Endurance Training: Getting Beyond the Aerobic Wall


In the previous blog “The KI Hack Explained”, I introduced Kinetic Intelligence.  This is a promising resource for improving athletic performance beyond the metabolic peak each of us encounters early in adult life.  Just like the virtuoso musician who continues to perform more brilliantly with age, we too can become virtuoso athletes

With KI, Paula Newby-Fraser won her eighth Hawaii Ironman World Championship at age forty.  As the Queen of Kona, Paula was truly a virtuoso.

In this blog, let’s explore an alternative to the conventional method of metabolic fitness training.  To pursue virtuosity through KI, we have to expand our training method to also strengthen and build neural fitness.

Metabolic Explained

Let’s begin by clarifying the term “metabolic fitness”, commonly known to athletes as “aerobic fitness”.  Exercise physiology excels in the science of metabolic fitness and how to optimize it.  So, what is this metabolic/aerobic fitness?

Your working muscles need a supportive and favorable operating environment to perform.  This is the function of your metabolic system.

Metabolic fitness is our ability to convert oxygen and fuel (fat, carbohydrate and protein) into energy that moves our muscles.  Your metabolic system includes your heart and lungs, your vascular (circulation) system, and specific components in each muscle cell that convert the oxygen and fuel into energy so the muscles can move.  Think of this as the environmental control system in a building that maintains a suitable temperature and clean air for all of the workers, as well as lighting, plumbing, etc.  If the environment is inadequate or hostile, function and productivity suffer.

Your metabolic system provides your muscles and your nerves with an adequate operating environment and the necessary energy to support and sustain the repeated strokes and strides.  As long as the operating environment is favorable, we are able to maintain that goal pace and feel like the glorious athlete-warrior.  If it becomes to hypoxic or too acidic, or if we are not converting the fuel into energy fast enough, muscle function is impaired.  We go from glory to bonk.

However, even with peak aerobic fitness, if your technique is inefficient, you won’t perform at your greatest potential.

Faster?  Longer?

To go faster or longer, we have two options:

Improve metabolic fitness to our greatest potential to support a higher level of output by the muscles, and/or for a longer duration: Work more.

Improve the efficiency of our technique so that we require less energy – taxing the metabolic system less: Work less.

It’s important to note that we can target both metabolic fitness and technique efficiency simultaneously, in every training session.  However, if we ignore the promising resource of KI and focus only on chasing the numbers that measure metabolic fitness, our training devolves into “banging our heads against the Aerobic Wall.”

When we expand our training focus to include neural fitness, we can stop “banging our heads against the Aerobic Wall”.

The Aerobic Wall?

Imagine that your peak aerobic potential is a wall.  Let’s call it the Aerobic Wall.  Until age 25, your wall moves forward as your potential increases.  But after age 25 this wall begins to move backwards towards you and your potential decreases.  Now it is a limiter – it begins to encroach and limit your performance.  In desperation, we feel driven to push against it, to resist its encroachment. 

Bottom line?  Nobody wants to get old!  So we keep banging our heads against that Aerobic Wall day after day, year after year.  Where is the joy and satisfaction in that?

Seductive Science

The science of metabolic fitness has advanced significantly in the past few decades and is now very exacting and very affordable.  That makes metabolic fitness training very attractive and reliable. 

We can measure metabolic intensity (through heart rate, blood lactate levels, respiratory gas analysis) and correlate that with pace and/or power output with great accuracy.  Such accurate measurements provide clear guidance and a sense of reassurance.  We grow to depend heavily on exacting metabolic metrics to govern each training session. 

So, even if we are beyond aerobic peak, metabolic fitness remains the gold standard for improving athletic performance. After all, what else is there? 

What else could we possibly rely on so confidently to guide and structure our day-to-day training and our long-term preparation for goal races?  Anything else seems foreign and less trustworthy.

Three Systems

To explore an alternative, let’s begin with this: As athletes, we train more than our metabolic.  We train three physiological systems:

  • Metabolic
  • Muscular
  • Neural

Of those three systems, which one do you think you can improve the most? 

