Endurance training isn't something that gets a lot of attention in general fitness. Many people believe that it is mostly based on performance, but endurance can mean a lot of different things. There's something in it for everyone, no matter what you're trying to achieve. It could even be argued that endurance is the most accurate test of a person's fitness level.

One thing that isn't debatable, though, is how much of a feat endurance is. If you can balance the performance with the stamina you need to do well, it's a wonder to behold. It doesn't matter if you're playing rugby or climbing a mountain, endurance is vital to have, and it's a challenge to train. We're here to break it down.


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What Is Endurance?

It's always a good idea to start with what endurance is. It is a complex notion, but we have a rough definition for you: for how long or how far someone can do something. Vague, but true. It's often thought of as stamina, energy or just performance in general. But your endurance is just where you find your limit. Marathons, triathlons, climbs, cycles, swims, it doesn't matter - they all push you to the limit.

Endurance training is up there with the most rigorous training there is. Progress is gradual and consistent, but the work is hard and long-term. If you are training your endurance for a particular exercise, you have to balance practising for performance and incorporate other things. Resting, eating, and exercising are all extremely specific when it comes to endurance training as a whole.

Building Blocks

row of people doing sit ups

Endurance training is split up into several different areas, depending on the exercise. In other words, it depends on what you need to do or what you are training for in the long run. Ultimately, there are two main areas to look at.

Frequency

Frequency is the first thing to take into consideration when training for endurance. How often you train has a massive impact on its success, both in the long and short term. It is one of the most significant determinants of how your training will affect you as well. If you are training for a marathon, you can't run an entire marathon four times a week, but you can exercise your legs and your stamina that often. It's a tough balance.

Performance (Distance/Time)

The second pillar of endurance training revolves around your performance. In addition to how often you train, what you are doing has a huge impact. The distance that you travel or the time you take to do so is crucial for the success of your training in the long run. These are the things you must balance to improve your endurance and your performance. Make them count!

Training

The training you go for is dependent on what you'll be doing and why. If you're rowing in a long-distance race, for example, you'll be using very different muscles to those you'd be using if you were going to cycle for a full tour, and your training needs to reflect that.

Exercises

First, you need to select the exercise that you'll be doing carefully. Different kinds of foals require different strengths, and you need to choose carefully. You need to be able to transfer the outcome of your exercise into the event you are training for.

Take your legs, for example. You will be using your legs for quite a few exercises, including running, cycling and rowing. Leg presses, squats and other leg building exercises will improve the power you can apply. However, more muscle does also mean more weight, which often lowers performance. It's a delicate balance!

Training Styles

Once you know the best combination of exercises you'll be doing to boost your endurance training; you need to decide how you're going to do them. It may sound like the same thing you've just covered above, but it's not. Training styles vary massively in what they offer you. You can try activities like LISS training, for example, which enables you to exercise for extreme periods, but it is not an intense workout. HIIT is quite the opposite, but it's near impossible to keep up.

On top of that, even with weight and strength training, you have options. You have low-rep, high weight exercises to build up power, or you can go the other way around. Low-weight, high rep weighted exercises are better for endurance training as they push your muscles to their limit of endurance rather than power, but you need a balance of both for the perfect performance.

Preparation

two people stretching outside before their endurance training

Before you jump into any of these training methods, you need to make sure that you're ready to go. It's the case with any training, not just endurance, and it is vital to get the most out of what you are doing, and safely at that.

Warming Up

You probably saw it coming, but that's just because it's essential. Warming up is vital to training across the board. Again, your warm-up does need to vary depending on the performance you're about to give and the training and exercise style you selected, but you have options. Stretches seem to be the most common choice, but performing lighter variations of the exercise you're about to undertake is always an excellent choice too. That's probably more important.

Cooling Down

Cooling down and warming up go hand in hand, and for endurance exercise, you need it. Making sure you cool down after a long and intensive workout is the only way you're even going to be able to move the next day, never mind aiding your recovery. In this case, stretching is your friend! Dynamic or static - both are useful. Even yoga can be a good call if you do it in the right way to help slowly lower your heart rate, deal with lactic acid and leave your muscles in the state they need to be.

