Whether you’re planning to get active again after a period of inactivity, tackling your first fun run or your 20th marathon, building stamina and endurance is essential. While stamina refers to how long you can perform at your peak, endurance is how long you can perform a certain action repetitively (not necessarily at peak).
So where stamina maximises power and performance, endurance maximises time1. And both are important for reaching your health and fitness goals. There are two types of endurance you’ll need for optimal physical performance – muscle endurance and cardiorespiratory endurance. Here’s what you need to know:
Building muscular endurance
To be able to complete marathon, cycle event, or even just make it through a full gym class without taking a break, your muscles need to build up strength and endurance. This involves regularly doing certain movements repetitively with good form until you’re too fatigued to continue. ‘Fatigue’ in this sense refers to reaching your lactate threshold.
When working out, muscles convert stores of glucose into energy, releasing lactic acid as a by-product. During low intensity exercise, the lactic acid is cleared by the body before it builds up. However, during intense exercise, the body is unable to remove the lactic acid as it continues to build up – leading to the ‘burn’ which starts to inhibit muscle function and ultimately prevents you from continuing the same exercise after a certain number of repetitions. This is your lactate threshold.
By building up your lactate threshold, you can avoid this complete muscle fatigue for longer – improving endurance. Longer periods of strenuous exercise at just below your lactate threshold, alternating with short bursts of high-intensity exercise, help to build endurance by training your body to clear lactic acid more efficiently2.
Simple no-equipment exercises for building muscle endurance:
Try to set aside 20-30 minutes a day for high-intensity exercise, and try not to work the same muscle group two days in a row, as recovery is just as important in this process.
- Body weight squats
Keep your weight on your heels as you drop your buttocks down to the height of your knees, and push yourself back up. Squeeze your glutes as you come up. Start by performing 5 sets of 25 repetitions. Add more reps if you feel you could do more at the end of each set.
Start with your feet shoulder width apart in a standing position. Take a big step forward with your right leg, and drop your body to have your back knee touch the ground, before standing upright again. Repeat on the other side. Try 5 sets of 30 lunges (15 on each leg).
Lie on your stomach and prop up your torso with your elbows on the ground, directly below your shoulders. Pull in your core, and raise your hips off the ground by going up onto your toes. Hold for intervals of 30-45 seconds (or more depending on your endurance) and repeat five times.
The strength and endurance of your muscles is just one aspect of your body’s endurance. Cardiorespiratory endurance is just as critical to sustained athletic performance. It refers to the ability of your heart, lungs and muscles to work together over an extended period of time to sustain activity3. And is a great indicator of your health and fitness level.
The more your lungs and heart are able to use and circulate oxygen, the better your endurance will be. Regular exercise is key to improving cardiorespiratory endurance. Your VO2 max is your body’s capacity to transport and use oxygen during exercise. When at rest, the body needs less oxygen per minute than it does when exercising. This requirement increases significantly when you’re at maximum physical exertion – and that’s your VO2 max.
VO2 max is dependent on the efficiency of your cardiorespiratory, vascular and cellular metabolic systems – which are strongly influenced by your genetics, but can be improved with training by as much as 25%4.
The more your lungs and heart are able to use and circulate oxygen to your muscles during exercise, the better your endurance will be. Regular exercise is key to improving cardiorespiratory endurance.
Exercises for cardiorespiratory endurance
The following exercises get your heart rate up, burn fat and develop muscle. They’re great compound movements that use multiple joints at once – helping to increase your stamina. Try to focus on your breathing, keeping it deep and consistent:
- High knees running in place and butt kickers
Do alternating 30-second bursts of running on the spot, bringing your knees up high in front of you, then switch to bringing your feet up behind you, touching, or almost touching your bum.
- Jump squats
Go into a squat position, then jump as you bring your legs back together, before jumping into the squat position again. Repeat with good form for 30 seconds.
- Jumping jacks
A great full body exercise. Jump your feet wide apart while raising your arms above your head, then pull your arms down at your sides as you bring your feet in again.
Everyone’s favourite – and a great combination of cardio and strength exercises. Jump up from a standing position, as your feet come down, bring your hands down to the floor, directly below your shoulders. Jump your legs straight out behind you, going into a plank position. Jump your legs back toward your hands, then jump straight up again.
Mix it up
The key to building up strength and endurance is consistency – try to work out 3-4 times a week for at least 30 minutes. Mix it up and choose workouts that get more muscle groups working, to challenge both your muscles and your cardiorespiratory system at once. For example, combine strength exercises like push-ups and bench presses, with bursts of running in place and burpees, before returning to strength exercises.
As you build up your endurance, start to also reduce the amount of rest time you have between sets during a workout. Make sure you do enough reps to be feeling the burn after each set, and build up toward not needing to take a break between different sets.
Continually changing up your workout and pushing your body in different ways is also key to building real strength and endurance5. Our muscles get used to certain movements after two weeks, so try to keep workout routines varied and move your muscles in different ways and to keep pushing yourself – while staying in-tune with your body’s limits.
Ready to start a new exercise programme to improve your overall wellness and achieve your performance and health goals? Always consult a doctor first – especially if you have been inactive for a long period. Start a custom, holistic health plan aligned to your unique body and goals by booking an online consultation here.
1 Muscular strength & muscular endurance. (n.d.)
2 Stöggl, T. L., & Björklund, G. (2017). High Intensity Interval Training Leads to Greater Improvements in Acute Heart Rate Recovery and Anaerobic Power as High Volume Low Intensity Training. Frontiers in Physiology, 8, 562.
3 Hiwale DS. (2017). Cardiorespiratory fitness – How to measure and improve it?
4 Scribbans, Trisha D et al. The Effect of Training Intensity on VO2max in Young Healthy Adults: A Meta-Regression and Meta-Analysis. International Journal of Exercise Science Vol. 9,2 230-247. 1 Apr. 2016.
5 Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017). Fitness training: Elements of a well-rounded routine.