How to improve your endurance

Endurance Running (running for long periods of time)

Endurance - or running further for longer (and not dying)

Working out is a science. It may not feel like it - sometimes it feels very hit and miss - but it IS. There are literally thousands of books on how to exercise and improve and equally as many on running too.

My job is to look through many of these books and articles to find out the nuggets of useful information that you might find helpful -  and to pass it on. And then you can benefit from this and put it to the test!

The very first time I read about zone 2 training a client said to me "Nic I want to up my distance from 5k to 10k" and I thought aha here's a perfect opportunity. So I set her a running plan that included 2x zone 2 training runs a week AND a long run that gradually increased the distance each time. She also had 1x PT session with me as a cross-training/strength session. Within about 6 weeks her distance had almost doubled and I was getting joyful texts from her each Sunday with 10k, 11k and more!

This is what is so great about having you guys in the group. You get to test run the latest theory (or age-old style) of training and we all get to see if it works!

When I first trained as a PT we learned from what is basically the bible in terms of training anyone anything. This reference book is called the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, it's a fun title isn't it? In there you have every kind of progression you can imagine - for example a strength set would be 1-6 reps. So let's say I've got a guy (not being sexist here but generally us women don't want to get BIGGER) who wants to work on increasing his bicep size (hypertrophy) my job as his PT would be to set a bunch of exercises that use the biceps using REALLY heavy weights. So I might test him to see how much he can lift - and calculate his 1 rep max (how heavy a weight needs to be for him to only lift once and he's done) then I'd give him a weight that's slightly lighter and give him 2 or 3 reps - then we rest for like 5 minutes! (yeah strength training is really fucking boring!!! There's a reason my PT clients were a lot of women in the medical field who JUST want to be fitter and healthier and fit into a pre-kids dress!) And we might do that 5 times! (yaaaawwwwwn!!

Anyway..............I digress - the above is your classic low reps high weights situation. This makes muscles BIG. BUT we don't necessarily want big for our muscles to last us a long time. We want them to be able to stand a repetitive movement again and again for a long time. So for ANY kind of endurance exercise we need the opposite; high reps low weights. Or in different terms low intensity running with high volume (run often or far but slowly)

Anything in an endurance zone is technically an exercise that is 12-20 reps. You can still use weights for these exercises but IF the weight is so light you can easily get to 20 reps, then you need to increase the weight - equally if you can't reach 12 then you must lower the weight. An example of an an endurance run might be your weekly long run - where you are increasing your distance by 10%. Or what we did when we first started - pushing ourselves to run at 2 mins, then 4 mins and so on. Enough overload for the muscles to adapt, but not so much that you are burnt out and injured.

You must strike a fine balance and this means not only listening to your body (AND ACTING ON IT!) but observing it as well. If you can film yourself or get someone to watch to see where you might need to improve and mindfully work on fixing these things then your running will get better and you'll prevent injury.

Endurance is aerobic training (which just means it uses oxygen) as opposed to anaerobic training (no oxygen) and I like to use the two most amazing male athletes Mo Farah and Ussain Bolt as my examples. Farah is slim, his muscles are very strong but not 'bulky' big - he is my aerobic/endurance athlete - this is who we must keep in mind on our long runs! Bolt, on the other hand, has HUGE quad muscles that are practically tearing his shorts! He has so much power - and it's this massive strength, like a released coiled spring, that powers him over the finish line in 9 seconds. He is our anaerobic/strength athlete. The first 6 secs of energy (so he's almost crossed the line at this point) he isn't using ANY oxygen to power that run. Bolt is who we must channel when we are doing power/strength/speed exercises. (think hill sprints, dynamic/jumping movements or moving into speed intervals)

It's also worth noting at this stage that endurance is a wide term that encompasses not only muscular endurance but also how long you can run in both distance and time. There are additional factors that can have massive effects on whether you can run for a long time or cover a great distance and these are:

  • VO2 Max  - how much oxygen can your your body process while exercising
  • Lactate Threshold - the intensity where the lactic acid begins to exponentially increase in the blood
  • Rest!

So I think that's been enough for you to think about today. I'll go into more detail about the three above in tomorrow's post. The main takeaway from this is it's ok to go slow and use each run as a feedback from your body on what you're doing and how well it's going.

I hope you found this information useful and any comments or questions you have please post in the Facebook group!