This article provides useful tips for new and experienced runners to improve their endurance — both physically and mentally. But, first of all, let’s take a look at endurance itself.
What Is Endurance?
Athletic endurance enables you to perform at an optimum level for longer periods. It's built up by increasing levels of fitness through cardiovascular training, strength training, and agility exercises, which all help to increase efficiency in the body's cardiovascular system with less tiredness.
To increase your aerobic capacity, you need to do two things:
- First, increase your ability to take in oxygen by building your lung capacity. This means that oxygen and nutrients can be distributed throughout your body more effectively to give you greater performance capacity.
- Second, build the strength of your leg muscles, so they're able to use that oxygen more efficiently.
You have to make physical changes in your body. Your body has to respond to what you are and change to meet the demands that you're putting on it.
The Benefits of Endurance Training
The benefits associated with endurance training include:
- Lower resting heart rate
- Improved lung capacity
- Decreased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and depression
- Reduced cholesterol levels
- More efficient use of oxygen during exercise
- Increased lean muscle mass
- Reduced body fat percentage
- Improved posture and coordination
Let’s now look at some of the keys to building endurance.
Consistency Is Important
Many people think that the more miles you run, the faster you can go. This is true to a certain extent, but building your endurance is more about increasing your aerobic capacity. As you build up your aerobic capacity, you'll be able to push yourself harder without "hitting the wall."
Set yourself a schedule and be consistent. Body changes are gradual. They will happen if you consistently and persistently put the work in.
Incorporate Interval Training
Research has shown that interval training is one of the most effective ways to increase your body's ability to use oxygen, thereby increasing your endurance.
Interval training improves your body's ability to utilize oxygen during strenuous exercise. With interval training, you maximize the time spent in your aerobic zone, so you improve your endurance and performance by working out for less time overall.
Because interval training requires that you challenge yourself at higher intensities than most people are comfortable with, it can also improve motivation and help keep you from getting bored with your workouts.
You can do interval training on any piece of cardio equipment; all you need to change is the pace (higher for intensity periods, lower for recovery periods).
Eat to Sustain Endurance
If you want to be a better endurance athlete, you need to eat better. Carbohydrates are an important part of an endurance runner's diet. Without carbohydrates, you will tire more quickly, and your race performance could suffer.
Where Should You Get Your Carbs From?
Carbs are a macronutrient found in all types of food, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and milk. Carbs are a source of energy and help your body function properly.
There are two types of carbs.
- Bad refined, simple carbs
- Good whole food complex carbs
Refined carbs have been stripped of nutrients. They're digested quickly and cause spikes in blood sugar levels, which can lead to weight gain or diabetes.
Good carbs, also known as complex carbohydrates, include whole-grain breads and breakfast cereals; brown rice; beans; starchy vegetables like corn, peas, sweet potatoes, and winter squash; fruits; milk; and yogurt.
Good carbs provide vital nutrients for your body such as fiber, potassium, B vitamins, and vitamin A. They also help to stabilize blood sugar levels, so you feel full longer.
Make Sure You Stay Hydrated
You may want to incorporate an electrolyte replacement drink into your diet. Your body loses electrolytes when you sweat (like salt, potassium, and magnesium) because they come out in the fluid you lose through perspiration. Electrolytes — sodium in particular — are critical for muscle contraction (including recovery from muscle fatigue) and for maintaining healthy nerve impulses.
Don’t wait until you are thirsty. Drink small amounts often to stay hydrated.
When you run, your body undergoes tremendous stress. To recover effectively, you must treat yourself well after each workout and consume high-quality protein and carbohydrates, so that your muscles can rebuild themselves stronger than before.
Sleep and stretching are also important for allowing your body to recover between workouts. Many experts suggest that you give your body 36 to 48 hours between hard training sessions. That means working on your core or upper body on rest days from running or training at a lower intensity.
Don't Follow the Same Routine Every Day
If you don't mix up your workouts, your muscles will get used to the movement and training won't be as effective anymore; you will plateau. For example, if you always run the same distance and route, your body will eventually adjust to the movement and your muscles won't have to work as hard. You’ll stop making gains.
Do Tempo Runs
The purpose of this type of run is to push your body to its limit, but not so hard that you can't maintain it for at least 20 minutes. So, while tempo runs should be a challenging effort, they shouldn't be all-out sprints. Because tempo runs are difficult, you don't want to do them on consecutive days.
Tempo runs train your body to clear lactic acid from your muscles more quickly. They help you develop your speed and endurance as well as improve your general fitness by increasing your aerobic capacity. As a result, you can run longer before getting fatigued and lactic acid builds up.
Improve Your Running Economy
Running economy is defined as the oxygen cost of running at a given speed. It's an important determinant of endurance performance. Running economy is associated with running biomechanics, body composition, aerobic capacity, and muscle fiber density and quantity. Endurance athletes generally have a more economical gait due to greater economy in conducting lower limb movements.
Beginners should focus on improving their running form first and foremost. Run tall and relaxed with your abdominal muscles pulled in and your pelvis tucked under. This will help you maintain a neutral spine position which will help prevent injury over time as well as improve your running economy.
Running at a slower pace and focusing on form can help you to improve your posture, and become a better, more efficient runner. The treadmill is an excellent place to do this kind of training.
The Mind Game
A lot of endurance training is mental. The mind is a powerful tool. When you're tired and want to quit, your mind can be your biggest asset if you use it correctly. It's important to stay positive when you're training for endurance.
The right mindset will help you get through the pain and discomfort. The way you frame your thoughts (your thought pillars) can either make or break your training.
You should replace negative thoughts with positive ones. You should also tell yourself that you're stronger than you think and that your body is capable of doing anything you ask it to do.
Trying to think of some good thoughts for running? Here are some great ones to get you started:
- I'm running faster than ever before and I feel great.
- My body feels light and I'm getting stronger.
- I love the way my feet hit the ground when I run.
- I feel strong and powerful right now.
- I have never felt this strong before.
- Running is fun!
- I am having so much fun right now.
- I love being a runner and I love being active.
- Today is going to be a fun day of running because I know I can do it.
Get Started Slowly to Improve Your Endurance
If you're new to endurance training, start slowly by walking or jogging for at least 20 minutes three or four times a week. As you increase your endurance, you can gradually increase the length or intensity of the workouts. If you have any injuries or health problems that could be aggravated by exercise, consult with your doctor before beginning an endurance training program.