Recovery

The second half of endurance training comes from what you're doing outside of your exercise. If you want to perform and improve, you need to be helping yourself wherever you can.

Resting

Resting is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of recovery, and that's not a bad thing. Rest days are crucial to your health and your training, and they just don't get the recognition they deserve. There's more to them than just getting enough downtime too, and multiple ways to make the most of them.

Sleeping and eating are up there with the essential things for your rest days. However, the mental aspects of resting are also important. It's the best way to make sure you're getting that life balance where it needs to be and to keep a positive attitude. A big part of endurance is in your mindset, after all, and if all you're doing is training, it's easy to plateau.

Repair

The other side of recovery is reparation. You need to make sure that you are allowing yourself to repair the damage that training has done when you are resting. That doesn't mean exercise is a bad thing, but endurance performance does take a significant toll on your body, and your rest needs to reflect that however, it can.

Stretching, massages, and even foam rolling are good calls where you can fit them in, but so is everything else mentioned above. It all goes a long way to making sure that your muscles are repairing the damage that the exercise has done to them, as well as the ligaments, tendons and joints that have been working hard too. There's more to endurance than you might think.

Nutrition

table made up of different carbs; pasta, potatoes etc

A lot of people are again quick to forget the importance of nutrition in exercising. People generally follow the idea that as long as you eat protein after you've exercised, you'll be fine. But there is much more to nutrition, both pre and post-performance. It will have a huge impact on your performance overall.

Carbohydrates

By far and away, the most important thing to think about when getting the nutrients for endurance training is your carb intake. You're going to be exercising to your absolute limit, and your body needs fuel to be able to do that.

Carbo-loading is one of the most famous ways to do it, but we'll break it down. Generally speaking, you need to be eating a lot of complex carbohydrates around 12-3 hours pre-exercise to get the fuel you need. Complex carbs like brown rice and pasta are prime examples, and they'll release energy slowly to keep you going for a long time instead of quick sharp bursts.

Healthy Fats & Protein

Other than fuel, you need to make sure your recovery and your calorie intake are up to scratch as well. Exercising for a long period uses a huge number of calories, and you need to make sure your diet is going to account for it. Meal timing, planning, and portion sizes are all your friends here. Even hydration is vital if you want to keep going.

Healthy fats are one of the most pivotal parts of your recovery, so time them right to repair your body after you have trained. Similarly, protein goes a long way in creating new cells and aiding this reparation and building new muscle fibres to help your performance in the long run. You need to find the balance in your macronutrients to perform at your peak (but still keep a balanced diet to get your micronutrients too!)

Progress

woman outdoors checking her smart watch before her endurance training workout

The final point we'll look at in the essentials of endurance training is how to monitor the progress you've made over time. There are always different ways to go about it depending on what you're doing, but some things stay the same. Here are a few of the most popular ways to do it.

Time

Going right back to the beginning, one of the most pivotal points of your training is time, and it shows here too. The time it takes you to exercise, whether it's your current "training wall" or the time it takes you to reach a milestone - are tangible. It's one of the easiest ways to measure your performance and your growth, so use it well! Keep a log at all times and do what you can to improve!

Distance/Performance

The next way to do it is by the distance you can perform for. No matter what you are doing, distance can play a big part in your game. How far you can physically push yourself to go is a great way to see what you are capable of with sheer grit and determination. It goes hand in hand with time, but your performance is dependent on what you need to do.

In conclusion, there's too much to conclude. Each of these things is so incredibly vital that you can't afford to miss any of them. Make sure you are on your game at all times, and with endurance training especially, make sure you don't push yourself too hard. You can end up doing more bad than good if you aren't careful. Endurance takes physical and mental strength, so make sure both are as good as they can be and make the most of your downtime too. Good luck!


Before beginning any exercise or nutrition program, consult your physician, doctor or other professional. This is especially important for individuals over the age of 35 or persons with pre-existing health problems. Exercise.co.uk assumes no responsibility for personal injury or property damage sustained using our advice.

If you experience dizziness, nausea, chest pain, or any other abnormal symptoms, stop the workout at once and consult a physician or doctor immediately.