Endurance training is the physical activity associated with increasing aerobic fitness. Aerobic fitness is the ability of the heart and lungs to supply nutrients and oxygen to the muscles and other tissues of the body. Through training, the heart, lungs, arteries, blood vessels and major body organs learn to work together more efficiently in response to vigorous physical activities.
Endurance, also referred to as stamina, is the ability to sustain long, stressful effort.
Endurance training activities include many low to medium intensity exercises that increase the heart rate, such as bike riding, running, and fast (power) walking, performed for very long periods of time. The goal of endurance training is to reach the target heart rate, in turn strengthening the heart muscle.
The main goal is to engage in an activity that increases the heart rate, such as running, swimming, or cycling, three times a week for at least 30 minutes. The word training implies that the exercise is done on a regular basis and not sporadically.
There are a variety of different ways in which endurance training can be practiced. For example, running or jogging several to hundreds of miles, or swimming hundreds of yards to dozens of miles. There are also many different types of endurance training, most of which can either be done alone or in groups.
Fartlek training: This training combines various endurance training techniques. The foundation of the therapy is a long, slow run or cycle combined with a short burst of higher intensity exercises. There is no standard format for this type of training.
Long, slow distance training: Long distance runners usually practice this type of training. Its requirements are minimal: a good pair of sneakers and a place to run. It is performed at a medium intensity, about 80% of the maximum heart rate, also known as the target heart rate. Intensity is often measured by the "talk test". The athlete should be able to hold a conversation without getting out of breath. If an athlete is training for a race, the duration of training is often the length of time expected to be running in the race. Otherwise, the training is often between thirty minutes and two hours long.
Pace tempo training: This type of training is a slightly higher intensity, and is usually done for 20-30 minutes at a constant pace. It can be performed intermittently or in intervals, and consists of shorter bouts of training with brief resting periods. The athlete should progress by increasing the duration, rather than the speed, of running, cycling, swimming, or other endurance exercises.
Recommendations for starting an endurance training program should be in the context of an individual's needs, goals and initial abilities. These aspects will affect the amount of time allotted and the intensity of the effort. A warm-up and cool-down incorporating flexibility exercises is also typically recommended to balance the maximum benefit of exercising with the minimum risk of injury.
In theory, endurance training allows a person to obtain a greater capacity for physical activity. In addition, endurance training and aerobic exercise are thought to help lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides, increase HDL, regulate blood glucose levels, enhance digestion and bowel regularity and enhance circulation and cardiac output. People who exercise or do endurance training often have a lower risk of heart disease, depression, type 2 diabetes and cancer. In addition, patients who train may have an overall enhanced sense of well-being.
Based on clinical studies, endurance training in obese adults may improve glucose tolerance and alter muscle lipid content. The beneficial effect on glucose levels may prevent the development of type 2 diabetes in these individuals.
It has been shown that endurance training of less than two days a week, at less than 50% maximum oxygen uptake, for less than 10 minutes a day is inadequate for developing and maintaining fitness for healthy adults.
American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand. The recommended quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness in healthy adults. Med.Sci.Sports Exerc. 1990;22(2):265-274.
Bruce CR, Thrush AB, Mertz VA, et al. Endurance training in obese humans improves glucose tolerance, mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation and alters muscle lipid content. Am J Physio Endochrinol Metab. 2006 Feb 1.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2006 July 20.
The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.