Article featured on Verywell fit
If you had to choose one—and only one—component of fitness to improve, what would you choose? You’re probably thinking you’d try to improve your strength, endurance, or speed, all of which are worthwhile goals to chase.
However, there’s one less-appreciated fitness factor that actually combines multiple components of fitness into one: stamina. If you want to most bang for your fitness buck, consider working to improve stamina.
What Is Stamina?
Stamina is defined as “the ability to sustain prolonged physical or mental effort,” according to Oxford Dictionary. What this means in practical terms is that good stamina allows you to:
- Run faster for longer distances
- Lift heavier weights for more reps
- Take longer, tougher hikes
- Push through perceived pain, discomfort, and fatigue
- Perform daily activities with high energy levels
The better your stamina, the more efficient you become at just about everything, mentally and physically.
Stamina vs. Endurance
People often use the words “stamina” and “endurance” interchangeably, and while the two terms are similar, they aren’t the same. Endurance is defined as “the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way,” and there are two types of endurance related to fitness: cardiovascular and muscular.
Cardiovascular endurance refers to the ability of your heart, lungs, and blood vessels to support rhythmic exercise such as swimming, cycling, and running. Muscular endurance refers to the ability of your muscles to sustain repetitive movements under a given load, such as during weightlifting or hiking. Both types of endurance are important and both represent a component of stamina.
Stamina vs. Strength
“Strength” has lots of different definitions, but in regard to fitness, it essentially defines how much weight you can lift. People who are very strong can lift heavier weights and can also lift lighter weights for many reps. People with less strength can’t lift as much and may not be able to lift as many reps.
Strength training contributes to your stamina because it conditions your body to sustain movement under heavy loads.
Improving your strength even helps for endurance-focused exercises because the stronger your muscles, the better they can handle repetitive movements.
Stamina vs. Speed
Speed, as you probably know, refers to how fast or slow you move while walking, running, swimming, or performing other cardiovascular exercise. Genetics may influence speed more than they influence strength and endurance, although you can improve your speed with hard work just like you can improve any other part of your fitness.
Stamina mainly comprises endurance and strength, because the definition refers to your ability to sustain a given effort. The stronger you are, the more reps you’ll be able to lift with a given load. The better endurance you have, the longer you can sustain a given speed during a run. Stamina is less of a function of speed, but speed certainly still plays a role in your overall fitness.
How to Improve Your Stamina
The key concept here is to challenge yourself. If you’re trying to improve your stamina (or any aspect of your fitness) you’ll need to follow the “principle of progressive overload,” a physiological rule that explains how the body gets stronger, faster, and fitter.
To put it simply, the principle of progressive overload says that you won’t improve in any capacity if you keep doing the same workouts at the same intensity over and over again.
You must change something, be it frequency, intensity, volume, weight, distance, speed, or rest intervals.
For example, if you can barbell squat 10 reps at 100 pounds, you should next try to squat 12 reps at 100 pounds or 10 reps at 105 pounds. Small tweaks like this lead to significant improvements over time.
Here are 15 ways to change up your workout routine and induce improvements in your stamina.
1. Go for Long Walks
Here’s a simple way to improve your stamina: Simply move your body for long periods of time. Going for long walks of 30 to 60 minutes is a phenomenal way to build endurance, especially for beginners. Even advanced exercisers can enjoy the stamina-boosting effects of long-distance walking if they amp up the speed and intensity.
2. Add Running Intervals
If you don’t feel walking is enough to improve your stamina, try tossing in a few running intervals throughout your walk. Interval training is proven to be one of the best methods for improving overall fitness, at least in a time-efficient sense. Next time you head out for a walk, add a 30-second sprint every three or four minutes.
4. Increase Your Running Distance or Time
Go the distance for stamina. Since stamina is a combination of endurance, speed, and strength, challenge yourself to maintain your usual running pace for a minute longer. When you can do that, add another minute. Your stamina should continue to improve this way for a while, although everyone has limits on how far and fast they can run.
5. Run Hills and Stairs
If increasing your running distance or time doesn’t sound fun (we don’t blame you), vary the type of running instead.
If you live near hills or hiking trails, adding hill runs to your routine can make a huge difference in your stamina.
Alternatively, stairs and bleachers work, too. Running in an uphill manner challenges your lungs and legs alike.
