So you want to increase your endurance? Whether for sport or life, endurance training can help you achieve your goals. “Endurance” stems from the Latin word “indurare,” meaning “make harder” or “harden the heart against.” The history of this word probably rings true to anyone who’s laced up for a marathon or tackled a double-digit bike ride. Endurance training is no joke, but it’s also easier than you think to work into your routine.
If you play your cards right, practicing endurance in your workouts can directly translate to enduring the more challenging things in life. So read on for Peloton instructor Alex Karwoski’s explanation of what endurance is, why it matters, and which workouts help you become a stronger, more resilient athlete.
What Does Endurance Mean in Fitness?
“Endurance, from a fitness standpoint, is the ability of a person's body to sustain prolonged physical activity or exercise,” says Alex. Sports like long-distance running, cycling, rowing, and swimming are all well-known endurance activities. However, according to Alex, certain types of weight lifting and circuit training also fit the bill.
Endurance training helps many of your body’s intricate systems—including your aerobic and circulatory systems—work their best, which is why the American Heart Association recommends logging at least 150 minutes, or about 2.5 hours, of moderate to vigorous activity per week for optimum health.
Aerobic Endurance vs. Muscular Endurance
“Usually, when we talk or think about endurance, we are referring to cardiovascular endurance, which is controlled/affected by the efficiency of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems supplying oxygen to our muscles during sustained periods of physical activity,” he says. An incline treadmill walk or your weekend long run falls under the cardiovascular bucket (a fact that will be obvious when your breaths become labored and effortful.)
Muscular endurance is a tad different. As Peloton Joslyn Thompson Rule has previously told The Output, “Muscular endurance is the ability of your muscles to continuously work without fatigue, while cardiovascular endurance is the ability of your heart and lungs to deliver oxygen to your working muscles.” The most common example of muscular endurance is strength training that includes high reps with low weight. For example, completing push-ups until failure would be considered muscular endurance training.
Endurance vs. Stamina
Remember: Endurance refers to the ability to buckle down and commit to a lengthy, moderately intense workout.
Stamina and endurance share some overlap but aren’t the same. As Cherilyn McLester, MS, PhD, professor of exercise science at Kennesaw State University and a member of NASM’s Scientific Advisory Board, previously told Peloton, “Stamina best describes a person’s ability to sustain a prolonged activity at a high intensity.”
Stamina also refers to mental toughness. “One distinction of stamina is having a strong mental component that allows somebody to maintain a high power output as fatigue sets in,” McLester said. “This strong mental component allows you to maintain a high power output as fatigue sets in.”
Put simply: Someone who can run 26.2 miles has endurance, but someone who can run 24 miles and then kick for the final 2.2 also has next-level stamina.
What is Considered Endurance Training?
“Generally speaking, every 'endurance' workout has the primary goal of sustaining some type of consistent effort (commonly referred to as steady state) for a long period of time,” says Alex. “Depending on what research or training you subscribe to, these workouts can range from 20-minute to 200-minute sessions. Different sports require different types of 'endurance' training, so there is, in my opinion, not one single way to define an endurance workout.” That said, every endurance workout contains five major components, according to Alex.
Endurance activities are repetitive and continuous. If you’re a swimmer, you’re practicing the same stroke over and over, lap by lap. If you’re a runner, you’re striding forward mile after mile. There’s not a lot of variation in endurance, so allow yourself to get lost in the rhythm of the movement—and see where it takes you.
2. Moderate Intensity
Once again, endurance happens at a moderate intensity. Your heart rate should be elevated, but you shouldn’t be huffing, puffing, or craving rest in the same way that you might with a HIIT workout.
“Multiple endurance sessions are required to see benefits and body adaptations over time,” says Alex. You’ll have to schedule those endurance workouts regularly to really reap the benefits.
Endurance training also calls for focus. “If you are going to train for a running marathon, a significant portion of your endurance training should include running, as an example,” says Alex. What you wouldn’t want to do is sign up for a marathon and then only run stamina-challenging workouts, like 400s.
“Sustained activity can be thought of as the 'catalyst' for body adaptations. Recovery is very much a part of the equation to see improvement over the long run,” explains Alex. Without ample recovery in the form of rest days, stretching, massages, and mobility work, you may become more prone to injuries. Take those days off seriously so you can bound into your next endurance session with energy and ease.
The Benefits of Endurance Training
As you’ve probably gathered by now, there are many reasons to incorporate endurance training into your workout routine. So bear with us as we geek out on (ahem, explain) the research behind why endurance training is so good for you.
