If you've ever gone on a hike or a jog with a friend and felt like you were going to keel over after the first quarter mile while your companion was just getting started, you're probably eager to up your cardiovascular endurance game. Not only can increasing your endurance boost your confidence when exercising with friends, but it can also improve your overall energy level and health. From circuit training to interval training, there are lots of ways to improve cardiovascular endurance.
Interval training, stair climbing and training for a half marathon are all good ways to improve your cardiovascular health.
Increase Your Activity Level
You can't build cardio endurance while you're sitting on the couch. If you've previously been sedentary or sporadic with your exercise routine, it's time to get up and get going. Any activity you do will start building endurance today. As you do more and more of it and increase your intensity, you'll continue to gain more endurance.
What is it you like to do? It might be enough to start out with brisk walking, adding in some hills every now and then. If you're ready for more, work in some jogging or running. Cycling, rowing, riding the elliptical machine, taking a Zumba class or doing power yoga are all good ways to improve cardiovascular endurance.
As a guideline, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. Moderate intensity exercise includes walking, jogging or riding your bike at a leisurely pace; vigorous exercises include running, rowing and cycling at a faster pace. For even greater benefits for your cardiovascular endurance, aim to get 300 minutes of moderate intensity cardio exercise or 150 minutes of vigorous cardio exercise each week.
Push Yourself Harder
Getting on the treadmill at the gym and reading a magazine while you walk at a pace of 3.5 miles per hour isn't doing you any harm, but it's also not getting you the best results. To really see gains in your fitness, you have to challenge your cardiovascular system. This causes your heart and lungs to adapt to the pressure and grow stronger.
So put away the magazine and put on some headphones. Play your favorite energizing music and push the pace up a few notches. Your workouts should get your heart rate up and make you sweat. During a moderate-intensity workout, you can still carry on a conversation, but during a vigorous workout, you might only be able to link a few words without needing to take a breath.
If you were walking at a pace of 3.5 miles per hour before, try pushing it up to 3.8 or 4 miles per hour. Or, start jogging. If you were jogging before, pick up the pace to a run. You don't have to maintain this pace throughout the workout to start, but adding in periods of more intense exercise will have greater benefits for your cardiovascular fitness.
Try Interval Training
You can do anything for 30 seconds. That's the beauty of interval training. For 30 to 60 seconds, you push yourself as hard as you can go and then you get some time to recover. Alternating these periods of all-out effort with periods of recovery throughout your workout can get your heart rate up higher than you would be able to in a steady-state cardio workout.
This can have marked and expeditious effects on your cardio fitness. According to a study published in 2018 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, just six sprint interval training sessions significantly improved endurance and aerobic capacity in trained runners. All participants improved their 3,000-meter sprint times and increased their times to exhaustion at 90 percent of maximal aerobic speed.
While you might not be at that level yet, you can still reap the benefits of including a few interval training sessions in your weekly workouts.
You can do interval workouts on the track or treadmill, on a bicycle or stationary bike, and on a rowing machine or elliptical trainer. Simply warm up at an easy pace for five minutes; then increase your pace to your max effort. Hold it there for 30 to 60 seconds; then drop your pace back down for 30 to 60 seconds. When your heart rate and breathing stabilize again, drive the pace back up. Continue to alternate for about 20 minutes; then cool down.
Do Circuit Training
Not only traditional cardio exercise can be used to improve endurance; your resistance training routine can also be structured in such as way that it tests your muscular and your cardiovascular strength.
Unlike traditional weight training in which you do a set, rest, then do another set, circuit training has you moving from one exercise to the next with no rest between sets. For example, you would do a set of pushups, followed by a set of squats, then mountain climbers, rows, thrusters and walking lunges. After a brief rest, you repeat the round one to four more times.
You can do each exercise for a set number of reps (eight to 12) or you can set a timer and do each exercise for 30 to 60 seconds. Perform as many repetitions of each exercise as you can in that time frame.
If you really want to test your heart and lungs, jump on the treadmill or stair climber for 30 minutes after your circuit workout.
Keep Your Body Guessing
Running may be your activity of choice, but you're not doing your cardiovascular system or the rest of your body any favors by only running. Doing the same activity all the time can lead to stagnancy in your fitness routine, and it can also lead to repetitive stress injuries.
That doesn't mean you can't run. It just means you should do other activities too. Instead of running five days a week, run two days and then row or take an aerobics class on the other three days. This pushes your body in new ways to make it adapt to novel challenges.
Set Some Goals
Maybe you want to be able to run a mile without stopping, or run a marathon. In order to reach your goals, you have to set mini-goals. If you have a particular race or other competition in mind, find a training plan or a group of training partners to keep you on track.
Otherwise, think about a manageable four-week program you can stick with, roughly mapping out your activities for the month. Keep track of how well you stick to the plan and how you feel during each workout. At the end of the month, assess how far you've come and revise your goals for the next month, adding in more workouts or aiming to increase your intensity.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition | 2018
- Mayo Clinic: Exercise Intensity: How to Measure It
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Six Sessions of Sprint Interval Training Improves Running Performance in Trained Athletes
- WebMD: Circuit Training