The physiological system that is most trainable – the one that can continue to improve for many decades – is not the metabolic.  It is the neural.

Our neural system is the most “plastic”, most adaptable system.  This is the system that learns.  It gets smarter and more functional with experience and consistent, mindful practice.  Experience and practice come with age.  We build and strengthen kinetic intelligence through this neural training.  KI is the wisdom of the aging master athlete.

So… What is this neural system?


In simplest terms, your neural system is a matrix of “wires” that conduct electrical signals between locations – most significantly, between your body and your brain.  Some of the wires conduct in one direction (say, from body to brain) and others conduct in the opposite direction. 

Your neural system is your body-mind connective network – so vital to everything you do, including endurance sports.

Mind Over Matter?

The skills we have learned in life and use each day – from tying our shoes to driving a car – are like computer programs that we store and activate.  Some of these skills – like driving the car – require us to activate multiple programs simultaneously.  Each of these skills/programs must be stored (in IT terminology “hosted” ) somewhere within us. 

Many forms of human intelligence – like solving a math problem, verbal communication – are housed in your brain.  So you may think that KI is also housed in your brain, yes?  However…

To be specific, our intelligence and skills are hosted by our neurons.  Neurons are cells within the wiring of our neural system.  In humans, 80% of our neurons are in our brains, while 20% are in our bodies.  KI is body movement intelligence.  The best place to host this form of intelligence and our movement skills is in close proximity to the muscles that express that intelligence.

Ever heard of or even felt your own “muscle memory”?  That’s mind IN matter!

“Muscle memory” isn’t quite accurate, since the memory is actually neuronal.  But it is close since the memory/intelligence for your PAGES technique is stored in the neurons embedded in your muscles.  In contrast, our day-to-day activities that are so dominated by spoken language rely on skills and intelligence hosted in the neurons of our brains.

The “brain intelligence” we engage most of the time cannot host or govern KI and PAGES technique skills.  So why do we feel so compelled to approach our training through methods that are brain-directed?  Why do we use the “mind over matter” approach as we strive for our next PR? 

Because we are most familiar with tasking and engaging the neurons in our brains to solve the problems of our daily lives.

Our attraction to the metrics of metabolic fitness – that have us banging our heads against that Aerobic Wall – arise in part from our desire to stay in the familiar territory of our brain neurons, rather than venture into the less familiar territory our body neurons.

How do we get from “mind over matter” to “mind IN matter”? 


The first step to pursuing athletic neural fitness is to trust your body intelligence.  This intelligence functions through sensations, rather than metrics.  Our pre-occupation with metrics can prevent us from actually feeling what we are doing.  Many athletes are lost without the heart rate monitor, power meter and GPS pacing.

Years ago, I worked at a triathlon shop.  I can remember fitting seasoned athletes for running shoes:

  • “How does that shoe feel?”
  • “Well, what size it?”
  • “Never mind the number printed on the box, how does the shoe feel on your foot?”
  • “Well, how should it feel?”

Many athletes would rather buy the shoe based on the number printed on the box it came in than buy a shoe that felt good to their foot.  They trusted the metrics more than their own sensations or their ability to evaluate those sensations.  This is profound when it comes to how we approach training.  No wonder we train by numbers instead of by feel

When we trust the sensations of our bodies for guidance, we are more willing to venture out of the familiar territory of our brain neurons and venture deep into the less familiar territory of our body neurons.

Getting Started

Start with the “Tips for KI Training” from the previous blog to get out of your head and into your body.

Learn to measure your level of metabolic intensity by Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), without having to rely on the metric monitors.  These monitors distract us from feeling what is occurring in our bodies.  The emphasis in the term Rate of Perceived Exertion is is perception – what you are feeling right now in this present moment.

With experience, your RPE is a much more accurate way of measuring your metabolic intensity than your heart rate monitor or power meter.  Why?

