• Introduction
  • The basics of endurance training
  • Difference between cardiovascular and muscular endurance
  • Best methods for endurance training
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Rowing
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Gym training
  • Train at the right intensity
  • Rest, recovery & injury prevention
  • Physiological effects of endurance training
  • Suitability for developing athletes and physical education
  • Final thoughts

Introduction

As you know, today’s professional sports are the most competitive they have ever been. Athletes are stronger, more powerful and their endurance is out of this world. But what exactly makes the absolute best stand out from the rest? 

Well, they’re willing to work for it. You see, at the elite level, nothing comes for free. No matter who you are or how gifted or genetically lucky you are, you’ve got to train harder and smarter than everyone else.

That’s why we’ve created this post to give you more information on how to get the most out of your endurance training. If you want, you can also jump straight to our example training routines if you’re ready to work out right away. However, If you need more insight into the physiological factors of endurance in sports, we’ve written more about it here.

The basics of endurance training

Endurance training is often performed for a longer time and often with low intensity. This makes it suitable for a huge audience whether you are an athlete or just getting into exercising. It is simply a great way to build up strength for more advanced sport-specific training methods. It even works well for rehabilitation purposes! 

However, when talking about endurance training for athletes you must remember that it consists of a pretty wide spectrum of exercises that vary in intensity. Thus, endurance can be trained in different intensities to suit every athlete imaginable. Thus, it is important to find the right intensity for you if you want to get the full benefits of your endurance training.

For example, athletes that rely on quick and intense sprints would benefit from high-intensity interval training (HIIT), where you ”feel the burn” and have to fight through lactate-induced nausea. Endurance athletes, on the other hand, are better off training on the aerobic (with oxygen) side which focuses on your heart’s and lungs’ ability to provide muscles with oxygen and remove carbon dioxide.

Of course, none of these are a 100% set in stone and you should incorporate a variety of different workouts for the best results. For example, you can perform exercises like jogging, swimming or road biking that use your body weight as resistance or train endurance in a gym setting. A general rule for endurance training is to use weights of around 0-50% of your maximum depending on the effect you are looking for and perform as many repetitions as possible in each set. 

So what can you make of all this?

The only conclusion would be to figure out what kind of performance your sport requires the most and plan your workouts accordingly. Just remember to not go overboard with only one style of training. In the end, you’ll gain better results, better motivation and fewer injuries.

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When creating a sport-specific endurance training program, you’ll have to consider what muscle groups, intensity, energy and skill requirements your performance needs.

Difference between cardiovascular and muscular endurance training

Endurance can be divided into cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance. Both of them are basic components of physical fitness alongside strength, flexibility and body composition. In order to train your endurance in any way, you’ll have to maintain an elevated heart rate for an extended amount of time. This might sound obvious but that is essentially the idea of every sort of endurance training. The longer you can keep up with a certain intensity, the better your endurance will eventually become.

Cardiovascular endurance focuses on your body’s ability to use oxygen as an energy source, which can be achieved through prolonged exercises that keeps your heart rate elevated for an extended amount of time. Thus, it is often trained through long low-intensity exercises such as jogging, swimming or light gym training.

Muscular endurance, on the other hand, trains your muscles’ ability to fight against fatigue locally. In a way, it teaches the muscle how to contract in high-lactate situations and is often trained through lighter weight training with a lot of repetitions.

Naturally, cardiovascular and muscular endurance training have a lot in common, such as training with low weights and a lot of repetitions. In addition to having similar training methods, they also support each other performance-wise. In fact, they have a direct effect on each other, which means that it is really hard not to train both of them simultaneously. However, you can still customize your training to pinpoint a certain style of muscle movement that suits your needs the best.

For example, different circuit training exercises and longer endurance exercises are great for building endurance as long as you keep your heart rate up for the whole training session. So, don’t take any rest periods between exercises or sets. You’ll be glad you did the next time you are competing with your fellow athletes!

Here’s a small comparison chart between the training methods of cardiovascular and muscular endurance. 

Cardiovascular Endurance


Aerobic enduranceBodyweightContinuous exercisesShort rest periods (≈30s) or no restSlow and controlled tempoFocuses on the efficiency of the heart and lungs

Muscular Endurance


Anaerobic enduranceLight resistance (20-50% of maximum)Continuous exercisesRest period 20-45s between setsModerately fast repetitionsFocuses on muscular efficiency

We’ve written more thorough explanations of both cardiovascular and muscular endurance. Just click the one you want to learn more of. In addition to great information, you’ll also find a training program for both styles of endurance. Hope you like ’em!

