• Introduction
  • What is cardiovascular endurance in sports?
  • The physiological factors of cardiovascular endurance in sports
  • Benefits of cardiovascular endurance in sports
  • Here’s how you train for cardiovascular endurance
  • Final thoughts
  • Sources
  • Aerobic respiration: producing energy (ATP) with the presence of oxygen.
  • Anaerobic respiration: producing energy (ATP) without the presence of oxygen.
  • Cardiorespiratory endurance: how well the heart, lungs, and muscles perform during moderate to high-intensity physical activity.
  • Lactate: a byproduct of anaerobic respiration which can be used to generate more ATP.
  • Maximum oxygen uptake: The maximum amount of oxygen a person can use during intense exercise.
  • Muscular endurance: the muscle's ability to consistently and repetitively exert force over a period of time.


Cardiovascular endurance, or “cardio” is one of the building blocks of athletic performance and may even be one of the most important factors during prolonged physical performances. Sure, cardiovascular endurance is the main component in endurance sports, but it is also needed in high-intensity sports that last a long time. After all, you still need to be able to sprint during the last minutes of a game.

This post explains the basic mechanics of cardiovascular endurance and why it is so important for athletic ability. You can also head to our cardiovascular endurance training post if you want to learn how to create your own training program. We even have a few free samples to try out.

What is cardiovascular endurance in sports?

Cardiovascular endurance, also know as cardiorespiratory endurance or aerobic fitness, describes your body’s ability to deliver oxygen from your lungs to the cells of your body where it can be used for energy production. This, on the other hand, is dependent on several physiological factors, including heart rate, stroke volume and maximal oxygen uptake (VO₂max).

Naturally, the longer or more intense you exert yourself physically, the more important your cardiovascular endurance becomes. This is especially apparent if you consider yourself an endurance athlete that requires energy for extremely long performances.

However, this does not mean that cardiovascular fitness is not needed in faster-paced sports as well. After all, you’ll still need to have enough energy to perform well even during the last minutes of your contest or game. 

Cardiovascular endurance is closely connected to your aerobic energy production, that’s also the reason why people often refer to it as ”cardio”. Basically, it describes your body’s ability to perform a task for a prolonged amount of time at a certain intensity.

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Cardiovascular endurance describes your body’s ability to utilize oxygen for energy production during longer exercises.

The physiological factors of cardiovascular endurance in sports

An improvement in your cardiovascular endurance is due to several different factors, such as increased aerobic (VO₂max) and anaerobic capacity, faster metabolism, increased stroke volume, enhanced venous return, higher hemoglobin and higher lactate threshold. Each of these factors will have a direct impact on your muscular endurance as well as an indirect effect on your strength and flexibility

Aerobic capacity, or maximal oxygen uptake (VO₂max) is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption during an increasingly intense exercise. Endurance athletes usually perform at around 75-85% of their peak aerobic capacity whereas athletes from faster-paced sports perform close to 100% of their maximum.

Aerobic capacity is also commonly used as an indicator of cardiovascular fitness during athletic performance. In theory, the higher your maximum oxygen uptake is the better your heart can move oxygen to the muscles.

Anaerobic capacity, on the other hand, refers to the total amount of energy you can produce anaerobically (without oxygen). This energy production method often occurs in high-intensity exercises where aerobic energy (with oxygen) is simply not enough. While anaerobic energy production provides much-needed energy for the muscles during exercise, it produces lactate as a side product which hinders athletic performance significantly. Thus, improving your anaerobic capacity can provide better performance without less fatigue.

Metabolism refers to the chemical processes that occur inside your body in order to maintain bodily functions. Simply put, the more energy your body uses for physical exercise, the more energy you will need to maintain homeostasis or balance inside the body. Thus, raising your resting metabolic rate as well which also helps maintain healthy body composition.

"Each of your cardiovascular endurance factors will also have a direct impact on your muscular endurance as well as an indirect effect on your strength and flexibility."

Stroke volume describes your heart’s ability to pump more blood on each heartbeat. As a result of cardiovascular endurance training, your heart rate will be lower while resting or even during exercise. In fact, your resting heart rate can be a great indicator of your cardiovascular fitness level.

