What Is Endurance?

Man checking his fitness watch while running

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Endurance is a term we throw around often, particularly in relation to long-distance running or achieving high reps in weight lifting. It essentially means having the ability to maintain activity for an extended period of time.

It takes a great deal of time, effort, and consistent practice to achieve endurance, no matter what endeavor you're working toward increasing your endurance for. Practice may not make perfect, but it goes a long way in increasing endurance levels.

What Is Endurance?

Endurance is an ability that is most often acquired after extensive training—it's not necessarily something that someone is just “gifted” at.

“It is most often a combination of physiological and psychological factors that allow us to continue doing what we are doing for as long as we desire,” explains Bill Daniels, CSCS, CPT, founder of Beyond Fitness

Some of these factors include fatigue—for example, if you didn't sleep well the night before or are simply worn out, you may have a harder time following through with certain activities that require an extensive amount of output or stamina. Fitness level is also a predictor of endurance; how physically fit a person is, coupled with their level of training will impact their endurance ability.

“If you are constantly challenging yourself mentally and physically day-in and day-out for weeks, months, and years at a time you are building endurance,” says Jordan Hosbein, NASM-certified personal trainer and owner of Iron and Grit

Genetics is another factor, as our bodies have different types of muscle fibers that can influence our physical capabilities, explains Roger E. Adams, PhD, CISSN, doctor of nutrition and owner of eatrightfitness. While research shows you can gradually alter the amount of these fibers you have, it also emphasizes the role of genetics in dictating one’s muscle makeup. 

Endurance vs Stamina

Endurance is often confused with the term stamina. However, the two are very different. According to Adams, stamina often refers to the amount of time a person can perform a certain activity at maximum capacity or without getting tired. Endurance, on the other hand, revolves around one’s ability to perform a certain activity, it does not take into consideration performing at maximum capacity the way that stamina does. 

Types of Endurance

Endurance can be broken down into classifications that are defined by type. Here is a look at some of the main types of endurance when it comes to physical fitness and what they mean. 

Cardiovascular Endurance

As the name suggests, cardiovascular endurance has to do with the amount of stress that your heart can take during physical activity. When you build up cardiovascular endurance, your body becomes more efficient at pumping blood while performing that certain activity, explains Hosbein.

In other words, a person who has built up more cardiovascular endurance can sustain longer and more intense training overall than someone who has not yet built up that level of cardiovascular endurance. 

Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance has to do with the length of time that your muscles can continue to contract enough to allow your body to carry out a certain activity. A person lacking in muscular endurance will succumb sooner to excess lactic acid build-up which causes cramps, explains Robert Dodds, CPT, fitness coach, and founder of Nothing Barred Fitness.

A person with a significant amount of muscular endurance, on the other hand, will be able to keep lifting a weight for more repetitions before failure.

Anaerobic Endurance

The word anaerobic means without oxygen, so the concept of anaerobic endurance has to do with how long a muscle is able to keep working at a certain physical feat without much, or any, oxygen. Weight lifting is a great example of this. Due to the nature of anaerobic exercise, it tends to be shorter in duration, but higher in intensity than aerobic exercise, such as swimming or cycling. 

How You Can Improve Your Endurance

Through endurance training, you can work to improve your ability to carry out a certain activity for longer periods of time. Here are some expert-approved tips for how to improve your endurance. 

Participate in Interval Training

Interval training, which often goes by the name “high-intensity interval training,” involves increasing the intensity of your workout for a short period of time. If running is your workout of choice, you may intentionally push your pace harder than normal for 20-second intervals and then follow those intervals with a slower recovery pace for about a minute. This not only boosts your endurance over time but also comes with a slew of other benefits including improvement of insulin sensitivity. 

Add a Few More Reps to Each Set

No matter the type of exercise you’re performing, one way to enhance your endurance is to add one more rep, one more mile, or 5 more minutes to each week’s, or month’s, fitness schedule. Slowly, your body will begin to adapt to that level of exercise and it will become your norm. 

Rest Less Between Your Sets

While resting in between certain types of physical activity can be beneficial, it can also lower your heart rate and your endurance threshold, explains Hosbein. He recommends taking less rest between your workout sets so that your rate stays elevated and your endurance increases with each workout. 

Increase Your Core Strength

No matter your workout of choice, be it running, swimming, cycling or weight lifting, it’s also important to focus on strengthening your core, as this will help improve your endurance in any activity you perform, explains Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS, Montgomery County Chiropractic Center in North Wales Pennsylvania.

Allen Conrad BS, DC, CSC

Having a stronger core will help you perform just about any activity and help you achieve enhanced endurance faster

— Allen Conrad BS, DC, CSC

A Word From Verywell

If you’re having trouble taking your workouts to the next level and feel that your endurance has flattened, try one of the exercises mentioned above or consider enlisting the help of a certified personal trainer. If you have any discomfort or lingering pain as you work to increase your endurance, seek advice from a healthcare professional.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What types of activities require endurance?

    Nearly every activity in life requires some level of endurance, but we primarily think of endurance when it comes to physical activity, such as running, biking, swimming, and strength training. In order to improve your ability to perform these activities, or extend the timeframe that you are able to perform these activities, you need to increase your endurance. 

  • Why is endurance important in life?

    Endurance is important because it carries over to nearly every single task we perform. For example, a person needs to have enough endurance to make it through a full day of activities, whether that’s carpooling their kids, tending to their professional responsibilities, carrying out their duties at home, and then having enough energy to prepare dinner and put their kids to bed.

  • What causes a loss of endurance?

    A lack of endurance is usually the result of not performing a certain activity regularly. Our bodies become used to our day-to-day routine and activities. Therefore, if we stop performing a certain activity, such as running every day for 20 minutes, our endurance slowly declines along with our ability to perform that activity at the caliber in which we were once performing it.

1 Source
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  1. de Souza EO, Tricoli V, Aoki MS, et al. Effects of concurrent strength and endurance training on genes related to myostatin signaling pathway and muscle fiber responsesJournal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2014;28(11):3215-3223. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000525