Ever found yourself at an early morning training, huffing and puffing in the boat while your crew seems to be cruising along just nicely?

Your heart is pumping out of your chest, you’re sweating so much you don’t know what puddles are from the water and which ones are from you, you can’t seem to breathe, and everyone else looks like they’re having the time of their lives?

And then you realise you’ve only paddled 300 metres and the sweep has decided it’s the perfect time to call a Power 20?


You may need to increase your Aerobic Fitness!



First of all – what is Aerobic Fitness?

There are three main types of energy pathways used when we exercise:


1. Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP-CP) System

This system uses creatine phosphate via an enzymatic breakdown process to provide immediate energy (ATP) for use in fast, powerful bursts (10-15 seconds). However the ATP-CP depletes very quickly, as it is not stored in large amounts in the muscles and needs a couple of minutes to replenish.

If exercise continues at a fast enough pace, once the stores of ATP-CP are used, the body will then begin to use the Anaerobic System to power the body.


2. Anaerobic System

This system does not require oxygen and uses glucose (a type of sugar) for the formation of ATP (above) via a process called anaerobic glycolysis, which occurs in the cytoplasm. The Anaerobic System is an intermediary system between the ATP system and the Aerobic System, and lasts anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes, depending on the amount of glucose available in the body. After glucose stores have been used up and the body reaches a steady state, the Aerobic System will kick in.


3. Aerobic System

The Aerobic System uses oxygen to produce ATP via the mitochondria of the cell. The rate of ATP production is much slower than its Anaerobic counterparts, but is a more constant energy source, using carbohydrates and fats as fuel. Although all three energy systems work together, the Aerobic System is essential for prolonged activity, and individual Aerobic Fitness levels vary on the overall health and fitness of a person.



Aerobic Fitness is your body’s ability to transport and use oxygen (via the blood pumped around your body by the heart) for the breakdown of carbohydrates and fats for fuel.

Much of what defines your overall fitness comes from your aerobic capacity. The heart is much the same as your other muscles – the more you use it, the more efficient and stronger it becomes.


Which means:

Increasing Aerobic (Cardiovascular) Fitness means increasing the capability of your heart to provide your body with the oxygen and energy it needs. This is measured by evaluating your current VO2 Max (Maximum Aerobic Capacity). The higher your VO2 Max, the fitter you should be.



So how DO we increase our Aerobic Fitness?

We use our Aerobic System to power our body in day-to-day life. We are constantly breathing, our heart’s constantly pumping and therefore constantly transporting oxygen around the body. If we weren’t, we’d be dead. But our fitness depends on how effectively we can do this at times of physical exertion/ exercise.

So what can we do to increase our Aerobic Fitness?



Are you ready? Attention Please!

Before you go any further, it is recommended to measure your current VO2 Max.

You can do this a number of ways. For the most accurate result, you can be clinically measured, like the athletes. However if you have a FitBit, or a similar device, it can calculate this for you! Otherwise you can get a rough idea by following the below formula:

The formula for VO2 Max is:

VO2 Max = 15 x (Max Heart Rate/ Resting Heart Rate)

Your Max Heart Rate can be calculated as 220 minus your age.

Your Resting Heart Rate can be calculated via a heart rate monitor or by counting your pulse at rest (sitting/ lying down).

So if my Max Heart Rate is 220-25 = 195, and my Resting Heart Rate is (according to my FitBit) 69, then my VO2 Max would look like this:

VO2 Max = 15 x (195/69)

VO2 Max = 15 x 2.83

VO2 Max = 42.45


It is also good to compare your score to the norms for your gender and age, so you have a rough idea of where you sit before you can measure improvement:



Once you’ve done this, it’s time to start considering how you can go about increasing your Aerobic Fitness!



Your Lungs & Efficient Oxygen Transfer.

Before we even look at the exercise component of increasing your Aerobic Fitness, it is crucial to note how important your lungs are. You need to be able to have full use of your Lung Capacity.

Some of this comes down to simply breathing deeper breaths. Some people are ‘shallow-breathers’ which means they are (unknowingly) restricting their breathing. Practice deep breathing through yoga, meditation and learning to breathe from your diaphragm.

