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Endurance Training Made Easy

Fitness Editor
Julia is a qualified fitness trainer. She writes our articles about nutrition and fitness. She also makes free workout plans for our site.

No matter what your goals are or what type of physical activity you prefer, endurance training is essential for feeling your best. If you’re not sure about the difference between endurance training and cardio, keep reading to find out everything you need to know and how to incorporate it into your life. 

What’s the difference between endurance training and cardio?

Endurance training is a type of exercise that stimulates the cardiovascular system. Traditionally, it includes cardio sports like running, swimming, and cycling, but can also describe intensive workouts like rowing or HIIT. Anything that gets your heart rate pumping for an extended period of time fits under the endurance umbrella. However, the length of each workout and level of intensity will vary depending on your personal fitness and health goals.

How to begin endurance training

A white man smiles as he looks at his mp3 player while standing on a treadmill. Other athletes are visible in the background, out of focus, on their own treadmills.
©skynesher

Develop your baseline muscle endurance level

Running, swimming, and cycling are all great, low-cost exercises athletes can use to discover their muscular endurance abilities. Even if you’ve never worked out a day in your life, an exercise program that involves these activities can help you progress rapidly. You may even begin to notice significant improvements as early as 4 to 6 weeks into your practice. Getting started is the hardest part, because the more you do it the easier it will become. Before beginning, use our tips to make the process as smooth as possible.

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No matter what your goal is, discovering your baseline muscular endurance level is key to beginning a training program.

Your baseline muscular endurance level is the length of time you’re able to perform a physical activity without feeling exhausted, and it depends on numerous factors including your fitness level, weight, height, and type of physical activity. Some benchmarks for athletes include 30 to 40 minutes of running, 60 to 90 minutes of rowing, and 30 to 60 minutes of swimming.

Find the right pace

Working out too hard and too much is one major problem many beginners have with cardio. Running, swimming, or cycling too fast and too long before your body is ready may cause more harm than good. Every part of you needs to adapt to this new activity, including your bones, tendons, and ligaments, and pushing yourself too hard in the beginning may make you less likely to do it in the long run.

A group of runners do endurance training outdoors. There is one woman of color, one white woman, and two white men.
@Geber86

Start by working out about three times a week at a moderate pace, taking care to give your body plenty of time to recover. That doesn’t mean you need to do the same activity three times in a row, though. Try alternating between different workouts, perhaps going for a run one day, trying a spin class the next, and finishing up the week with a quick HIIT (high intensity interval training) session. You’ll be able to train harder and longer before you know it.

When is the best time to work out?

When you exercise is all up to your preference. What’s important isn’t when you train, but how often you train (and how often you take breaks). Rest days are essential to ensuring your body fully recovers. If you exercise three times a week, try to take a rest day between each session. That way your weekend ends up being fully reserved for recovery.

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Benefits of Endurance Training

A white woman checks her fitness watch in the middle of exercise outdoors.
@pixelfit

Endurance training can help with weight loss

It’s especially beneficial for weight loss for numerous reasons. Exercising over a long period of time can increase metabolism which can help burn fat efficiently, even at rest. Plus, each session can burn a considerable amount of calories, which is why so many weight loss programs include cardio workouts.

It can improve muscle performance

Your muscles require energy to operate efficiently, and your body can’t produce energy without a sufficient supply of oxygen. Regular cardio can increase the body’s oxygen intake capacity.

It can help control stress

Studies show a regular endurance practice can reduce stress over time because of its benefits on the cardiovascular system. Not to mention, taking a pause for exercise is a great way to take the focus away from external stresses like work and bring it back to yourself. In particular, outdoor sports can be a great way to clear both your mind and your lungs.

Cardio sports are great for the heart and can protect against modern diseases

Cardio and muscular endurance exercises are great for the heart. These exercises can enable your heart to circulate more than it would without any exercise at all. Resulting benefits include an improved immune system, lower cholesterol, and increased energy, to name a few. In the long-term, it may even reduce your risk of vascular diseases or heart attacks.

A white swimmer's head, arms, and upper back are visible from behind as the swimmer performs the butterfly stroke in a pool. The swimmer wears a black swimming cap and a black racer-back swimsuit.
@microgen

What type of activity is best for beginners?

Choose a time and place

Finding an activity that’s compatible with your schedule is essential to reaping the benefits. Think about when you have the most energy, where you need to go during the day, and how much time you have to spare before you jump into a muscular endurance exercise. For example, a regular cycling practice will require more of your time than going for a quick jog, so it might not be the best option if your day is already booked.