Research shows that a long run or walk may improve your blood pressure levels, reduce your risk of heart disease, and—by extension—help you live a longer, healthier life. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease accounts for a whopping 1 in 5 deaths in the US, so taking care of this organ is incredibly important.
Improved Respiratory Function
Endurance training is like strength training for your respiratory muscles. Studies show that working out in this way may increase lung elasticity. Over time, your endurance training will make other things—like power walking or climbing the stairs—feel way easier. Suddenly, you may find that chatting with your friend on your coffee walk requires less effort.
Exercise itself is associated with better sleep. However, research shows that aerobic exercise may improve sleep duration, efficiency (or the total time you spend asleep, not just in bed), and latency (the time it takes you to fall asleep). In the study, participants performed three sessions a week for six months consisting of a five-minute warm-up, 30 minutes of aerobic training at 60–70 percent of their maximum heart rate, and a 10-minute treadmill cooldown, while a control group did not adhere to an exercise protocol. So, when you’re programming your week, make sure to carve out some time for aerobic exercise!
Boosted Immune Health
Time and time again, research has demonstrated that exercise is a valuable tool for boosting immune function. One study even found that endurance athletes presented with higher levels of IL-13, an immune-signaling protein. This protein kicks off a metabolic process in the body that provides energy to your tissues while you’re training, so if you train aerobically often, your tissues will keep getting that IL-13 love.
Better Mental Health
Endurance benefits also happen in the brain. Exercise has been shown to decrease anxiety and depression, improve self-esteem, and boost overall cognitive functioning. That means that your morning ride may just set you up for a day that feels less stressful and more focused.
5 Workouts to Build Endurance
Ready to improve your endurance? These are some of the classics of endurance training: walking, running, cycling, swimming, and hiking.
Walking offers all the benefits of endurance training in as little as 30 minutes. Try a guided walk on the Peloton App or stay indoors for an incline walk on the Peloton Tread to experience just how great of a workout walking can be.
Maybe you want to pick up the pace and turn that walk into a jog or run. Running is yet another easily scalable endurance workout to add to your playbook. Start with small increments at a very doable pace and ever so slowly work your way up to a mile, three miles—and so on. Apart from all the benefits listed above, running may also help you build strong bones.
Hop on your bike for a challenging endurance session. The Peloton App offers a wealth of classes at various lengths to fit your needs and schedule, whether you’re using the Peloton Bike or the bike at your gym. One of the major benefits of cycling is that it’s a low-impact activity that doesn’t place wear and tear on your muscles and joints. But that certainly doesn’t mean they're low-effort: Once you’ve built some baseline endurance, you can try Endurance Rides from 60-120 minutes.
Another low-impact activity, swimming is ideal for anyone looking for a full-body workout that takes gravity out of the equation. If you’ve never tried swimming before, a session as brief as five minutes may totally wind you—so take it slow and consider working with an instructor to perfect your strokes.
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Combine an endurance workout with a natural backdrop, and you have hiking, a sport with so many benefits. Because hiking requires moving across uneven and varied terrain, you’ll improve your balance and stability while reaping the mental health benefits of spending time in the great outdoors. It’s a win-win.
How Much Endurance Training Is Necessary?
“The answer to this question depends heavily on what your fitness goals and needs are, but generally speaking, you should aim for three to five endurance sessions per week,” says Alex.
“Depending on your fitness level, your endurance sessions can range anywhere from 20 to 200-plus minutes, but a good 'target' is at least 30 minutes.”
That said, you’ll want to slowly work your way up to this endurance training goal—especially if you’re just getting started working out. The AHA recommends beginning your journey with 10-15-minute bouts of endurance training and gradually working your way up. For instance, you may try three 10-minute power walks one week, followed by three 12-minute power walks the next week. Go slow, and remember to be patient. Your body’s learning something brand-new.
Endurance workouts comprise moderate-intensity efforts that you can maintain for a long time. Sports like swimming, cycling, running, or walking improve cardiovascular endurance, while high-rep, low-weight workouts (like AMRAP push-ups) challenge your muscular endurance. If you consistently plug those workouts in for the AHA-recommended 2.5 hours per week, you’ll likely start to see benefits to your cardiovascular and respiratory system, as well as to your mental health. However, you’ll need to start small and slowly build up your endurance over many gorgeous hikes, breathtaking runs, and euphoric bike rides