Your heart rate zones and power zones are determined through tests that determine those zones for the specific circumstances at the time of testing, including – but not limited to:

  • Your fitness level for that sport on that day
  • Degree of stress or recovery (endocrine system chemistry) on that day
  • Temperature
  • Altitude
  • Humidity
  • Blood sugar level
  • Caffeine level

These and many other factors vary day-to-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute.  While your “hard metrics” were determined in the past, your RPE is accurate in this moment – if you are able to accurately monitor your sensations and gauge from them.  Book Two of the series “Kaizen-durance, Your Aerobic Path to Mastery” provides guidance in how to use your RPE as your most trusted tool for metabolic training.  (See Bottom Line below.)

When You Train…

Get out of your head and into your body so you can accurately sense both your:

  • Metabolic intensity
  • PAGES technique
  • Resources

Book One of the series “Kaizen-durance, Your Aerobic Path to Mastery” supports you in making the paradigm shift from banging your head against the Aerobic Wall to pursuing KI and PAGES.  It introduces you to expanding your training from a “metabolic-only” format to include neural fitness training. 

Book Two of the series explores in-depth the fledgling science of neural fitness.  I have devoted more than four decades pioneering this science primarily through my own training and racing, as well as educating over a thousand athletes through Kaizen-durance Arts Programs in swimming, biking, running and mindfulness skills.

Book Three of the series explores the mindfulness skills that are essential for the exacting perceptive acuity necessary for neural training.  Mindfulness is actually the first of the Four Vectors of Kaizen-durance Mastery (followed by neural training).

Book Four of the series offers methods and techniques for neural training.

Bottom Line

You don’t have to sacrifice metabolic fitness to focus on neural fitness: I have used RPE exclusively to gauge metabolic intensity as I prioritize neural fitness in my training over a span of decades.  In a recent ventilatory threshold test, my VO2max ranked at 99th percentile for my age, with my lactate threshold at 89% of VO2max.

Trust your body sensations more than the numbers that feed your brain.  To do this, learn to gauge your metabolic intensity based on RPE.


The “K.I. Hack” Explained


As endurance athletes we all face the same hard truth:  Eventually age catches up to us and begins to pass us by.  What we all fear begins to happen: We slow down.

If we look at this aging process strictly from metabolic (aerobic) fitness, that decline begins at the young age of 25!  This is derived from scientific studies measuring VO2max as an indicator of metabolic fitness: After age 25, we start to lose it.

Twenty five??  But wait!  Many of us don’t discover our passion for all things endurance until much later in life.  Are we starting already on the downhill slide?  What’s going to motivate us if we don’t feel like we are getting faster?

There is Hope!

We can continue to get faster, even beyond that aerobic prime at 25 years old.  And even bib_circlewhen we do begin to slow down some time later in life, we can continue to experience improvement in the arena of endurance athletics.  We can enjoy a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment well into our 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and beyond. 

How? The short answer is “K.I.” – “kinetic intelligence”.

Kinetic Intelligence explains why the top male and female triathletes crowned each year as world champions at Hawaii Ironman tend to be in their mid-30’s – a decade beyond aerobic primetime. 

So what is this K.I.?  And how can it outrun that decade of aerobic decline?

KI Benefit

To explore this form of intelligence, let’s begin with this question: “What is the benefit of Amaray TemplateKI, and how will it make me a better athlete – at any age?”

The primary benefit of kinetic intelligence is better and more efficient technique.  No matter how old you are, if you improve your technique, you will swim, bike, run, ski, paddle, etc. faster and/or farther with:

  • less energy and less exertion
  • less pain and less risk of injury
  • faster recoveries
  • a more accurate sense of pacing – without relying on monitors and gadgets
  • greater flow and finesse – even at high intensity
  • greater versatility in the distances, formats and terrain you perform at
  • a higher level of perceptual acuity and mental engagement

With KI, you are a smarter, more versatile, adaptable and efficient athlete – at any age.

Training Kinetic Intelligence: PAGES

How do we train and develop KI?  Will it compromise targeted metabolic training?

We train and develop KI by expanding our focus for each training session to target more than just metabolic fitness.   In the entire spectrum of metabolic intensity – from easy recovery to high-intensity intervals – we focus on training “PAGES” technique with every stroke, every stride. 