Figuring out which sports are best for you will also depend on many factors. The more you enjoy an activity, the easier it will be to take up. If running makes you want to curl up into the fetal position, it’s probably not a great fit for you. Take the time to find a workout that you won’t mind sweating through.

Consider your fitness level

Because running is possible anytime and anywhere with little-to-no gadgets or gizmos (save for a good pair of sneakers), it’s a great exercise to help a beginner endurance athlete get into cardio. If you struggle with joint or knee pain, you may be better off with low-impact exercises like swimming or cycling instead. Anyone with heart problems should consult a doctor before beginning a cardio practice to guarantee safety.

Different types of endurance sports

Running Swimming Cycling
Best for Training the legs and butt. Training the entire body. Training the legs and butt.
Risk of injury Low risk of injury, but can cause joint discomfort and injury. Almost no risks if proper swimming form is practiced. Risk of injury is low, not including potential injuries from falling off the bike or getting into an accident. It’s important to adjust the bike to your height in order to avoid joint discomfort.
Costs Low cost. Running shoes and clothes are all that’s required. Medium cost, depending on your access to a pool. Little equipment necessary. Relatively high cost for a good bike, a helmet, and the right clothes. Thankfully these things are all a one-time investment that should last for awhile.
Suitability for daily life Perfect. Running is possible with little planning. Swimming is a little less flexible. Planning your workouts in advance is necessary and adapting to pool opening and closing hours is a possibility. Biking is flexible, but may depend on your access to proper bike paths. A typical cycling exercise also takes longer than going for a run.

Running

For many people, running is easy to do anywhere and everywhere. If you don’t have any health problems and are not disabled—especially in your feet, knees, hips, legs and spine—running can be a great way to get into cardio. And you don’t need much equipment to get started either!

Cycling

A woman of color and a white man laugh while they do endurance training on stationary bikes indoors. A white woman in the background uses an elliptical machine.
©skynesher

Because cycling is low-impact, it’s a great joint-friendly option for beginners and ideal for strengthening the legs and knees. Proper form is essential, so it might be a good idea to get some expert guidance in the beginning. One small downside to cycling workouts is that they often last much longer than running or swimming workouts.

Swimming

Swimming is another low-impact sport that’s great for the joints and muscles. It also distributes the workload among the muscles it uses relatively evenly. The difference in temperature between your body and the water may also increase calorie expenditure. However, pool entry fees can be costly, so it’s not necessarily the cheapest option of the lot.

Running program for beginners

The goal of this program is to build up your baseline muscular endurance to a point where you can run for 30 to 45 minutes without feeling totally exhausted. Once you’ve achieved this benchmark, you can continue to progress from there to a maximum of 60 minutes. This time can be broken down into a mix of running and walking phases to make things easier. Whenever you feel so tired you could pass out, slow down and walk until you feel ready to restart.

Monday Wednesday Friday
Week 1 Run for 5 minutes 4 times. Take a 2 minute walking pause between intervals. Do an alternate exercise or run for 5 minutes 4 times. Take a 2 minute walking pause between each phase. Run for 5 minutes 4 times. Take a 2 minute walking pause between each phase.
Week 2 Run for 5 minutes 5 times. Take a 3 minute walking pause between intervals. Do an alternate exercise or run 6 minutes 4 times. Take a 3 minute walking pause between each phase. Run for 5 minutes 5 times. Take a 2 minute walking pause between each phase.
Week 3 Run for 6 minutes 4 times. Take a 3 minute walking pause between each phase. Do an alternate workout or Run for 7 minutes 4 times. Take a 3 minute pause between each phase. Run for 6 minutes 4 times. Take a 3 minute pause between each phase.
Week 4 Run for 8 minutes 3 times. Take a 2 minute walking pause between intervals. Do an alternate workout or run for 10 minutes 3 times. Take a 3 minute walking pause between each phase. Run for 8 minutes 3 times. Take a 2 minute walking pause between each phase.
Week 5 Run 10 minutes 3 times. Take a 2 minute walking pause between each phase. Do an alternate workout or run 15 minutes 2 times. Take a 3 minute walking pause between each phase. Run 10 minutes 3 times. Take a 2 minute walking pause between each phase.
Week 6 Run 15 minutes 2 times. Take a 3 minute walking pause between each phase. Run 15 minutes 2 times. Take a 3 minute walking pause between each phase. Walk quickly for 5 minutes, run for 20 minutes, walk quickly again for 5 minutes.

©foodspring

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Endurance training for beginners: Our conclusion

These sports are important for everyone, not just endurance athletes.

Cardio has many health benefits including improved strength, development of muscles, and improved metabolism.

Running, cycling, and swimming are a few classic endurance workouts.

As a beginner, it’s important to discover your baseline endurance level.

Article sources
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