Walking around all day, carrying heavy bags around town, and making it to the finish line of a 5K all require a certain level of stamina. That is, “the ability to endure excess stress or load for a long period of time,” explains Aaptiv Trainer Ackeem Emmons. Stamina, or endurance, is necessary for all types of athletes, whether you’re a runner or stick to strength training. You’re not going to get too far without it. So, it’s important to understand how to gauge yours and then improve it. Here, we break down the basics to build stamina and help you take your workout routine to the next level.
Why is stamina important?
In order for your body to take on stressors—whether that’s walking or lifting—you have to train for it, Emmons says. It’s especially important to do so if you want to be physically active for a long time. For example, if you’re hiking or touring a city on foot for days or finishing a 5K or half marathon. Each of these activities (even just walking in general) requires you to sustain exercise for some time. They each need your muscles and your aerobic capacity to cooperate.
Technically, there are two types of stamina. “It could mean muscular endurance, which is the ability to maintain work output [below your max effort] or muscle action,” says Carwyn Sharp, Ph.D., CSCS, chief science officer for the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Then, there’s aerobic endurance training. In this case, endurance still refers to a sub-maximal effort, but aerobic refers to the energy production in cells, or the presence of oxygen available for cells to keep going, Sharp explains. This is where training for a long race would come in. You need to have the aerobic stamina to get to the finish line.
The Best Way to Build Stamina
Building your stamina depends on whether you’re focusing on muscular or cardiovascular endurance. When focusing on your muscles, Sharp says you should lift relatively light loads for a high number of reps (at least 15). Emmons says compound movements also work well, as they recruit several muscles at one time. “More stimulation means more growth, which results in more strength,” he says. That leads to the power to go stronger for longer. He recommends deadlifts, for example. Other compound movements include lunges, squats, or two-move exercises, such as a bicep curl into a shoulder press.
For cardiovascular endurance, a mix of both sprints and distance runs is a good idea, Emmons says. Both improve your ability to keep your heart rate up and keep moving for a longer period of time. Balance your week of workouts with a blend of both types of runs. You can also alternate speed pushes with intervals of steady-state running in a single workout.
A combo of plyometrics—or explosive movements—and strength moves will also help to build stamina, Emmons says. “Each module benefits muscles differently,” he says. “Plyometrics are exercises that exert maximum force on the muscles in a very short period of time. This increases muscle strength, and speed, which increases stamina. When your stamina is being tested, the more equipped you are, the better you will perform.” In other words, working on your strength, speed, and power will better prep your body to handle any type of sustained effort. Emmons recommends split lunges and box jumps. Activities like cycling, swimming, stair climbing, yoga, and HIIT will also help.
Building stamina is as important as building overall strength. Take care to spend some time focusing on endurance-building activities a few times per week to see growth.