Deeper breathing can help you achieve more efficient Oxygen Transfer. Oxygen Transfer is how the oxygen gets from your lungs to your blood, and in turn, to the cells. Other things that can help with efficient Oxygen Transfer include healthy lifestyle habits, like quitting smoking.

Oxygen Transfer uses a molecule called Hemoglobin to transfer the oxygen to the tissue from the blood. Hemoglobin is an important part of the Oxygen Transfer cycle, so keeping normal levels is also important. Iron is a major factor in normalizing Hemoglobin levels, so it is good to get regular blood tests to make sure you don’t develop anemia (low levels of Hemoglobin).



Your Heart Health & Cholesterol Levels.

Your heart is the driving factor of the Aerobic System, so keeping it healthy is vital. By maintaining regular exercise and healthy eating habits, you minimise the risk of heart problems like having a stroke or Cardiovascular Disease.

Another way to keep your heart healthy is to keep an eye on your cholesterol levels. High cholesterol results in your blood vessels clogging up, making the heart have to pump harder to push blood to the surrounding muscles. Cholesterol levels can be managed by maintaining a healthy diet which avoids saturated fats and focus on a balanced mix of whole foods. It is always recommended that you have regular check-ups with your doctor to monitor and maintain any cholesterol-related concerns.



Maintaining a Steady Exercise Regime.

If you want to increase your Aerobic Fitness, you need to continue to exercise regularly. The main two types of exercise to focus on are:

  • High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
  • Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) Training


Your coaches are highly likely to already be aware of these and probably implement them in your day-to-day training on the water depending on upcoming events through various activities: creating resistance in the water, continuous paddling for longer time periods, paddling in pairs or front half/back half of the boat etc. and things such as ‘pyramid’ training (i.e. 30 strokes low intensity, 30 strokes medium intensity, 30 strokes high intensity – repeat).

That being said, if you’re wanting to increase your cardiovascular fitness off-water, it does well to know the basics of both HIIT and LISS Training, so you can implement them into your training regime – whether that be at the gym, at home or with others.


High Intensity Interval Training:

As the name would suggest, this type of training is a form of interval training, alternating short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less intense ‘recovery’ periods. Even 30 minutes a day of this type of exercise can vastly improve your Aerobic Capacities.

Although there is not a universal ‘formula’ so to speak, the general rule of thumb is a ratio of 2:1. So if high intensity periods are usually carried out for roughly 30-50 seconds, recovery periods would be 15-25 seconds.

An example would be sprinting at maximum exertion for 50 seconds, then slowing down to a jog/ walk for 25 seconds, then repeated as many times as you can until exhaustion/ a specific time limit is complete.

Studies have concluded this type of exercise vastly improves Cardiovascular/ Aerobic Fitness and increased VO2 Max levels (see review here). Beyond this, HIIT has also been found to reduce the risk of Cardiovascular Disease, blood pressure problems and metabolic conditions (more on that here).


Low Intensity Steady State Training:

Low Intensity Steady State Training or LISS Training is a cardio workout spent in an individual’s ‘fat-burning sweet spot’ for a longer duration of time (45-60 minutes or more). The ‘fat-burning sweet spot’ is roughly 60 percent of your maximal heart rate effort.

Rather than periods of Anaerobic exercise, LISS Training is solely focused on the Aerobic energy system.

Keeping a steady pace for extended periods of time can help with weight loss and promote oxygen delivery to the cells (helping to improve your VO2 Max and general Aerobic Fitness). These lower intensity workouts can be carried out in hundreds of ways, from cycling, swimming, walking, jogging and paddling (of course).



What Next?

Well that’s really up to you!

Increasing your Aerobic Fitness can be done in a variety of different ways, and boils down to a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

Whether you want to use high intensity or low intensity methods, there are plenty of ways to become fitter and healthier off the water. It’s a matter of deciding what works best with your lifestyle and schedule, and doing it in a sustainable way!




Enjoyed reading? Check out more Dragon Boating related articles here:

10 Reasons To Try Dragon Boating

10 Holiday Gift Ideas for Dragon Boaters

Dragon Boating: The Importance Of Stretching


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