For most men, the objective of hitting the gym is to trim some fat, build a decent physique, clear the head and generally feel good. For a few, the gym is the place to fine-tune our sporting prowess, such improving pace to get the upper hand on the football pitch, or doubling down on core strength to help when you’re scaling the local bouldering wall.
Another – and arguably more important – aspect of fitness that will not only make you a better athlete but improve overall health is endurance. It isn’t just about running marathons, either. Increase your stamina and you’ll be able to push harder, faster, stronger in any physical endeavour.
To help break down why it pays to build your endurance, we roped in two of the best trainers in the game. Take note, then get sweating.
Why Should I Care About Endurance Training?
There are countless benefits of stamina and endurance training. If you’re signing up for distance races or chasing a new PB, endurance training is, of course, essential, but you don’t have to spend half your life on Strava to notice the benefits.
Not only does it strengthen muscles and bones due to increased density from constant work they’re doing, it also increases your pain threshold, will improve your quality of sleep due to fatigue, and will toughen your mental resolve when it comes to self-perception, training and your ability to achieve goals.
On top of that, focusing on your endurance will help bolster the body’s circulatory system and respiratory system, as well as helping to regulate blood pressure. It can reduce the risk of diseases caused by weak bones, muscles and circulatory issues.
James Cook, PT and all-round endurance expert at London gym Roar Fitness has some science to convince you. “A study showed that runners have significantly reduced mortality risk from heart disease than non runners,” he says. “Meanwhile, being a regular exerciser can allow your cognitive skills and neural function to maintain itself better as you grow older according to another study.”
And that’s not all. Building up your endurance can help burn fat, and improves leanness.
“While it is generally accepted that dietary choices are the predominant focus for losing weight, endurance activity boosts calories burned daily on top of our regular basal metabolic rate [the number of calories you burn just going about your day],” Cook explains.
Will Endurance Training Help With Weight Training?
Yes. “Improved stamina and endurance gives your body the ability to put your muscles through more time under tension, while an improved pain threshold allows the individual to put their body and mind through more rigorous workouts,” says David Wiener, training and nutrition specialist at Freeletics, somewhat sadistically.
In short, you’ll get fitter and stronger by pushing through your pain barriers. What’s more, the increased fatigue brought on by training for longer will make you more tired, and as a result you’ll sleep for longer. As rest is essential for recovery, this is a simple shortcut to prioritising muscle recovery.
How Can I Get Started?
“Consistency is key,” says Cook. “You’ll have to engage in a training regimen that has multiple workouts of the same thing each week. For example, if I simply want to work on my deadlift, I make this the focal point of training. You have to prioritise. For example, running a marathon requires more preparation than simply doing short casual recreational runs.”
If you do have a marathon in your sights, the trick is to slowly increase your distance capability, but also increase your ability to maintain pace over that distance at the same time. Wiener gets more specific:
1. Run Further Over Time
To gradually increase your stamina, you’ll want to slowly increase weight, time or intensity on a weekly basis. Wiener recommends you set yourself a target; for instance, run 1 kilometre every day for a week, then add another 250 metres the following week, 250 the next week, and so on.
2. Run Faster Over Time
You will also need to practise running shorter distances at greater speeds to improve the clearing of lactic acid and maintain work capacity for longer.
“Get on a treadmill and start at 10km/h for a five minute warm-up. Then, put the speed up by .5km every 30 seconds until you can do no more. You won’t get far at first, but force yourself through it every other session and you’ll see your sprint endurance rapidly increase,” suggests Wiener.
3. Lift Heavier For Longer
If you’re using weights, work on a specific weight or rep range for a week, increasing your load the following week by either increasing the weight or adding extra reps per set.
“You need to plan a good programme. Don’t try to lift too heavy too soon. For chest, you might start with two dumbbells of 20kg. Then next session try 22.5kg. Then use the 22.5kg to warm up and try 25kg for the real workout, then make this your new warm-up and go to 27.5kg and so on. Spread this out over a month or so, and you’ll get solid, gradual increases and diminish your risk of injury,” says Wiener.
Any athlete wanting to improve stamina will need a high percentage of carbs in their meals. These should be ideally more complex carbohydrates to maintain a steady supply throughout a training bout.
How Can I Minimise The Risk Of Injury?
The most important thing to remember is not to push your body too hard before it’s ready. Safety must always come first, and although being focused on increasing muscle size and strength might be a priority, not going on a safe and steady journey might cause short or even long-term injuries, preventing training altogether.
“A light warm up followed by 10 minutes dynamic stretching (through movement) to activate muscles prior to working out is always recommended, as is a 5 minute cool down and 15 minute static stretch (non-moving) post work out,” advises Wiener.
Need more guidance? Work through this anti-injury list each session:
“Movement-based stretches are a great way to loosen up and prepare muscles for work,” says Wiener. “Leg swings are great. Stand straight and swing one leg forward and then back. You want to keep the leg straight, feeling it stretch through the hamstrings. Don’t kick it back like you’re trying to kick your bum, keep it straight. Do around 20-30 seconds per leg.”
“Walking lunges are also good. You don’t actually have to move forward, you can do it on the spot. Lunge forward, bringing your legs into opposing right angles. Hold, swap legs and repeat for at least 20 per leg. Don’t push yourself too deep too soon, though, as you could risk injury.”
“Feeling a bit tight or knotted? A foam roller is your friend; five minutes can work out the kinks.”
“Always make sure you get enough rest, one of the biggest causes of injury is simply poor rest and a lack of recovery. You’re beating up an already beaten up body essentially if you fail to allow time to recover,” Wiener says.
I’ve Got A Week To My First 10K. Help
You haven’t done any training, have you? Well, while there is no shortcut to success and all that, Wiener is able to (metaphorically) hold your hand across the finish line.
“With a tight deadline to train for a 10K, you will have to decrease the time you give your body to adapt to new goals by increasing levels, weights and intensity every 3 days or even every workout,” says Wiener. Which sounds pretty brutal, to be honest.
“This way your ability to go longer and harder will thrive in no time, providing you’re mentally and physically prepared to go to this level as it can be incredibly tough and strenuous on the mind and body.”
If you’re really stuck for time, Wiener points out that often the quickest way to improve stamina is to drop a few pounds/kg. In short, the lighter we are, the less our bodies have to work to move us. Blast the beer gut and you’ll become fitter just by virtue of being lighter. You can, we imagine, throw a tennis ball a lot further than you could a football, for example.
Obviously, though, it is pretty difficult to drop weight at the click of your fingers. (Impossible, in fact). So the best way to bolster endurance and stamina might be to commit to a steady routine of workout and diet, and stick to it.
But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t feel like training one day, either. As Wiener explains, a little recovery can go a long way, “The most important thing is treat your recovery with the same respect and dedication as your exercise routine. You must take time off to allow adequate fuel and recovery.”