers

    1500 meters - 15 kilometers

    3000 meters - 20 kilometers

    5000 meters - 25 kilometers

    10,000 meters - 30 kilometers

    Marathon - 40 kilometers


    In addition to the slow mileage and tempo runs, Van Aaken included some pure speed or sprint work. He advised doing sprints of 50 meters such as the Lydiard group did. These sprints were to be done as sharpeners only occasionally. The reason these were done is because they were so short, that no oxygen debt occurred. One of Van Aaken's key principles is to not run in oxygen debt during training as this is not what the body was designed to do.


    Differences between Van Aaken and Lydiard's training:

    Van Aaken says that his method is similar to that of Lydiard's except for a few things. First off he doesn't require the athlete to run 100 mile weeks for the middle distance runners. He feels that they can run less than this and that the reason Peter Snell ran these was to get his weight down. So a skinny middle distance runner wouldn't need as much mileage. The second difference is that there is more slow jogging with rest breaks taken in his method. In addition to this, only one or two tempo runs is done per day and he doesn't do specific hill training.


    Interval Training Vs. Pure Endurance Training

    The following chart was taken from the Van Aaken Method on pages 50-52: (Should be noted that tempo running is just running a portion of your race distance at race speeds. Such as running 200's at mile pace, or 1600 at 5k pace) (note: formatting could not be possible on this page, every other line is a different method as noted by the headings above)


    Acquisition of endurance by running short distances at relatively high speed, with many repetitions, short pauses and incomplete recoveries. Acquisition of endurance by running long distances at slow speeds. When applying the interval principle, long pauses are used to the point of relatively complete recovery. 


    Interval training consists predominately of tempo running, at race pace or often faster Endurance training consists of long distance running and tempo training, but only in a ratio of 20:1 to 30:1, calculated by training mileage


    Interval training is hypothetically based on the specific effects of the running pauses Endurance training is based on stress and pause as an integral whole- i.e., running at a moderate, reserve-conserving pace


    Interval training hypothetically increases anaerobic ability by "training for oxygen debt." Endurance training increases aerobic ability by training for maximal oxygen uptake.


    Interval training provokes an insufficiency of the aerobic metabolism to meet the demands of high stresses, in order to use the pause as a "compensatory crutch." Endurance training increases the aerobic metabolism by keeping stresses at the point of optimal respiratory efficiency.


    Interval training aims at teaching the runner to endure high speeds by increasing muscle size and by practicing oxygen debt. Endurance training attempts (by weight losses relative to increases in oxygen uptake at the endurance performance boundary) to favorably affect endurance and heart quotients, which make possible higher average running speeds.


    Interval training with relatively high stresses causes increased tension in the muscles, with consequent poor circulation while running. In endurance training at a slow pace, in a "steady state" at the endurance performance boundary, circulation remains nearly optimal.


    Interval training increases the diameter of the muscle fibers, while the area of oxygen diffusion becomes proportionately less favorable. Endurance training increases the aerobic capacity of muscle fibers and the number of capillaries. Oxygen supply to the muscle fibers improves because of, among other things, a slowing of blood flow speed and high oxygen utilization


    Interval training produces an increase in the heart's size in short time by high stress intensity. Endurance training produces an increase in heart volume over a long period (2-6 years) and with low stress intensity


    Interval training produces regulative heart expansion and hypertrophy (abnormal enlargement) Endurance training tries to improve running performance by avoiding training for muscle strength and by increasing enzyme activity of the entire musculature.


    Interval training runs the danger of overdoses and the application of stimuli that exceed what is optimal because it involves a spreading out of stresses over a longer time period, endurance training does not as easily involve overdoses, and it produces normal optimal stimuli.


    Interval training, because of its many repetitions, applies stimuli which are not optimally related in quantity to the momentary performance capacity of the organism. Endurance training applies a dosage of stimuli which is always in a proper relationship to performance capacity.


    Interval training provokes lactic and pyruvic acid formation. Endurance training avoids as far as possible all formation of lactic and pyruvic acids, particularly during the base training period of long runs.