Best methods for endurance training

Endurance training consists of long low-intensity exercises that challenge both your cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance. In practice, this means your heart’s, lungs’ and veins’ ability to provide muscle tissue with oxygen while removing carbon dioxide, as well as your muscles’ ability to buffer lactate and contract efficiently even during intense exercises. As you might have guessed already, the key for better endurance lies in longer continuous exercises such as running, swimming, cycling, rowing, crosscountry skiing and even gym training.

Running

Running is the easiest form of endurance training regardless of your current physical fitness. What’s even better is that it is very cost-effective and easy to do – all you need is a pair of running shoes and some motivation to get you going. Running exercises are also easy to vary according to your personal goals. So, instead of doing just longer and slower runs you can also perform tempo runs, interval training and fast finish long runs etc. 

Due to its gentle and low impact nature, running is also a great starting point for improving your cardiovascular fitness as well as muscular endurance. It can even be a great stepping stone for more advanced and intense training methods like strength and power training. Furthermore, low-intensity running also serves as a valuable exercise after an injury and between sports-specific training because it can boost recovery and slowly build strength. 

Consistent running offers many benefits for your athletic performance. For example, your muscles learn to contract more efficiently and buffer lactate whereas your heart and lungs are able to provide more oxygen to working muscles. Lighter running exercises are even useful in speed training, where you must maintain a very high intensity for as long as possible. 

Swimming

Swimming is another great endurance training method regardless of your physical fitness. It is fun,  effective, gentle for your joints, ligaments and muscles and most of all, very budget-friendly. This means that pretty much everyone can enjoy a few laps at the nearest swimming arena. 

Sure, swimming provides a great full-body workout that promotes a healthy body composition, improves heart health and increases your endurance capability. However, being submerged in water also has a few interesting effects on your body. This is due to a phenomenon called hydrostatic pressure, which describes the slight pressure, or a hugging effect, that water has on your body. This causes blood to flow back from your arms and legs towards the center of your body more efficiently, which lowers your overall heart rate. This effect is called bradycardia, and it lowers your overall heart rate by 15-40% as an attempt to fight against hypoxia, or lack of oxygen. 

However, swimming doesn’t just improve your physical health. In fact, hydrostatic pressure and the effect it has on your body have proven to be very beneficial for stress relief and mental health as well. 

Cycling

Cycling has been growing in popularity lately due to its ability to improve muscular endurance and cardio in a safe and low impact way. Additionally, it is also very gentle for the joints, ligaments and muscles in your lower body because you don’t need to maintain an upright position for an extended amount of time. That’s why cycling is a great alternative to running and suitable for younger and older fitness enthusiasts alike. 

Much like other endurance activities, cycling also offers plenty of health benefits regardless of your athletic background. For example, better aerobic (VO₂max) and anaerobic capacity, improved joint, ligament and muscle strength and better heart health are just a few positive effects that cycling can have on your body. 

Rowing

While rowing doesn’t enjoy the same popularity as it used to, it still offers a solid workout to improve your endurance. The best part about it is how well it incorporates every muscle group in the body, which leads to an increasingly challenging exercise. This, on the other hand, results in an elevated energy and oxygen consumption which helps support optimal body composition. 

Sure, rowing can provide a wide range of other health benefits such as enhanced lung and heart health, increased strength and better injury prevention, but it can also relieve stress and support mental health. After all, exercising releases endorphins that have a positive feeling on your overall mood while also boosting memory and energy levels. And what’s better than being outdoors and enjoying nature anyway?

Cross-country skiing

Cross-country skiing is often referred to as the undisputed king of endurance sports – and for good reason! There aren’t many other sports that can challenge the whole body as cross-country skiing does. Not only does it put your cardiovascular endurance to its limits by challenging every muscle group in the body, but it also requires you to maintain the right technique and adequate balance throughout your performance. In a way, it is a combination of skill, balance and endurance. As a matter of fact, some of the highest maximum oxygen uptakes have been measured from elite long-distance skiers (VO₂max). Thus, proving once more why its title as the king of endurance sports remains valid to this day. 