6. Try High-Volume Weightlifting
Studies show that volume is the number-one variable in resistance training that improves fitness. Volume refers to the total load you lift in a given session, day, or week. It’s calculated by multiplying weight by reps.
For example, if you perform three sets of 10 squats at 100 pounds, find your total volume by multiplying three by 10 by 100. The total volume comes out to 3,000 pounds. In general, continually increasing your volume benefits your fitness.
7. Practice Isometric Exercises
Isometric exercise refers to any exercise during which muscles fiber, but don’t extend or contract. Planks and wall-sits are two good examples of isometric exercises. Incorporating isometric work into your fitness routine can teach your muscles to sustain a position under stress for longer periods of time.
8. Decrease Rest Intervals During Workouts
One surefire way to improve your stamina is to allow yourself less rest time (unless you’re lifting very heavy weights, in which case you should rest three to five minutes between sets for optimal strength gains).
Studies show that decreasing rest intervals while performing moderate- to high-intensity exercise increases physical performance and body composition.
Shortening your rest interval forces you to perform more work in less time, which in theory should support improvements in stamina.
9. Try Cycling
Riding a bike in any fashion—mountain biking, road biking, or indoor cycling—can improve your stamina if you push the pace (and the terrain if you’re outside).
Indoor cycling in particular is proven to increase aerobic capacity, a major contributor to stamina, as well as other health markers.
Mountain biking may be more effective at increasing muscular endurance and power due to the increased and variable resistance.
10. Swap Cycling for Rowing
If you’re already an avid cycler, you may want to add rowing to your workout rotation. Scientists have long hypothesized that rowing is a more effective workout than cycling because rowing recruits more muscle groups in a more intense fashion. Rowing seems to improve cardiovascular capacity more than cycling, so next time you have the opportunity to hop on an erg, go for it!
11. Have Dance Parties
Dancing is a phenomenal mode of exercise that will leave your lungs and muscles burning—and it’s fun! Dancing may also require you to assume new positions and challenge your range of motion, which can improve your overall fitness.
Several scientific studies have shown dancing to have significant impacts on health and fitness, from better mobility and balance to improved cardiovascular endurance. Dance as exercise may also increase adherence for some people, because the cost and transportation barriers to entry are low.
12. Play Sports
Again, destructuring your fitness routine could, if counterintuitively, improve your stamina and fitness. Most sports require complex skill sets that may be outside of your comfort zone. If you’re used to lifting weights, running, or other relatively monotonous movements, swapping one workout each week for a sports game is a great way to hone other physical skills.
For instance, a game of soccer includes sprinting, jogging, walking, cutting, kicking, dodging, and even throwing, depending on the position you play. The intermingling of these different movements provides a fun and challenging way to improve your stamina.
13. Listen to Music While Exercising
Everyone knows a good song can pump you up for your workout. Listening to music brings people joy and energy, and this remains true during exercise. Listening to upbeat music during your workout might boost your performance in a number of ways, from reducing your perception of fatigue, distracting you from the strain of your workout, and making exercise feel easier.
14. Drink Caffeine Before Exercising
If you’re looking for a one-off way to improve your stamina, consuming a bit of caffeine before your workout might help. Studies show that caffeine acts as a great pre-workout supplement, because it can increase your energy, mood, and physical capacities, although the effect seems to be more significant in men than women, and you should be careful not to become reliant on caffeine.
15. Add Meditation to Your Fitness Routine
Remember how we mentioned that the word “stamina” refers to both physical and mental pursuits? This is where that tidbit of information comes in. Adding mindfulness practices such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga to your overall wellness routine might improve your mental stamina.
If you’re used to fast-paced, engaging workouts, mindfulness practices will challenge you to push through perceived boredom and handle stress, two factors that play a role in how long you’re able to exercise at a near-maximal level. In fact, a 2016 study in the journal Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that medical students reported improved mental stamina (less stress and improved patience and wellbeing) after six weeks of yoga and meditation.
Don’t Forget to Rest and Recover
Finally, make sure you have recovery days scheduled into your workout routine. Contrary to popular belief, the actual act of exercising isn’t what improves your fitness—it’s the repair and rebuild phase that does. If you perform an intense workout every single day, your body never gets the chance to recover, thus it never has the opportunity to repair your muscles. Rest days are critical to your improvement over time.
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