endurance training plan

How to Build an Endurance Training Plan

Are you looking to go longer, faster, harder, or all of the above in your workouts? It sounds like what you really want is to improve your endurance. Endurance comes in two main categories – cardio endurance and muscular endurance. By improving both, you’ll see big gains in your overall fitness and enjoy notable health benefits. The best way to keep on going is to perform endurance training.

What Is Endurance?

Ever wonder how an ultra marathoner can keep their legs pumping for 50 miles plus or how acrobats can hang from ropes, hoops, and trapeze for such a long time? They weren’t born with those skills. Instead, they spent countless hours building up their stamina with endurance training.

The American Heart Association classifies endurance as one of the four pillars of exercise, along with strength, balance, and flexibility. At its most basic level, endurance is your body’s ability to sustain an exercise over a period of time. The greater your endurance, the longer and harder you can go.

Many people make the mistake of equating endurance with cardio-only activities, like:

  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Rowing
  • Jumping rope

These exercises will certainly help you improve your cardiovascular endurance, which is the ability of your heart and lungs to keep your body fueled on oxygen. However, the endurance umbrella also includes a second type of endurance. Muscular endurance refers to the ability to keep your muscles working. It’s how your yoga instructor can hold a plank for what looks like hours or how they can pump out a set of 20 push-ups without breaking a sweat. Both cardiovascular and muscular endurance training are crucial for you to reach optimal fitness.

Why Build Endurance?

Maybe you’ve never felt particularly inspired to run a marathon, nor do you desire the ability to perform 50 pull-ups in order to live a fulfilled life. Does this mean you don’t need to add endurance training workouts to your fitness routine?

Nope. Endurance is for everyone, whether you are just getting off the couch or you want to complete a 100k someday. Endurance training exercises improve the health of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. By performing cardio training, you can lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Cardio training burns lots of calories, while muscular endurance training builds lean muscle and keeps your metabolism running hot.

Best of all, good endurance will give you a higher quality of life. You won’t find yourself gasping for breath at the top of a staircase or struggling to bring the groceries into the house.  

If you’re ready to rev up your endurance, the next step is to start putting in the work. But, what is endurance training, and what do effective endurance training workouts look like?

How to Build Cardio and Muscular Endurance

The good news is that you can build endurance using a wide variety of methods and exercises. Do you prefer cycling and swimming to running and rowing? Then you can apply the basic techniques of endurance training to your cycling and swim workouts. Additionally, you can improve your endurance through steady-state cardio (which means performing a long cardio session) as well as with shorter interval or high-intensity workout sessions. In other words, you can make endurance training your own.

Gradually Increase

The best way to increase your endurance is to do so gradually. With each endurance training workout, you’ll put your heart, lungs, and muscles under stress. In response, your heart and lungs will become more efficient at delivering oxygen to your muscles, while your muscles will grow stronger.

If you are currently sedentary or at a low level of fitness, try starting with 10 to 15 minutes of cardio activity at a time. That may mean walking down the block or swimming at the gym pool. When that becomes easier, extend your workout time. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that healthy adults perform a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. An easy way to hit that goal is to perform 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week.

It’s okay if you aren’t there yet. Start with 10 minutes of exercise a day and add time until you can hit 30 minutes per session.

Distance/Reps, Time, and Intensity

You can increase your endurance across three primary domains:

  • Distance/Reps: Completing more distance or reps.
  • Time: Performing an exercise over a longer period of time.
  • Intensity: Exercising a higher work capacity.

The beauty of endurance training is that you can create workouts aimed at any of these domains. One day you can work on swimming a greater number of laps in the pool (reps). On your next visit to the gym, you can work on swimming without a break for 20 minutes (time). At the end of the week, you can challenge yourself by swimming sprints (intensity). Each domain builds your endurance in a different way.

Vary Your Exercises

Your body is an incredibly efficient machine and will adapt to the stress you put upon it. If you only focus on building your endurance in one exercise, you may notice your progress slowing over time as your body gets used to the movement. You also increase your risk of overuse injury.

A great way to avoid overuse injuries and to continually challenge your body is to build your endurance across multiple exercises. Even if you have a favorite “sport,” you can still vary your fitness routine by trying different exercises on your active rest days.

Rather than run five times a week, put in a day of rowing and a day of swimming. Use the stair stepper or the stationary bike. The soreness you’ll feel over the next two days will be proof that you’re using your muscles in different ways. (Here’s how to reduce muscle soreness after an epic workout.)

Add Weight

Steady-state cardio is a great way to build aerobic endurance and burn calories, but to optimize your fitness, you’ll want to work on your muscular endurance as well. To build muscular endurance, program workouts with bodyweight movements or lightweight resistance movements. Bodyweight exercises that are great for building muscular endurance include:

  • Air squats
  • Push-ups or knee push-ups
  • Sit-ups
  • Jumping jacks
  • Burpees
  • Lunges
  • Russian twists
  • Pull-ups or assisted pull-ups

You can also perform muscular endurance workouts by doing resistance machine circuits at your local gym. Just keep the resistance low and the rep count high. Improving your muscular endurance will build lean muscle and provide a good balance with cardio workouts. Too much steady-state cardio can lead to the loss of muscle mass, and a lower overall metabolism as your body burns your muscles for fuel.

Speed, Tempo, and Long Workouts

What should your endurance training workouts actually look like? One model used successfully by many steady-state cardio athletes is a weekly schedule that includes a speed workout, a tempo workout, and a long workout.

Speed workouts are short and furious, and focus on increasing your tolerance for moving at a higher intensity. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, interval workouts, and Tabata workouts fall into this category. If you were training for a 10k race, you might jump on a treadmill and sprint at roughly 80% of your fastest pace for 2 minutes followed by a 1-minute recovery. Repeat this drill 5 times. It hurts but it also works.

A tempo workout is a medium-length workout where you push your pace or intensity slightly above your comfort zone. Like the speed workout, the goal is to make your body adapt to a higher intensity. You also want to focus on maintaining this uncomfortable pace for a longer distance. A good way to measure a tempo workout is to try and keep your heart rate at about 85% of your max heart rate

The long workout is best done on a weekend or a day off. This is when you work to extend the time domain in which you can continue to work. Pick a pace that is comfortable but not easy and then try to extend the amount of time or the distance you can cover without slowing down. 

Need Help Building Your Endurance?

Sticking with strength and endurance training can be difficult, especially on your own. One way to keep yourself motivated is to recruit a workout buddy to keep you company and hold you accountable. You can also sign up for a race or competition, so you have something to train for. Group exercise classes can also help you improve your endurance. Dance, cardio, and interval classes all focus on building your endurance.

Finally, if you need extra accountability during your endurance training, as well as fitness expertise, you can opt to hire a personal trainer. If you want to hit a specific endurance goal, like running a 10k, look for a trainer who specializes in endurance or sports-specific training. Need to find a gym that offers a wide range of classes and highly knowledgeable personal trainers? Search for an EōS Fitness near you.

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