Elite cross-country skiers looking for that extra competitive edge even use altitude training as an advanced technique right before the competitive season. This works by training 2400m (8,000ft) above sea level where the air gets thinner. This means that your body has less oxygen to use for exercise and tries to adapt to the situation by boosting the amount of hemoglobin in the body and increasing red blood cell size. As a result, your body can move more oxygen from the lungs to muscle tissue. However, the downside of altitude training is that the effects only last up to two weeks. 

For us mere mortals, cross-country skiing can be a great way to improve endurance as well as overall health. Being outside in the beautiful nature can even reduce stress and promote mental health. 

Gym training

While the gym might not be the most obvious choice for endurance training, it can still offer a wide variety of benefits for your endurance performance. Most lighter gym exercises tend to focus on muscular endurance with more sets and repetitions while shaving off some of the weight. Different circuit training methods are a great example of this because they focus on multiple muscle groups while still keeping your heart rate relatively high for a longer time. 

However, one of the most useful training methods for endurance you can do at the gym is plyometric training, which refers to explosive exercises such as jumps or lifts. These exercises are often used in power training because they focus on producing as much force in as little time as possible. The reason why this is beneficial for endurance activities is that it improves your body’s ability to provide a stronger, more efficient and more powerful stride on every step. Additionally, since plyometric training concentrates on enhancing muscle recruitment through the nervous system, you don’t have to worry about gaining more muscle mass that could potentially slow you down. 

Too much endurance training can have a negative effect on your strength, speed and power properties - make sure you have a balanced training routine that supports your own progress and goals.

Train at the right intensity

While the normal health guidelines for exercise include at least 150mins of low-intensity activity or 75mins of higher intensity exercise a week, this is not enough if you are aiming to improve your athletic performance. If you want to make a bigger impact in your sport, you have to overload the body in similar ways that you face on the field. After all, you have to be sports-specific if you want to match the demands of your sport, which is why your training has to be done at the right intensity. 

Your heart rate can be divided into five different zones ranging from very light to maximum intensity. To find the optimal heart rate specifically for endurance training, we must first calculate your maximum heart rate (HR max), which describes the highest number of beats your heart can pump during maximum stress. The easiest way to count this is 220bpm minus your age. 

"The easiest way to count your maximal heart rate is 220bpm minus your age."

For moderate exercise intensity, you should stick to 50-70% of your maximum heart rate, whereas more vigorous activities should focus on 70-85% of your maximum heart rate. Sticking to these numbers is a good starting point for endurance training if your target is to improve your performance. However, it is important to remember that this is a simple guideline, which can have some significant individual differences. Sometimes your perceived level of exertion is may not be similar to your heart rate, which is why you should also keep an eye on your breathing, sweating and overall feeling. Thus, the most important thing is to listen to your own body and adjust your training intensity according to it.

A good rule of thumb for increasing your endurance is to train for 20-60mins for 3-5 times a week. Additionally, a well-designed endurance training routine usually lasts around 8-12 weeks before moving onto a more advanced program. If you want to learn more about how to periodize your training, we’ve written more about it here.

We also suggest that you don’t focus on training at the same intensity all the time. In fact, one-dimensional training is never a good option because it can stifle your progress and even cause overuse injuries. The best method is to be as versatile in your training as possible but still keep your personal goals in mind. This will not only improve your endurance capability but your basic motor skills too, which can lead to a long, healthy and successful athletic lifestyle.

Endurance training lowers your resting heartbeat and can often be a good measurement of aerobic fitness.

Rest, recovery & injury prevention

Since endurance training requires an elevated heart rate for an extended amount of time, it requires little to no rest between sets. In a gym setting, this means three to five sets with only 20-45s rest period between them. This is obviously a lot shorter than in strength or power training, which require more time to give the neuromuscular system a break and refill depleted energy storages in the muscle. After all, the real goal of endurance training is to maintain a certain level of submaximal (or below your maximum) performance for as long as possible.

Even though endurance training is often considered to be the safest form of exercise due to its slow, gentle and low impact nature, there are still a few things you need to remember. For example, the more strenuous your exercise is, be it a single set or a full-on training session, the longer you need to recover from it. From an endurance training perspective, this could mean a higher intensity or longer distance exercise. Therefore, your recovery period must be adjusted according to the intensity. A great rule of thumb is that it takes 48-72h to fully recover from a very intense exercise. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t get your heart rate up between intense training sessions. In fact, if done correctly, light exercises can even boost your recovery. 