Venous return describes your veins’ ability to efficiently return blood back to your heart. This is essential for performance because improving your venous return increases the total blood flow in the body, making it easier to fill with oxygen again.

Hemoglobin is the protein molecule in the red blood cells that carries oxygen into the muscles and carbon dioxide out of them. While you can boost your hemoglobin with iron-rich foods, exercise is also a great way to increase blood cell volume (hematocrit) for better cardiovascular endurance

Lactate threshold describes the highest level of performance where energy can be produced without a significant rise in blood lactate. Thus, training at your lactate threshold will make your body more efficient in clearing lactate from the muscles leading to better endurance performance.

Cardiovascular endurance training forms a basis for more sports-specific strength and power training.

Benefits of cardiovascular endurance in sports

While good cardiovascular endurance is one of the main building blocks in athletic ability, it also has an immensely positive effect on overall wellness in everyday life. It is well known for improving heart health, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, increasing bone strength and maintaining healthy body composition. It has even been linked to better school results among children. 

As far as athletic performance goes, cardiovascular endurance training increases the number of energy molecules inside the musclesincreases your heart’s stroke volume, lowers overall heart rate, enhances venous return from the muscles to the heart and increases the amount of oxygen-filled red blood cells in your bloodstream. It even builds up more capillaries within the muscle for an even better blood flow in and out of the muscle. As a result, your body will use less energy to achieve the same level of performance as before and recover faster from it.

"Cardiovascular endurance training is one of the simplest ways to improve your overall health."

However, the best part of cardiovascular endurance training is its versatility. You can pretty much do it anytime and anywhere yet it’s still able to provide benefits regardless of your fitness level. It is essential in building a foundation for more advanced training methods like strength and power training. Cardiovascular endurance exercises can even be used for rehabilitation purposes after an injury!

Cardiovascular endurance is not only meant for endurance athletes either. In fact, it is also needed in high-intensity sports as well. After all, you need to be able to perform at your best even during the last minutes of the game. Cardiovascular endurance is important in a variety of sports such as running, dancing, swimming, football, basketball, biking etc. Actually everyone, whether you are physically active or not, can benefit from enhanced aerobic fitness.

Cardiovascular endurance training requires longer exercises ranging from a few minutes to several hours.

Here’s how you train for cardiovascular endurance

To enhance oxygen delivery to your working muscles, you must also train in a way that builds up the energy storage needed in your sport. This is often referred to as metabolic training, which can be further divided into aerobic and anaerobic exercises. Both of which can be effectively trained through a well-planned workout program. 

Cardiovascular endurance training consists of low-intensity exercises that utilize weights of around 0-30% of your maximum. As cardiovascular endurance focuses on performing for a longer time, it also needs more repetitions and shorter recovery periods between sets.

Cardiovascular endurance can also be trained through bodyweight exercises like jogging, crosscountry skiing, rowingcycling and swimming which also makes them suitable for a huge variety of people. These sorts of exercises can range anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, making them great for beginners and experienced athletes alike.

We’ve also created an in-depth post about cardiovascular endurance training packed with valuable information. If you want to learn how to create your own workout program or take a peek out our selection of free samples, feel free to check it out.

Final thoughts

Whether you are an athlete or not, here’s no denying that cardiovascular endurance is a crucial part of your physical performance. In fact, good cardiovascular fitness has a significant benefit for overall wellness in pretty much every age group out there. This is also the reason why there is a growing need for physical activities in our increasingly passive and aging communities.

If you want to improve your cardiovascular endurance, you need to train it accordingly. Luckily, improving your cardio is both relatively simple and inexpensive. It also doesn’t need an extensive sports background which means that everyone can start getting in better shape with little or no planning at all. Furthermore, endurance training even helps you build a foundation for more advanced training methods such as strength training.

As always, training is not the only thing you need to consider if you’re looking to improving your performance. You also need to balance is out with proper nutrition and sufficient rest if you want to keep improving in a safe manner.

Did you learn anything new about cardiovascular endurance in sports? Let us know in the comments.


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