Want to increase your running endurance? Then this post is for you.
Just like any other beginner, when I first took up running I didn’t have much stamina. In fact, I gave up on my fitness resolution—many times over—because just a few minutes into a run, it felt like my legs were on fire and my lungs were about to collapse. That sucked!
I knew that I wasn’t an exception and that everybody has to start somewhere, so I didn’t give up. I kept moving forward knowing that eventually I’d get more fit, and that’s what ended up happening. What a relief!
What’s the takeaway here? Simple. Lack of endurance can be a major obstacle when you’re just starting out. That’s why you’ll need to approach it in the right way if you’re serious about achieving your running goals. That’s where this post can come in handy.
Here are some of the best strategies for increasing running endurance. Put the following into practice and you’ll, sooner than later, get fitter and stronger without getting hurt.
But first things first, what do I mean by running stamina? What is it made of? Keep on reading for the answers.
Running Stamina Demystified
Running stamina is also known as aerobic base. It can be thought of as (1) the ability to run further (distance) and (2) the ability to cover more ground in less time (speed).
Said differently: Running Stamina = Distance + Speed (or relative speed).
When it comes to stamina building, there are two kinds of runners:
The Novice Runner. A beginner runner may want to run three to five miles with ease, then build on that. The primary focus is building a basic cardio base.
For example, being able to run the 3-mile loop around your neighborhood without collapsing midway.
The Advanced Runner. An elite athlete’s goal may be to improve their speed-endurance—the pace at which they can cover significant distances in less time.
For example, being able to run a marathon in less than 2:30.
Without further ado, here is what you need to do, step-by-step, to build your running endurance from the grounds up.
The key to building stamina without risking injury and/or burnout is to “train smart.”
What does that mean?
Smart training involves gradually increasing mileage and speed while being consistent over the long haul. It’s the gradual adaptation rule at work.
The gradual adaptation rule is a universal principle, and it applies to all runners, whether the beginner trying to make it around the block for the first time or the 2:30 marathon junkie prepping for their next race.
You need to adopt the gradual adaptation rule whenever you’re exercising—not just when running. In fact, once you fully internalized the mindset, you’ll be on your way to success, regardless of the goal you’ve set for yourself.
The best way to practice the gradual approach rule when running is by opting for the run-walk method. This method works like a charm, whether you’re a complete newbie or returning to running after a long layoff.
The run-walk method helps you build a cardio base without doing too much too soon (which is the cause of trouble). This method can be scaled up or down to meet your own specific needs and preferences.
To master the run-walk method, check these two posts:
The 8-Week Beginner Running Program
Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Running
Or take this 30-Day Beginner Running Challenge if you think you’re up to it.
To run more, you’ll have to run more— it’s plain but true. The more time you spend on your feet, the more lung power you’ll build. Practice makes perfect. And that’s where long runs come into the picture.
Long runs help increase the size and number of muscle capillaries and mitochondria, which are key factors in facilitating aerobic activity.
Endurance training also sheds a lot of weight. By spending more time on your feet, you will burn calories in droves, boost metabolism through the roof, and train your body to use fat as its main source of energy.
How to start
Follow the 10 percent rule. Never increase your running distance by more than 10 percent from one week to the next.
The ideal pace for long runs should be easy, but effort consistent. You should perform these workouts at roughly 70 to 75 percent of maximum heart rate.
For more on long runs, check my full guide here.
Once you feel comfortable running for at least 45 to 60 minutes without gasping, add some speed to your training.
Tempo runs are one way to do that. Tempo runs are performed at 75 to 85 percent of maximum effort, falling between the two extremes of running comfortably and going all out.
In other words, it’s running at a comfortably hard pace—a fuel-injected version of your three-mile jog.
Tempo runs increase stamina because they train your body to process lactic acid, which is a metabolic byproduct of exercise that causes the infamous “muscle burn.” The more efficient your body becomes at processing lactic acid build-up, the further and faster you’ll be able to run.
Additionally, tempo runs build both slow and fast-twitch muscle fibers, essential components of speed and endurance.
