When it comes to getting lean — or even just playing harder during your weekend rec-league game — the more cardio you can do, the better. Some gym rats groan about the hours of cardio it took to finally break down that last stubborn layer of fat. On one hand, you’re annoyed. On the other, you’re envious. You’d love to train harder and longer, but the older you get, the tougher it is to find the wind. Well, believe it or not, there’s more that goes into building endurance than just trying to run longer on the treadmill. Use these five tactics to add some longevity to your training sessions.
1) USE INTERVALS
High-intensity interval training, or cycling periods of high- and lower-intensity exercise, has been shown to help reduce body fat, but it’s also great for extending endurance. “Interval training can force your heart to pump more blood,” says Shane Domer, MEd, CSCS*D, performance coach for the U.S. speedskating teams. “HIIT increases your heart’s stroke volume, or the amount of blood pumped per beat.” More blood, Domer says, means more oxygen gets to working muscles in each session, delaying fatigue. He recommends doing 20 minutes or less of HIIT two or three times per week. Aim to hit a 2:1 ratio of high-intensity to low-intensity exercise per cycle.
2) LOW INTENSITIES
From the intricacies of stroke volume to the simplicity of the obvious: If you want to run longer, just run longer. “Training at lower intensities also increases aerobic capacity, but you have to do it longer to get the same benefits as HIIT,” Domer says. For this type of training, Domer suggests aiming for traditional steady-state ranges — 50 percent to 70 percent of your max heart rate (220 minus your age) for 20 or more minutes, two to three times per week on days when you’re not performing any other training. “These lower-intensity sessions can also serve as recovery days, which are crucial to increased performance,” he says.
Being even slightly dehydrated can significantly impair your body’s ability to push itself. That’s why getting enough water is crucial. The standard for hard-training athletes is to drink a gallon per day, but this becomes even more important around training time. “To optimize performance, to train longer, you need to sip water throughout your workout,” Domer says. Listen to your body, of course. If you’re the type who can’t run from here to there without needing a bathroom break, don’t guzzle before your cardio session — keep a water bottle with you and sip instead.
4) BE SPECIFIC
If you want to pedal longer on your weekend bike ride, then it’s a good idea to use the bike for your training. “To enhance your performance carry-over, make sure your training is as specific as possible,” Domer says. “If you participate in a sport, for example, use ground-based cardio to ensure that you are able to perform better on the field.” Similarly, if you want to take advantage of the calorie-burning effects of high-rep weight training, limit the amount of heavy training you do. Instead, keep your weight loads moderate and train regularly in the 12- to 20-rep range.
5) CARB UP
Carbs are crucial to performance and should not be overlooked for the sake of staying lean, particularly if your aim is to improve endurance. Your body’s main fuel source, carbohydrates allow you sustain a productive pace for longer — if you time things right. “Time your carb intake so that it benefits your training the most,” Domer says. In addition to the recommended 20 to 40 grams of fast-digesting whey 30 to 60 minutes before workouts, it helps to have 20 to 40 grams of slow-burning carbs. Taken at this time, the carbs will provide long-lasting fuel during training and are less likely to be stored as body fat.
Shane Domer, MEd, CSCS*D, is the U.S. Speedskating Team’s strength-and-conditioning coach.