Whether your goal is to be upright when you cross the finish line at your first half-marathon or simply keep up with your Saturday morning cycling crew, being in good cardiovascular shape is a necessity for endurance based activities.
But, you can’t just go from zero to the finish line in a matter of days. Building aerobic endurance takes a well-developed plan and a whole lot of patience. If you’re new to exercise, use goals based on frequency, time, and intensity to help you increase your endurance.
What is Cardiovascular Endurance?
Cardiovascular endurance or aerobic capacity is the ability of the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen to working muscles for prolonged periods of time. According to the American Heart Association, endurance activity keeps your heart, lungs and circulatory system healthy and improves your overall fitness.
Increasing your endurance makes it easier to carry out many of your everyday activities, and it also helps you reach your fitness goals faster.
Frequency refers to the number of days per week you participate in aerobic exercise. If you’re currently doing minimal amounts of cardio, start with a small goal of three times per week. Once this feels comfortable — likely after two to four weeks — add one more day for a total of four days per week. Stick to this schedule for another week or two and then add your final day, which gets you to five days per week.
In order to stave off boredom while you work on increasing your endurance, make sure to mix up your cardio sessions with different activities such as running, cycling swimming, stair climbing, rowing, paddle boarding, kickboxing and boot camp classes. If your goal is to exercise four to five times a week, pick two or three activities that use different muscles and movements. This will help prevent chronic joint and muscle stress.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults should spend at least 150 minutes each week participating in moderate-intensity aerobic activity like brisk walking or riding a bike. If your goal is to improve your cardiovascular endurance, consider doubling that amount of time. But remember, you can’t just aim for 300 minutes right out of the starting gate.
Instead, start with 150 minutes each week, with a goal of adding time to each daily session. For example, if your overall goal is to improve your 5k time, you might run 30 minutes on Monday, ride an upright bike for 40 minutes on Wednesday, swim 45 minutes on Friday and then run 35 minutes on Sunday. The variety of activities and time, allows you to focus on your running goal, while still working your cardiovascular system with other aerobic activities.
Resist the temptation to add too much too quickly. You need to allow your body time to adapt to the increased workload. By increasing the time in small increments, you reduce the risk of injury and increase the odds that you will show up for your next workout.
The principle of intensity is quite simple: The more intensely you exercise, the more benefits you can gain. In general, you must challenge your body to perform at an intensity that is slightly higher than your normal exertion level.
Make a goal of increasing the intensity each week by adding in high-intensity interval training, which, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, has been shown to improve aerobic fitness. Other methods that help increase your cardiovascular endurance include Tabata training, sprints and hill running.
Since high-intensity workouts are more exhaustive, a longer recovery period is often needed. That’s why the key to training with a higher intensity is to do it in moderation. In other words, every workout should not be done at a high intensity. Instead, start with one higher intensity workout a week — with your other workouts being of moderate intensity. Then add another 20- to 30-minute session the following week, until you can comfortably do two to three higher-intensity workouts per week.
A sample workout might include 20 minutes of intervals on the treadmill, alternating between one minute of sprints and one minute of walking. Or take your training outside for a track workout that combines jogging, sprints, stairs, and walking lunges.