Three Ways To Increase Your Running Stamina

Three Ways To Increase Your Running Stamina

Running stamina, and (running in general!) is a lot more complicated then most people think. Apart from the issue of form and concerns over nutrition, hydration and gear selection, there are several difference training elements that all add up to make someone a good runner. Of course, most people think of speed and endurance. But strength also plays a key role. Often lost in this discussion, though, is the issue of running stamina.

It’s not that people don’t think that running stamina isn’t important; they just often conclude that it’s really just another word for endurance. And, thanks to this misunderstanding, stamina is often neglected. So, what exactly is running stamina? And how can you improve it?

Stamina Defined

To fully understand how to improve your running stamina, it’s important that we’re clear as to what the word “stamina” means in this context. And, to do that, we have to compare it to other aspects of running.

Strength, for example, describes the amount of force that a muscle is able to produce. Usually, this is measured in terms of weight on a given lift. Endurance, though, refers to the amount of time that a muscle is able to sustain a given action – in this case, running.

Stamina, however, falls somewhere in the middle. Instead of dealing just with resistance or just with time, stamina has to do with how long you’re able to perform at maximum capacity. Imagine, for example, that two athletes can both squat 300lbs. One athlete, though, can only do this once. The other can move that weight for 5 reps. That second athlete would have greater stamina.

But how does running stamina work? Essentially, stamina within the realm of running would describe how long you’re able to run at your top speed. Again, this differs from endurance which focuses only on duration and isn’t concerned with the amount of effort.

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Getting Technical

The above definition, though, is pretty subjective. Of course, you can measure your speed and time fairly easily and get a good idea of your stamina. But, that’s not how science works.

And, when we start talking about ways to improve your stamina, we’re going to have to wade into some scientific journals. So, before we do that, let’s get the terminology straight.

Instead of dealing with “stamina” as described above, exercise scientists talk about something called VO2 Max – which has to do with the amount of oxygen that your body can use up during maximum effort. What does this have to do with stamina and athletic performance?

As you run or perform any other type of intense exercise, you burn up the cellular fuel ATP. In order to create and use ATP, though, your body needs oxygen. So, the more oxygen that you can take in and use, the more fuel efficient you’ll be.


Improve Running Stamina

Okay, now that we have a clear idea of what exactly we’re talking about, how can you improve your running stamina? Remember, it’s all about increasing the duration of your maximal effort – and this duration can be measure in time or reps. With that in mind, here are some ideas to get you started.


Interval Training –

Although most people immediately think of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) when they talk about interval workouts, it’s not the only option. Not at all. Before we get into the varieties of interval training, though, what is interval training?

Classically, when people think of going for a run, they imagine a steady-state run – consisting of a consistent pace maintained for the entire duration. Interval training, though, mixes things up. Put simply, interval training requires you to break up more intense periods of work with easier sections of active recovery. A very basic example would be if you jogged for 1 minute and sprinted for 30 seconds, repeating this pattern for the length of your workout.

As mentioned, though, you have tons of options. Of course, there’s HIIT, which depends on pushing you to your maximum effort during those intervals. But, somewhat predictably, there’s  also Moderate Intensity Interval Training (MIIT) and Low Intensity Interval Training (LIIT). To be fair, these variations are a little hard to define since intensity is a pretty relative thing – differing from one person to the next based on their fitness level.

Thankfully, none of that really seems to matter. According to a 2016 study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise, HIIT, MIIT and steady-state cardio all produced comparable improvements in VO2 max. What’s the advantage of interval training, then?

For one thing, interval training – depending on the intensity – takes a fraction of the time to achieve the same results when compared with steady-state. Interval training is also just more interesting, thanks to the variability built in to the program.


Music –

The connection between music and athletic performance is a pretty logical one, something most people just sort of stumble upon on their own. But there’s also some pretty solid science at work here. Specific to our discussion on running stamina, music works through several different mechanism.

First, music is a distraction. And, while that may seem like an obvious conclusion, it’s still a pretty important one. Remember, stamina considers duration. So, if you’re distracted and not paying attention to how long you’ve been working for, you’re more likely to continue the activity.

But music, through synchronization, also has the ability to directly improve your performance. When it comes to running, this application is pretty direct. Basically, when the beat of the music matches the rhythm of your steps, you have achieved synchronization. Numerous studies have found that synchronization increases power output, endurance and movement efficiency – which all adds up to increases stamina.

Interestingly, synchronization could also help in to learn and execute new motor skills. For the runner, this could mean improved form and efficiency.


Strength Training –

Weight lifting and cardio are often at odds with each other, which is sad. In reality, in a properly designed workout program, both of these training methods can greatly complement one another. This is especially true when it comes to running stamina. Again, stamina is about maximum effort over the greatest duration. Developing the your muscles will train them to repeatedly produce the amount of force to propel you forward over the long haul.

The trick, as I’ve already alluded to, is program design. In this case, strength training is present only to improve your running. Your cardio days should still be your focus and your lifts should never leave you too tired to give your runs your best.

To accomplish this, keep your strength training to just one or two days each week. The exact frequency will depend on your running schedule and goals. If you’re training for a 5K, for example, you’re likely running around three days per week with only one hard day. In that situation, two days of strength training won’t be too much. Things would be very different if you were training for a marathon, though.

Since you’re only lifting once or twice each week, make that time count by either performing full-body workouts or a push/pull split. For the same reason – and to help increase your movement efficiency – focus on compound lifts like the squat, deadlift and bench press.

And, yes, I’m full aware that you don’t use your pecs when running. (Or maybe you do, running form is an individual thing!) But working them will help to improve your overall metabolism and energy production, while preventing any muscular imbalances that could lead to injuries.

To avoid overworking your muscles, increase your power output and also improve your endurance, keep your reps to 12 for each exercise. You’ll also perform 3 sets of each movement, resting 60 seconds between sets. Here’s an example full-body workout to get you started:

  • Squat
  • Overhead press
  • Bench press
  • Weighted lunge walk
  • Bent-over row
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Ways to increase running stamina

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