    Interval training attempts to increase the activity of the enzymes glycolysis Endurance training attempts to increase the activity of the enzymes of biiological oxidation.


    Interval training works with heart rates of from 150-200. Endurance training works with endurance pulse rates of 150 and less.


    In interval training, the exhausted cell ejects potassium into the serum, completely exhausting the cell's potassium energy reserves. In endurance training, the cell eliminates predominately sodium and water, and assimilates potassium, thus increasing energy potential.


    In interval training, there is a hypothetical discharge of myoglobin during continous stresses. Endurance training increases the amount of hemoglobin and myoglobin, especially in altitude training.


    Interval training seeks the leg muscles desirable for sprinting, so as to make the runner faster at all distances. Endurance training seeks a marathon runner's legs, which have five times the endurance of a sprinter's in order to produce speeds at all distances beyond 400 meters.


    Interval training provokes exponential increases in energy consumption and poor efficiency during relatively anaerobic metabolism. Endurance training reveals a linear increase in energy consumption with increasing time and distance, and thus economical efficiency.


    Interval training continually practices running speeds not required for one's specialized racing distance. Endurance training prefers for its tempo runs running speeds at one's specific racing speed.


    Interval training, because of its too intense and too frequent stresses, causes anaerobic fatigue by-products to accumulate- which in the final analysis may interfere with the speed the runner is trying to develop. Endurance training avoid fatigue by-products and endurance trained athletes are often able to finish faster than interval-trained runners because of their endurance reserve.


    Van Aaken's key rules for running: (As found on page 56 of The Van Aaken Method)

    "Run daily, run slowly, with creative walking breaks"

    "Run many miles, many times your racing distance if you are a track runner; up to and often beyond if you are a long distance runner. Do tempo running only at fractions of your racing distance."

    "Run no faster during tempo runs than you would in a race."

    "Bring your weight down 10-20% under the so-called norm and live athletically- i.e., don't smoke, drink little or no alcohol, and eat moderately."

    "Consider that breathing is more important than eating, and that continous breathlessness in training exhausts you and destroys your reserves."


    Diet and sleep

    A central theme of Van Aakens is that the athlete should have very little fat on his body. The lighter the athlete the better. He took this to the extreme with his athletes stating that the runner should eat very little, about 2,000 calories per day. Which is not very much at all considering the vast amounts of mileage his athletes did. He wasn't strict on what the athlete ate exactly, as long as he did not eat too much. It was recommended to eat a good amount of high quality protein and to limit your fat intake to less than 40 grams a day. In addition to this he believed that a runner should fast for a day occasionally. Van Aaken said that the fasting taught the runner how to run with little fuel supplies and to teach his body how to burn fat. In addition to his different views on diet, Van Aaken also had controversial views on sleep. He believed that contrary to what most believe, that people sleep to much. He would often limit his own sleep to only a few hours.


    Looking at Van Aaken's training from a modern perspective:

    When looking at Van Aaken's training method the first thing that I noticed was the heavy emphasis on slow relaxed running. It's amazing to see how some of his athletes ran so fast off of what most would call a fairly easy training schedule. The volume is large but the intensity is very low.



    You have to remember that when Van Aaken came up with this training the emphasis was on high quality training with very little volume. Thus, Van Aaken's switching the emphasis from one extreme to the other fits in with a theme you can see throughout the history of training. Very rarely was their any middle ground found between quantity and quality early on. Yes, they were often combined, but their was always a heavy emphasis towards one side or the other, never a true melding of each until later on.


    The success of Van Aaken's athletes using this low intensity high quantity approach should help show you that aerobic development is the key to success in distance events. In fact, Van Aaken believed this all the way back in the 1940's, when he stated that the key in distance running is getting enough oxygen to the cells. This idea on what the limits were to distance running made Van Aaken believe that there was no use in training in oxygen debt for so long, because you wanted the athlete to be able to run with plentiful amounts of oxygen for as long as he could, because it was more efficient.