PAGES technique:

  • Precise
  • Aligned
  • Graceful
  • Efficient
  • Seamless


Underlying PAGES as the very foundation of efficient technique is our ability to translate alliance-gravity-600x450-1the (vertical) pull of gravity into (horizontal) forward movement.  This begins with the “A” in PAGES – Aligned.

I call this “effortless power”.  It’s a term coined by Peter Ralston.  Effortless power arises as we use and direct forces available to us while minimizing the amount of force we actually generate.  The slogan I have for this:

Finesse is stronger than force.

I have been building and improving my alliance with gravity for over four decades now.  And this improvement continues.  At age 61, yes, I am slowing down.  However, I enjoy both my day-to-day training and my frequent racing performances more now than ever before.

What About Aerobic Fitness?

My emphasis on pursuing KI in each and every training session does not seem to compromise or adversely affect my metabolic fitness.  Recently I tested at 99th percentile for VO2max at my age group.

You can train both metabolic fitness and kinetic intelligence simultaneously.

Tips For KI Training


For most of us, our training sessions are structured and focused on “hitting the numbers” to improve or preserve metabolic fitness.  We focus on heart rate, power and pace to govern each session.  Expanding to include KI training may be unfamiliar at first.  To introduce this new pursuit, start with your recovery training sessions.  In these sessions you are not driven or distracted by metrics. You can relax and be more present with the sense-felt experiences of your body, and less fixated on the mentally distracting metrics.

During these easy sessions, focus on what you feel, and not on what the monitors tell you. Focus on each stride, each stroke and each breath.  In simplest terms, BE HERE NOW: Often times when we train, our fixation with hitting the numbers distracts us from really feeling what we are doing right now.  And this is the only place where we can improve PAGES – here and now.


In Zen tradition, there is an expression – Beginner’s Mind. 

Approach your training session with the humble curiosity of a beginner, instead of the proud certainty of an expert.  This approach empowers us to discover, learn and improve regardless of age.  Curiosity encourages us to navigate towards PAGES technique by sharpening our perceptions of what is occurring in this moment, what we are feeling in the moment. 

With the curiosity of Beginner’s Mind, we are able to let go of the goals and our finish-line-focus.  We can patiently develop our body’s kinetic intelligence.  Yes, kinetic intelligence is stored more in the body than the goal-driven frontal cortex of the brain that typically drives us to “hit the numbers” as we train.

This Beginner’s Mind, it sounds naive and ignorant doesn’t it?  Consider this:

In the mind of beginner, there are infinite possibilities.  In the mind of the expert there are very few.  

We learn and improve rapidly when we are curious, patient and open – regardless of our age.

 Ah… The House of Cards:

I teach swimming technique for a living.  As I explain to my students, swim technique is


House of Cards: 

  • We begin with one core element of technique. 
  • Then we add another, and another, and another… 
  • Eventually we realize that we lost touch with one of the elements, and that house of cards falls.

In the pursuit of kinetic intelligence, we train the mind-body awareness to maintain more and more elements of technique without losing touch.  Our technique improves.  We become more PAGES.


Book One of the series Kaizen-durance, Your Aerobic Path to Mastery explores each coverelement of PAGES in depth and elaborates on the training methods for improving each element of PAGES in your technique – regardless of your sport.  This book connects you with your innate wisdom as an endurance athlete – your kinetic intelligence.  It guides you to expand your training focus beyond aerobic capacity so you can “hack” your performance potential at any age.

We can accelerate the process of improving PAGES technique by participating in technique-focused clinics like:

All of these educational methods are based on gravity-sourced propulsion.

However, each of us has the navigational skills to pursue our alliance with gravity and PAGES technique on our own – if we are patient, curious, and humble as we train.  To do this, we must trust and listen to our body’s sensations.  Most importantly, we must develop an acute sense of balance.  That is our alliance with gravity.

For over four decades, I have been improving my alliance with gravity through my daily practice of T’ai Chi.  It is simply the best investment I have made in my life.  I produced a DVD “T’ai Chi for Athletes” that will guide you through a few easy-to-learn movement sequences you can practice for just a few minutes each day to improve your alliance with gravity.

