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training for endurance

Training for Endurance

By Carmen Grange


     Training for endurance is much different than training for muscular hypertrophy, strength, and power.  Endurance athletes have to structure their workouts differently in order to achieve the best possible results.  Not only is the training different, but the physiological adaptations to exercise are different, so too is the pathway through which the muscles receive energy.  For anaerobic athletes (muscle hypertrophy, strength, and power), energy utilization and resynthesis are nearly instantaneous.  For these athletes, energy is needed quickly in order to perform quick, short bursts of work.  On the other hand, aerobic athletes (endurance) need the energy going to and from their muscles to be prolonged; therefore, it takes longer to make this energy but it also lasts longer and produces more.  Aerobic athletes use oxygen to fuel their muscles (unlike anaerobic athletes), making them more efficient for longer periods of time.  


     Endurance athletes see various adaptations to their physiology, causing them to be more efficient: increases in muscular endurance and aerobic power improve performance.  Increases in capillary density improve oxygen delivery to the muscles.  Increases in stored ATP, creatine phosphate, glycogen, and triglycerides improve energy stores allowing work to be sustained for longer periods of time.  And increases in ligament and tendon strength decreases the chances for injury and support sustained exercise.  But the adaptations to exercise don’t stop there…


training for endurance


     Cardiorespiratory improvements are also seen in endurance athletes, both at the elite level as well as beginners.  Some adaptations to exercise include, a lower resting heart rate (beats/minute), higher stroke volume (amount of blood ejected from the heart with each beat), larger blood volume, lower blood pressure, lower breathing rate (breaths per minute), increased oxygen uptake (to the muscles), and increased capillary density (amount of oxygen transported).  Because of these cardiorespiratory adaptations, endurance athletes have the capacity to greatly improve their VO2max giving them the ability to do work for longer periods of time before exhaustion.


Types of Endurance Training


  • Long, slow distance (LSD) : 30-120 minutes, at race distance or longer : 70% of VO2max
  • Pace/tempo : 20-30 minutes, performed at the lactate threshold; at or slightly above race pace
  • Interval : 3-5 minutes (1:1 work:rest) : close to VO2max
  • Repetition : 30-90 seconds (1:5 work:rest) : greater than VO2max
  • Fartlek : 20-60 minutes, performed between LSD and pace/tempo training intensities (slightly greater than 70% VO2max)


     Resistance training does not show improvements in VO2max; however, it does show permanent benefits in short-term exercise for endurance athletes.  Aerobic athletes who engage in resistance training will see fewer injuries as a result of overuse,  faster recovery time from injuries, and a reduction of muscle imbalances, in addition to strength gains.


Resistance Training Guidelines


  • Less than 67% of 1-RM
  • Greater than 12 reps per set
  • 2-3 sets per exercise
  • Less than 30s rest