    In addition to the slow running, he had his runners do tempo runs and other faster runs. Even these tempo or faster runs do not seem that intense. The faster runs would be something to the effect of a very short Lactate Threshold run now. An example would be running 2,000m at 1 minute over your fastest 2,000m. So for Norpoth, this was done at around 6 minutes. During a workout he would alternate running easy for a couple miles with a 2,000 run, then another couple of easy miles and then another 2,000 and on and on.


    Now, Van Aaken recognized the need for some specific work done at race pace. This is why his athletes did tempo runs, or short repetitions at race pace with plenty of recovery. It's interesting to see that his athletes did almost no workouts with short or incomplete recovery. Another interesting thing is that his best athlete, Norpoth, had an incredible kick. He attributed this to his finely developed aerobic system. This is similar to the belief as to why Peter Snell had a large kick too. These examples lend evidence to the belief that the kick may in fact have to do with developing a huge aerobic system, and not to natural speed as many believe.


    Another thing to notice is that Van Aaken's method never stresses the body too much. It seems as he gradually stresses the body and allows it to recover. This may be why an athlete like Norpoth had such a long and distinguished career compared to the short careers of other runners of his day. His emphasis on aerobic development allowed him to keep improving year after year and to stick around for a much longer time when other athletes tended to show up for a couple of years then call it quits. This could be due to the fact that others were on a more interval based program, while the low intensity allowed Norpoth to last for much longer.


    Things to take away from Van Aaken's training methods:

    1. Aerobic Development is the key to success.

    2. It's okay to run your easy days really easy.

    3. Don't carry around extra weight that serves no purpose. You want to be healthy but skinny.

    4. Run a good amount of total mileage per day.

    5. The easy mileage forms the base of your training and should be topped off with race pace "tempo" runs.

    6. Sharpening (such as short sprints) should be done during the final weeks of training.

    Life is short, play hard!


      Steve, How do you do his sharpening intervals? Do you just do 50m getting the HR up to a certain level? How much rest? Thanks. --Jimmy

      Wasatch Speedgoat

        Hi Jimmy... I am pretty sure these are the usual short sprints that many coaches tell you to do. I don't so much focus on these because 95% of my running is really slow and easy, but several times a week and unplanned, I will throw in some short strides like these to wake up my legs. I don't even think they are long enough to affect your HR much and sometimes I don't even measure the distance between them. One of my usual plans is to try to throw in one strider for every mile I am running that day and may mix it up into the run at different places...but usually they are not started until I'm well into the run and warmed up. Sometimes I just don't feel like doing them and won't. You notice he mentions to do them in the final weeks to sharpen...I like to do them year round to remind my legs what running fast feels like. They are so short (50 meters) that they rarely affect your breathing or HR. Steve

        Life is short, play hard!


          Thanks, Steve.

            I'm a believer in EVA's training philosophy. The book from which you quote, The Van Aaken Method, is apparently a highly abridged version of a much longer work. And, I wonder about the quality of the translation. If I could read German well enough, I'd get his opus - Programmiert für 100 Lebensjahre. Still, based on discussions of his methods with a runner who trained under him (see Letsrun.com's discussion board), the "shorthand" of Van Aaken Method is close enough. What I find tricky in employing his training concepts is the the work at race pace. When you are rebuilding after a hiatus or rest after a season, you can't just run at your goal pace. At least not for meaningful distances. Race or goal pace is an evolving thing as your fitness improves. You have to choose it with care, least you overdue it, even for short intervals with full recoveries. My guess is EVA would say if it's stressful and you are going into oxygen debt in a big way, then the pace you chose for the workout, regardless of how it compares to your ultimate goal pace on race day, is incorrect. This requires judgment. And that's what makes it difficult. The running with frequent walking breaks - say 300m easy pace running then 50-100m of walking - was something I took on faith, after reading EVA, but made me a believer after using this workout in buildups to races. Maybe it works because it is so inefficient - like starting and stopping a car. You rev up and suddenly you stop and bring the whole cardiovascular system down again. And repeat. At the same time, it seems to speed recovery and reduces overall wear and tear on the muscular-skeletal system. Just some thoughts.....Jon

              thanks for sharing!









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