How to Start
Tempo runs can last for 20 to 30 minutes, or even longer depending on your condition and training goals.
It’s important to remember that the training recipe remains the same. Start your tempo run with a 10-minute warm-up of easy running, then gradually increase your pace for 20 minutes. End the session with 5 minutes of easy jogging.
This is a simplified version, but it should give you a rough idea on how to proceed.
Interval training does more than just improve speed and power. It’s also an excellent tool for boosting athletic endurance and stamina.
The Structure of an Interval Run
A typical interval run session is a mix of sprinting, jogging and/or walking for recovery.
The length and intensity of each interval depend more than anything on your fitness level and training goals. Beginner runners should start with shorter sprints at a moderate effort, while competitive athletes can tailor an interval workout to meet their specific racing goals.
Here’s how to proceed with your next interval run.
Head to your local track.
Start your workout with a proper warm-up. Jog slowly for 5 to 10 minutes to get your body ready, then sprint at 85 to 95% of your maximum effort for 30 seconds. Jog for one minute to recover.
Repeat this cycle six to eight times, then finish with a cool-down. Jog slowly for 5 minutes and then stretching.
For more interval workout runs, check this blog post: 6 Fat Burning Running Workouts, or my full guide to interval training here.
To become a good runner, you’re going to have to run a lot. In fact, you’ll have to follow a well-rounded program that includes all kinds of runs: long runs, intervals, speed work, hill work, fartleks and recovery runs.
But running will only take you so far. You also need a comprehensive cross-training program to back up your road miles.
Here are four activities to consider:
Swimming: Swimming is one of the best total body endurance and strength workouts you can do. Get the most out of it by using proper technique and doing interval swims. Swimming is also ideal when you’re recovering from an injury.
Biking: Whether you prefer road biking or mountain biking (my favorite), make safety a priority. Approach your biking the same way you approach running—do long weekend bikes, interval bike workouts, hill rides and recovery rides.
Strength Training: This type of training strengthens the bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles, and that means increased performance and less chance of injury. Do plenty of total body exercises, including squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups.
CrossFit: This crazy fitness philosophy is all about non-specificity. It improves all elements of fitness, including cardio, endurance, strength, speed, agility, flexibility — you name it.
Also known as explosive training, plyometric exercise is made up of high-velocity movement that depends on the power produced through the “stretch-shortening cycle.”
Say what? What does that mean, and what does it have to do with running stamina?
According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, middle and long distance runners who opted for six weeks of plyometric training improved their 2400-meter race time by roughly 4 percent.
The bottom line is that plyometric training can do wonders for both your endurance and power.
Plyometric training challenges your strength, stamina, and endurance simultaneously. Once you become more explosive, you’ll be able to move a lot faster. That’s exactly what happened to me once I started doing plyo exercises more regularly
After a couple of months of jumping all over the place I noticed a huge change in my running mechanics. I started feeling a bit lighter—it was as if I was spending less time on the ground. My stride efficiency and stride frequency improved as well.
Add a plyometric routine to your training program, preferably twice per week.
Great plyo moves for runners include:
- Jump roping
- Box jumps
- Jumping lunges
- Jumping squats
- Skipping drills
- High knee sprints through a rope ladder, etc.
Or give this routine a try.
Get Good at Recovery
This may sound counterintuitive, but increasing stamina also calls for recovery, and plenty of it. Forcing your body to develop endurance will only get you hurt.
Aiming for training perfection is a recipe for failure and burnout. In fact, perfectionism is one of the reasons that many runners and fitness nuts stop exercising. It’s a trap that can hinder performance and compromise fitness.
So, make it a cardinal rule not to run hard every day. Rather, make recovery a priority and schedule it the same way you plan your workouts.
Your best course of action is to schedule at least one rest day per week, as well as a recovery week for every month or so of training. You could also add a recovery run to your plan, especially between hard workouts.
That’s all you need to know about how to increase running endurance, both for the short run and the long run, literally and figuratively.
Feel free to leave your comments below, or send me your questions and suggestions.
Thanks for reading my post.
Image Credit – Flickr through Flugufrelsari