Bottom Line

We can continue to develop and refine kinetic intelligence for many decades beyond “aerobic primetime” and enjoy the benefits and improvements in our athletic performance.  With patience and curiosity, focus on your alliance with gravity and PAGES technique.

Next Up?

In my next offering, we will look a little deeper into our pursuit of mastery through KI.  Until then, remember this:

Less than one-tenth of one percent of the world’s population has the health, wealth, political and cultural freedom to live the endurance lifestyle we enjoy.  Make it count… for more than just podiums and glory.



Note: This essay originally appeared in late in Fall 2007 on Triathlete Magazine website.



You go to your favorite triathlon store or website. With your precious hard-earned money, you purchase what is perhaps the second largest investment after your bike and all of its accoutrements – your wetsuit. You faithfully followed the sizing chart for your favorite brand, but when you put the thing on, it feels more like a trash compactor than a stealthy aide to record swim times.

Perhaps all those charts are just wrong. Perhaps there is a conspiracy among wetsuit manufacturers to drive us tri-geeks crazy enough that our wetsuits will become restraint systems – straight jackets.

As a former sales associate at High Peaks Cyclery in Lake Placid, I helped many people with wetsuit sizing. Even more so, my personal experience with the 3 wetsuits I’ve owned has led me to some important discoveries.

First, you can suit up in the perfect size wetsuit, jump in the lake and feel miserable and exhausted within a minute. In the world of triathlon swimming, there is nothing more disappointing than diligently training all winter in the pool to master your swim technique and elevate your aerobic capacity and power, only to see all of it squeezed out of you by a pricey piece of neoprene.

Proper Fit:

First and foremost, buy a proper fit2XU – my preferred brand – offers 13 sizes for men and 6 for women. Hence, there are a lot of options there.  When you don your new neoprene skin, it should feel tight and constricting. A loose-fitting wetsuit will take on water, creating pools in loose pockets. These water pockets slow you down, reduce your warmth considerably and turn you into a beluga.

Be Patient:

As mentioned above, you can put on the perfect size wetsuit and be reduced to jelly in a minute if you don’t take the time to fit the suit to your body. Each time you put it on you must “tailor” the wetsuit to your body. This tailoring process occurs as you put the suit on.

The Process:

Begin by folding the top of the suit down to the waist and, gripping the inside surface of the suit, put on one leg. Pull the end of the suit-leg up higher on your leg than it needs to be. (It’s much easier to pull the extremities out away from the center of your body than it is to work them in towards the center.)  Pull the slack up above your knee, and then do the same with your other leg. Draw the suit up around your waist. Now comes the most important part:

Before you put on the top of the suit, pucker and pinch the suit above the knee and pull it up into your crotch. Use both hands to do this pucker, pinch and pull process around each leg (front, back and sides) until you feel the suit snug in your crotch.

Now insert one arm and pull the sleeve end up higher on your forearm than you think it needs to be. With the pucker, pinch and pull process work the suit up to your elbow. Repeat with the second arm.

Now bring the suit up around the front of your neck. (For all you newbies, just remember, the zipper goes in the back.) Pucker, pinch and pull the upper arms and work the suit up around your shoulders and armpits. This is the area where you need the most slack – the area with the greatest range of motion.

Before you zip up the suit, do the same pucker, pinch and pull around the front, back and sides of the torso of the suit, as you work some slack upwards under your arms, around your shoulders and into your chest and upper back.

Once you have completed this, zip in and make any fine tunings you need to. Finally, you can pull the sleeve and leg ends back down.

The Zip:

If you have a conventional zip-up (rather than the zip-down) suit and have trouble getting the zipper started at the base by yourself, you can zip the suit up 3-6 inches before you begin putting it on. (A nice option to waking someone up at 6 a.m. just to zip you up for that dawn patrol swim.)

(Those with zip-down suits will just have to get assistance the night before and sleep in your wetsuit.)