”Stability, mobility and strength balance are crucial factors in injury prevention.”

So, make sure your endurance training routine has enough lighter exercise days, or even complete rest days, to let your sore muscles have some much needed time off. This will keep your workouts motivating and effective while staying free from overuse injuries. After all, nothing hurts your motivation as much as suffering an overuse injury when you’ve just gotten started. You may even want to incorporate some flexibility exercises into your training routine to maintain a balance between flexibility and strength.

Endurance training can improve your muscle-to-fat ratio which leads to a more favorable body composition. More muscle – less fat to slow you down! 

Physiological effects of endurance training

Consistent endurance training can benefit your performance in several different ways. In addition to enhancing movement efficiency, it improves your aerobic (VO₂max) and aerobic capacity, promotes a healthy body composition, increases stroke volume, venous return and the amount of hemoglobin in the blood. It even builds up capillaries inside the muscle, and increases the number of mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, inside muscle cells.

Enhanced movement efficiency, also known as neuromuscular efficiency, refers to your nervous system’s ability to recruit muscles and create muscle contractions with as little effort as possible even during longer exercises. In running, for example, this shows in reduced ground reaction times. Therefore, consistent endurance training also improves your technique, which means that you can also maintain a better movement economy during running, rowing, cycling, cross-country skiing etc.

Aerobic capacity, or maximum oxygen uptake (VO₂max), refers to the highest possible amount of oxygen consumption during an exercise. Thus, it is one of the biggest factors in endurance capability. Most of the time fast-paced athletes train close to 100% of their maximum capacity whereas endurance athletes train at around 75-85% of their maximum for an extended amount of time.

Anaerobic capacity describes how much energy can be produced anaerobically (without oxygen) and occurs only when aerobic energy production is not enough. However, once your heart rate climbs above your lactate threshold, the body starts producing lactate as a side product. Consistent endurance training ensures that you can perform aerobically at a higher intensity and buffer lactate more effectively.

Endurance training has an enormous impact on your body’s blood flow. One of the main reasons for this is that your heart grows stronger as you train, resulting in an increased stroke volume. This means that every heartbeat can move a higher amount of blood around the body. as a result, your heart rate becomes lower while resting and during exercise. Additionally, endurance training also improves venous return from the muscles back to the heart and increases the amount of hemoglobin in the blood, which is responsible for delivering oxygen in the blood. This enhanced blood flow brings more nutrients for your muscles and carries away unwanted byproducts, which also helps your body recover faster.

Body composition also sees some changes from consistent endurance training. This is due to the fact that it teaches your body to use fat storages for energy more efficiently which is essentially the result of enhanced aerobic energy production inside the muscles. Endurance training can improve your muscle-to-fat ratio which leads to more favorable body composition. More muscle – less fat to slow you down! 

Make sure your endurance training routine has enough rest days to let your sore muscles have some much needed time off.

Suitability for developing athletes and physical education

Endurance training is safe for both younger athletes and seniors alike. It is one of the most effective ways to maintain a good level of fitness and it also lets you specialize in sports-specific exercises later on. Endurance training is easy to pick up and teaches you the right techniques for weight training while enhancing coordination. It usually doesn’t require a whole lot of equipment either. But, as with any other form of exercise, always remember to warm up and cool down properly to get the most out of your training and prevent possible injuries.

For beginners, the best way to enhance your endurance is to start slow. Nothing is worse than feeling out of shape after an exercise. So, don’t go too hard at the very beginning. Have patience and let your body get used to your new lifestyle. As you progress and get used to this sort of physical activity, you’ll also find the perfect pace for yourself. Eventually, you’ll be able to pick up more speed and go for longer distances with the same effort as before.

Final thoughts

There’s no denying that regular endurance training can have an enormous impact on your overall fitness. In fact, it improves heart health, promotes a healthy body composition, and builds up a foundation for more advanced training methods. That’s why endurance is often regarded as the most important building block of athletic ability – and a great place to start improving your physical performance. It can even be used for rehabilitation purposes after an injury!

Since having a good endurance foundation is so crucial for athletic ability, it can also make or break an athlete’s performance during the season. That’s also why endurance training should be incorporated into pretty much every athlete’s training program. With welldesigned training, proper nutrition and sufficient rest, you can ensure that you stay healthy while still making progress in your performance.

Did you learn anything new about endurance training? Let us know in the comments below!

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