How to Increase Stamina and Muscular Endurance

The ever-growing popularity of obstacle races, endurance challenges, ultra-marathons, and fitness competitions has made strength endurance training some of the most popular muscular endurance exercises in the country. But more often than not, people who focus their workout on muscular endurance exercises feel like they’re missing out on cardio. Likewise, most people who devote their gym time to cardio find they don’t have the strength they need to perform many total body movements. So, what is the balance? And how do you combine muscular endurance exercises with cardio into the perfect strength endurance training program?

Stamina vs. Endurance

In order to understand how to increase stamina, it is important to first identify what stamina is and how it is different from endurance. Stamina is the amount of time a muscle group can perform a certain action at maximum capacity. For instance, someone who can lift a 50-pound dumbbell once has greater strength than someone who can only lift a 30lb dumbbell. However, if the person who can only lift the 30lb dumbbell can lift it 10 times, they have more stamina.

So, where does endurance come into play?

It’s capacity that makes the difference. Where stamina is the amount of time a group of muscles can perform an action at near-maximum capacity, endurance is the maximum amount of time a muscle group can perform a certain action. If you can go for an 8-mile run at a moderate pace, without too much effort, you likely have great endurance. But if you can only do one 400 meter sprint before you’re ready to throw in the towel, your stamina is probably lacking. Remember, stamina is how long you can work at near-maximum capacity. Endurance is how long you can work at any capacity.

Knowing exactly how to increase cardiovascular fitness, stamina and muscular endurance all at the same time is as simple as following a few rules.

Strength Endurance Training Rule #1: Stop Stopping

Want to know how to increase stamina without hours of cardio? Stop stopping between sets. In order to increase the length of time you can work at near-maximum capacity, you need to work at near-maximum capacity. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is one of the most effective exercise routines for building muscle, reducing fat, improving cardiovascular fitness, and reducing the risk of heart disease. Most people tend to wait 30 to 60 seconds between sets, allowing their body to recover completely before beginning the next round of exercises. One of the fundamental principles of HIIT is to minimize the amount of rest time between rounds, allowing the body just enough of a rest to reset its posture. Decreasing the time between sets has been shown to increase cardiovascular fitness and muscle stamina without spending hours on a treadmill. Next time you’re working out, cut the time between sets in half and notice the change to your overall workout.

Strength Endurance Training Rule #2: Use Your Bodyweight

Knowing how to increase stamina is one thing. Knowing what to do during a strength endurance training session is another. Walking into a gym full of weights and machines and artificial turf (what in the world?) can be intimidating. Fortunately, some of the best muscular endurance exercises don’t require any equipment at all. In fact, most muscular endurance exercises are more effective if you are using your own bodyweight instead of the germy free weights at a gym.

Head to your local park and find a bench. Instead of sitting on it to enjoy the view, use it as a part of a killer lower body workout. Do 10 step-ups (or jump-ups onto the bench), 10 Bulgarian split squats on each leg, 10 walking lunges and sprint to the end of the sidewalk and back. Repeat for three sets, resting only 15-20 seconds in between sets.

Need an upper body workout? Use the same park bench to do 10 push-ups, 10 elevated push-ups, 10 tricep dips, finishing the set with a sprint. Again, repeat for three sets, resting only 15-20 seconds between sets. Or find a pull-up bar and add 10 pull-ups to the mix.

Strength Endurance Training Rule #3: Skip the Routine

Strength and endurance training is an exercise in muscle adaptation. Your body has an incredible ability to adapt to new challenges. When a muscle is stressed during muscular endurance exercises, it adapts to the stress by becoming stronger and more capable of dealing with the load placed on it. That does not mean you can keep doing the same exercise over and over, adding more weight and more reps. Muscle confusion is a vital part of an effective program of muscular endurance exercises.

Muscle confusion is the process of introducing new stress to new parts of the body with each workout. A runner who only runs hill repeats during a workout will develop a certain type of leg muscle strength. A weight lifter who constantly works to improve their front squat will develop another. However, the runner will not be able to front squat the way the weight lifter does and the weight lifter will not be able to run the way the runner does.

Since physical fitness is largely a reflection of training, combining strength, cardio and muscular endurance exercises keeps your body guessing as to what will come next, improving your overall fitness. Add yoga, go for a run, take a martial arts class, do a stair workout, just don’t do the same thing day after day.

Strength Endurance Training Rule #4: Explosion, Not Sizzle

When we think of muscular endurance exercises, we usually think of “slow and steady”. After all, it worked for the tortoise, right? In reality, adding explosive movements to muscular endurance exercises helps you move faster, and improves both your cardiovascular fitness and your muscular endurance. Adding jumping, burpees, jumping pull-ups, or power push-ups (push-ups where your hands leave the floor) to your strength endurance training routine will give you the most bang for your buck.

Strength Endurance Training Rule #5: Enlist the Help of a Personal Trainer.

Muscular endurance exercises often scare people who have never tried them for two reasons. Either they don’t know what to do, or they don’t know if they’re doing them right. Personal trainers are the best way to hold yourself accountable, stay motivated and get healthier. Think of them as your guru of fitness. But while we usually associate personal trainers with a gym, they are experts at helping you get a great workout anytime, anywhere. A personal trainer can work out with you wherever you want — your home, gym, building, or a park, using whatever equipment you have available. They can even help you get a great workout in without equipment, using only your bodyweight.

When selecting a personal trainer, make sure they are certified and background checked. Always require a personal training certification from an NCCA Accredited organization in order for someone to call themselves a personal trainer – it shows in the quality of information you receive. Client reviews can also help you find a fitness professional that will be a good match for your personality and goals. Reach out to a personal trainer to take the first step. Just get started!