A Couple of Tips:

Shave your legs and apply some kind of lube before suiting up to make the pucker, pinch and pull process much easier and potentially less painful. (Another alibi for male triathletes who may be questioned about those smooth hairless legs.) Keep all of your nails trimmed to avoid piercing the suit during the fitting process.

Remember that the suit will feel a bit looser once you are in the water. Each time you go through this fitting process, you will discover just how much to pull and tug in each area.

You will need the greatest range of motion around your shoulders, upper chest and elbows.

Each time you train in your suit, evaluate the fit and make mental notes as to how you can improve it – a little more pull and tug here, a little less there. Notice if you feel any water pooling inside the suit, and remember to make the suit a little tighter there next time. The places that feel restrictive will need a little more slack.


When you take your suit off, hang it inside out on a smooth plastic hanger made for a wetsuit. Keep the suit inside out until you use it again to protect the fragile neoprene outer surface from getting torn and from sunlight.

Using the pinch, pucker and pull process each time you suit up, you will become your own best tailor, at least for your wetsuit.

Adapting Your Technique:

To effectively adapt your pool swimming technique to open water wetsuit swimming requires training sessions in the suit for three primary reasons:  – First, you must adapt your stroke mechanics to a more buoyant body position.

– Second, in the pool, we often work on minimizing stroke count with long strokes and slower cadence. Fast open water wetsuit swimming requires the same stroke length, but the stroke cadence increases because your body (and hence your arms) travel through the water faster.

– The other significant difference between open water and lap swimming is the continuous uninterrupted stroking without pause to turn at the end of each lap.

Adapting to the increase in cadence and the uninterrupted stroking of open water swimming are neurological adaptations more than metabolic or muscular. Consistent and diligent practice will yield fast results, provided you do not revert to old habits.

“Pre-Flight” Check:

Finally, given the opportunity, swim for 10 minutes before any goal races to assure both the wetsuit and goggles fit, and for a proper warm-up and effective neurological adaptation. When the gun goes off… Get ready for a swim PR!

KZ Video e-Zine: 29 April 2017: Make it Count!

We train and race for more than medals and glory.

In this brief video Shane discusses the difference between being selfish and self-centered.


Click here to view video in a separate window.


Zenman’s Essential Studio Exercise Series: 

Side Planks Part 1

A simple mat-work exercise – presented briefly in degrees of difficulty – to improve lateral strength and stability.  Vital for runners and swimmers.



Click here to view video in a separate window.

KZ Video e-Zine: 15 April 2017: “Four Resources for Master Athletes”

With age, we can gain more than we lose, even as athletes.
In a word… WISDOM

In this brief video Shane discusses four resources that can increase as we age.


Click here to view video in a separate window.

Zenman’s Essential Studio Exercise Series: 

“Windshield Wipers”

A simple matwork exercise to increase stability in your hips –
vital to running health and cycling strength.



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KZ Video E-Zine: 01 April 2017: “KI”

“Maximum aerobic capacity – known as VO2 Max – begins to decline at a rate of 1% per year after the age of 25.”

Why is it that year-after-year both male and female Hawaii Ironman World Champions are in their mid-late 30’s?  That’s ten years beyond aerobic prime.

How can they go faster than the mid-20’s “primetime” athletes?

In this brief video, Shane Eversfield, Founder of Kaizen-durance, offers his insights on the athletic wisdom all of us can gain as we age: “KI”


Click here to view video in a separate window

Zenman’s Essential Studio Exercise Series: 

Leg Swings


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KZ Video E-Zine

18 March 2017

(First Edition!!)

Give me six hours to chop down a tree, I will spend the first 4 hours sharpening the axe”

– Abraham Lincoln

As athletes, how can we “sharpen the axe” before each training session so that we maximize return on our aerobic investment?  In this brief video, Shane Eversfield, Founder of Kaizen-durance, offers his insights.

Please share this E-Zine with your friends… but maybe not your competitors. 😉


Click here to view video in a separate window


Zenman’s Essential Studio Exercise Series:
Single Leg Squats

(In each edition of the KZ Video E-Zine, Shane Eversfield demonstrates an essential exercise you can do at home to improve your performance)


Click here to view video in a separate window