Ask the Trainer: How Do I Increase My Endurance?

By Allen Gardner

Allen is in his second year as a professional triathlete and trains out of Boulder, Colo. Pharmaca sponsors Allen, 26, who competes in 12-14 triathlons around the country each year.

Endurance is the ability to sustain an effort over a long period of time. Endurance is typically needed for sports such as running, swimming, rowing, etc. But it’s also needed for everyday activities. So let’s break down what endurance really is and how to build endurance based on your goals in all stages of training.

As defined above, endurance is a sustained effort over time, and effort is the exertion of energy needed to complete a task. That means that anything you do on a day-to-day basis that uses energy (or calories) requires some level of effort.

If you have kids, for example, you might be involved in any or all of the following: helping them with homework, driving them to any number of activities, entertaining them, coaching their soccer team, etc. Everything listed above requires effort! And if you string all of these activities together over the course of a day, you’re going to need endurance to complete them all. The words sustained and time in the definition are simply that: Anything you do over a period of time that is sustained needs endurance.

So how can you improve your current levels of endurance? You don’t need to run 10 miles a day or swim for hours. The best way to build complete endurance is to diversify your training, which means adding activities that get you out of your body’s comfort zone. When the body is comfortable it’s not adapting, and if it’s not adapting, you’re not improving!

Here are some ideas to help improve endurance:

  • Take a class at your gym that include both cardio and weights aspects. Try spin classes, group power, step, pilates, etc.
  • Add short runs on the treadmill between weighted exercises. The idea behind this is to maintain a fat-burning heart rate, maintaining stamina levels, and thus improve endurance. Example: 3 x 15 squats – 2 min jog – 3 x 15 bench press – 2 min jog – 3 x 15 Row – 2 min jog – 3 x 15 shoulder press – 2 min jog.
  • Change your workouts every couple of weeks to something totally new. Your body will be forced to adapt and improvements will be made.

Finding the right level of endurance is based on your goals. If you just need to keep up with the kids, then do activities that will be dynamic (meaning they use more than one plane of motion). If your goals are to improve daily endurance and maintain higher energy levels, change up your training daily. Make it fun and include all planes of motion (e.g. weights, cardio, classes, etc).

If you’re interested in building endurance in a sport like running, try training for a 5k. It’s a good place to start in building confidence in yourself and your fitness. Start by doing run/walk intervals, as follows:

Start your training with a 20-minute session. Begin by walking for 10 minutes, then for the remaining 10 minutes, alternate running and walking every other minute. You can increase or decrease time and effort based on how you feel. Ideally, for the first month you are running and walking at a 1:1 ratio. As you progress, adjust the effort to a 2:1 ratio (2 minutes running: 1 minute walking). As you become “fitter,” adjust that 20-minute session to 25 minutes, then 30 minutes, and so on.

For more serious efforts, a coach in your desired sport will be your best bet. A coach will be able to analyze your efforts to make sure your body is not overloaded in one zone, and adaptation happens in stages.

First and foremost, create goals, then find the best path to get there. And always remember to have FUN doing it!