Honestly, I’m not sure we should call this short piece an endurance training primer. It’s more of “a few thoughts about endurance training” type of thing.
First, let’s define endurance. It’s unique among the 5 Capacities of Athleticism (along with strength, speed, power, and agility) in that it is complementary, or supportive, to the others. Endurance is certainly driven by cardiorespiratory fitness. It’s also based on muscular fatigue resistance. Essentially, it’s the ability to repetitively produce submaximal output, with relative ease and for long (ish) duration.
I like to think of endurance as representing all-day durability. Endurance gives the human beast the ability to stay in the game, and the day, at full potential. A reasonable amount of endurance helps every Lifetime Athlete because it forms a base that allows for optimal training. Even strength and speed athletes benefit from a modest amount of endurance because it allows them to perform training at higher (potentially more effective) volumes without getting exhausted.
Endurance is also strongly correlated with both longevity and quality of life. There are numerous studies noting the relationship between long-living, highly functional individuals and their conditioning level. The case is clear. Endurance is worth developing.
But here’s where the conundrum lies. While there is nothing wrong with doing moderate amounts of steady-state Zone 2 cardio (and even higher amounts for those athletes dedicated to endurance sports), many Lifetime Athletes just don’t find that to be their jam.
I’ve been working in training, coaching, and group fitness for 40 years. A relatively humorous observation is that, unless you are working with a distance athlete (runner, cyclist, skier, etc.) you are not going to be very successful in prescribing that good ole steady state Zone 2 work. Sure, the aerobic athletes will do that, as they accept it as the foundation of their training. But almost every other athlete will balk, partially complete, or shut down if that’s a part of the session. Some will even quit the program. These aren’t “bad” people with character issues. It’s just that they don’t love that kind of workout, don’t believe they can or should do it, or maybe even find it a little boring.
The secret to successful endurance development in the Lifetime Athlete is to keep the training interesting, playful, and varied enough. Finding ways to make endurance enjoyable and embraceable is the key. This is most pronounced in the group fitness realm. Give people an assignment of going easy and steady for 30-40 minutes and half of them will quit. But blend up a unique workout that stretches duration while it shaves off a little intensity (providing a good endurance stimulus for all but the most serious distance athletes), and you’ve got a winner. I’ve watched adults smile, laugh, and banter as they unknowingly built their endurance for over an hour.
The workouts provided in the attached video are just a few examples of how to build aspects of endurance into a comprehensive conditioning system. The video was made after one of our weekly Training Tribe MasterClasses. The Tribe meets weekly (most of the year) on Zoom to review programming, discuss health and fitness topics, or do an online workout. Our Annual Training Plan balances strength, speed, power, agility, and endurance throughout the year, but we dedicate a 3-month block in the fall to emphasize endurance. Try these sessions out and see what you think. Send me a comment or a question. Join the Tribe if you really dig it.