Many of us are really interested in how to best improve our aerobic fitness. It is one of the most common questions asked among runners. There is a good reason for this: aerobic fitness translates to faster running.
Another word for it — endurance. This is defined as one's ability to maintain a certain level of intensity over a certain distance. It is a fairly simple concept: the longer we can maintain a certain level of intensity, the faster we can run. Here is a list of tips, both simple and logical, that can help you improve your endurance.
Why is Endurance so important for runners?
Working towards improving your endurance is called base training. There are many important factors to consider with your training: planning, nutrition, and recovery. Nothing will help you improve more than increased aerobic fitness. This is the motor that drives us in long-distance running.
Increasing endurance leads to running with more ease, which is the result of your becoming a more efficient runner. Endurance can be measured on three different levels: Heart Rate, Breathing, and Muscular Strength. The great thing about running is that you can develop all three simultaneously.
How Do I Improve My Endurance?
Run Regularly If I were forced to give only one piece of advice in order to improve my own personal endurance, it would clearly be: “Run regularly!” There shouldn’t be any beating around the bush, improving endurance is a long term project. You build it up bit by bit, thanks to a consistent training regimen. Pushing yourself too hard and taking weeks off to recover will cost you in the long run.
Focus on lowering the intensity so that your body can train regularly throughout the year. Runners need to understand, and they will inevitably learn, that it is crucial to avoid injury. Getting injured is synonymous with taking time off and thus losing bit by bit all the benefits of the hard work you have put in.
Improving your endurance means you have to look at things in the long term. Your training needs to be adapted for someone who is ready to train year-round. Your body will adapt, over time, to the demands of your training. At the end of the day, don’t expect leaps in performance over a couple of weeks or even months. Look at things on a scale appropriate to endurance training… years.
Running slowly is counter intuitive, but it well you run faster. More precisely, over 60-70% of your total volume of running will be at a recovery or maintenance pace. This is the effort you need to be at in order to build a strong endurance base.
Does this pace feel too slow or boring? Don’t worry about it! That is totally normal. Working on your pacing takes effort and practice. Over time you will notice your heart rate get lower and lower. This leads to you being able to run a little bit faster without running harder. One of the epiphany I experienced with this was realizing that running with such comfort and ease can be so pleasant and relaxing!
At first, I tell you to slow down, and now I’m going to tell you why it's important also to run fast. I promise that I am not messing with you. Running slowly will help build your endurance base, but adding a bit of intensity can help, too. The idea is to pair workouts to your endurance base. The varying paces and efforts will allow your body to adapt and progress on different physiological levels at the same time. Keep in mind that workouts represent approximately 30% of your training volume.
In order to complement your endurance training, one of the more efficient effort levels to train at is below your anaerobic threshold. Working close to this threshold, without accumulating excess fatigue, will optimize your training. This pace will be fast, but very clearly sub-maximal.
Any effort above this threshold is considered to be interval workouts or VO2 max workouts. These are useful in developing power and increasing your maximum potential. Increasing your aerobic potential will lead to an increase in your total endurance capacity. Limit interval workouts to no more than once a week.
Going on long runs has been shown to have clear benefits in increasing your endurance. Going on a long run on a weekly basis will allow you to push your body to adapt to longer and longer outings. Whenever we exceed our usual workload, we accumulate additional stress on the body.
Soliciting your body in this manner will allow for strong adaptation. Caution is still key in the long run; be careful not to overdo it and create potential problems for yourself. If you are training for a 5K or 10K, you may never need to run longer than 75 mins. Long runs will vary depending on what type of race you are training for.
A great tool available for runners is cross-training. Running is great, but it can be stressful for the body. When increasing tour volume, it is important to consider a slow and progressive increase in order to limit injury risks. For those who are too impatient, jump on the spin bike or head out for a swim. Building your endurance base is not limited to running.
Aerobic fitness can be achieved through biking, cross-country skiing, swimming, hiking, or even deep-water running. Your heart rate will be wherever you need it, regardless of if you are running or not. Developing your cardiovascular system, as well as your lungs, can easily be done without running shoes.
Keep in mind that running should still be a priority. Each sport has its own specific demands. Cross-training is a great way to develop your cardiovascular and pulmonary systems; however, riding a bike cannot stimulate the muscular adaptations that occur during a run. Running economy can only improve if you are running. Here is the fine line between training too hard and not training hard enough. The truth lies in the balance.
How long does it take to improve my endurance?
Improving endurance is a gradual process influenced by various factors such as current fitness level, training consistency, and the type of endurance targeted. Short-term gains, like increased cardiovascular fitness, can be seen within a few weeks, while substantial improvements often require several months of consistent training. Running endurance progresses gradually, with the ability to run longer distances or maintain a faster pace improving over weeks and months.
Strength endurance benefits from initial gains in a few weeks, but significant development may take a few months. Interval training offers quick improvements in both aerobic and anaerobic endurance, but sustained progress comes from consistent, long-term integration into your routine. The key to success is consistency – regular, structured training sessions contribute to enduring improvements over time. Individual responses vary, so patience, realistic goals, and attentive self-care are essential components of any endurance-building journey.
Keep in mind that perseverance in the face of adversity will allow you to reach new levels in your training. This includes moments of doubt or diminished motivation. In these moments, you have the ability to make a difference. Your hard work will pay off if you keep sight of your goals. This will make them that much more valuable when you reach them.