How to Increase Stamina & Endurance

Girl in sportswear and sneakers jumping with a skipping rope
(Image: iprogressman/iStock/GettyImages)

Although the words "stamina" and "endurance" are often used interchangeably when fitness is under discussion, there is a subtle, but important, difference between the two.

Stamina refers to both the reservoir of energy that sustains prolonged effort and the ability to access it. Strictly speaking, your endurance is the measurement of your stamina in terms of pace, reps and time. One, however, feeds very much into the other. Improve your stamina and your endurance will follow.

Stamina and endurance are just as important for someone packing youngsters off to school before the workday begins as it is for someone running a marathon. Here are some basic principles for increasing both, whatever your motivation.

Oxygen and Stamina

Stamina is oxygen, or more precisely your body's ability to suck in as much of it as possible for disbursement to the muscles. There, it triggers the complex process by which glucose is metabolized for energy.

That's why cardio training is essential if you want to build your stamina. Activities like running, jumping rope, treadmill, swimming and other activities that get you huffing and puffing increase your lung capacity and give you a strong, healthy heart capable of pumping loads of oxygen throughout your body.

Group of people training in gym
When training for endurance, do more reps of less weight. (Image: nd3000/iStock/GettyImages)

Strength, Muscle and Endurance

Naturally when building your endurance, you'll want to focus on the most-used muscle groups in your chosen endeavor. If you're a runner, for example, adding muscle mass to your legs serves numerous stamina-supporting functions. For one, it cushions your legs from the impact of running, protecting you from skeletal damage.

But also, when your muscles are active and at their most responsive, they contract with more force and require less energy to do more. So don't just condition your utility muscles. Using resistance training to build muscle mass throughout your whole frame turns your body into a highly efficient furnace for turning oxygen into energy. That means embarking on an all-around strength-building caveat.

And as anyone who's lifted more than two boxes knows, there are different kinds of strength. When weight training for endurance, the trick is to do more reps — 12 or more — of less weight than if you were trying to bulk up.

The Plan

The National Institutes of Health recommend that adults get a minimum of 150 minutes weekly of "moderate-intensity" aerobic exercise. That's just a little more than 20 minutes a day. But that's really just the bare minimum. The American Council on Exercise sets a higher bar, recommending solid 60 minutes daily.

That doesn't mean you have to kill yourself in a solid hour of grinding exercise. Divide your exercise time into more or less equal parts cardio and high-rep strength training, but don't forget to ramp up your effort gradually.

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