Building Your Endurance

By Mackie Shilstone

Athletes and other physical conditioning devotees are always looking for ways to build up their endurance levels. They read books or articles on the subject or they listen to the advice of those who do. And, although building one's endurance is an admirable goal worth striving for, there are many factors involved and hence, no one set of guidelines to which one can adhere. There are also risks involved of which they should be aware.

In 1990, the American College of Sports Medicine's position on developing and maintaining fitness called for an intensity of 60-90% of maximum heart rate, a duration of 20-60 minutes and a frequency of working out three to five days a week. However, lesser intensities still produce very respectable results with much less risk of injury. In a 1998 article appearing in the Official Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, it was postulated that, "Improvement will be similar for activities performed at a lower intensity-longer duration compared with higher intensity-shorter duration if the total energy cost of the activities is similar."

The article went on to cite the ACSM's position that, "Higher-intensity exercise is associated with greater cardiovascular risk and orthopaedic injury." The article's seven co-authors concurred in the conclusion that "programs emphasizing moderate-intensity training with longer duration are recommended for most adults, because a high proportion of the adult population is sedentary and has at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease."

Endurance, like any other facet of physical conditioning, is a relative point and it should be defined by event. For example, would you apply the standards of a boxer's arms and legs action to those of a marathon runner? No, of course not. They will vary according to which sport is being played. You need to make your endurance workout specific to your chosen sport or exercise rather than trying to apply a generalized approach that doesn't specifically target the limb(s) or region of the body most essential for your sport.

Some experts recommend an L.S.D. formula which is short for Long Slow Distance as a means of building up time (duration). What works for me is a maximal effort of 50-75% which is slightly more conservative than that of the ACSM but the 20-60 minutes of duration remain constant. However, repetitive motions can lead to repetitive injuries and you need to be cautious against pushing the body beyond its limits.

If we push our bodies beyond our level of functional capacity then we know it's time to back off. I recommend walking as one of the best exercises for utilizing large muscle groups and building endurance, along with cycling, rowing and swimming.

So, if there's any key to building endurance, it, like anything else, has to do with your own body and its level of tolerance. Don't push your body beyond its physical limitations. Make sure that the workout you're doing to build your endurance is specifically tailored to your individual sport or physical activity and listen to any advice your doctor or certified trainer may have on the subject.