What is aerobic endurance and how do you improve it?

Strong woman exercising with battle ropes at the gym with male trainer. Athlete doing battle rope workout at gym with instructor.

Photo Courtesy: AdobeStock – Veloforte

If you’re taking on long-distance runs, triathlons, swims or cycles, it’s well known that endurance training will make sure you last the distance and meet your goals. 

What might be less obvious, is that endurance training is mainly aerobic exercise, that’s any exercise you can perform for more than a few minutes without collapsing in a puddle on the floor. During aerobic activity – meaning literally ‘with oxygen’ – your heart pumps oxygenated blood to working muscles to help them burn fat and carbohydrate for fuel.

Anaerobic exercise, by contrast, doesn’t use oxygen. This is because you’re working at an intensity that’s too high for your heart to deliver oxygenated blood to your muscles, meaning you can only keep it up for very short bursts of time – think sprinting and explosive power moves.

So what’s the best way to boost your aerobic endurance, how often should you train each week to see improvements and how should you fuel your sessions? 

We’ve got all your aerobic endurance questions covered.

What is aerobic endurance?

Also known as aerobic fitness, cardiorespiratory endurance, cardiovascular endurance or good old-fashioned stamina, aerobic endurance is your ability to keep exercising at moderate intensity for extended periods of time. That will account for the majority of your training runs, swims and cycles.

Weightlifters and gym goers often use the term ‘cardio’ for aerobic exercise and that’s because it uses the cardiorespiratory system – heart, lungs, veins, arteries, portal vessels  and coronary vessels – to supply oxygen and nutrients to your muscles as they work. Oxygen is important for endurance as it helps the muscles burn fat and carbohydrate for fuel to keep you exercising for longer.

Photo Courtesy: AdobeStock - Veloforte
Photo Courtesy: AdobeStock - Veloforte

When it comes to aerobic work, you’ve probably also heard the phrase ‘VO2 max’ being thrown about. Your VO2 max is the maximum rate at which your heart, lungs and muscles can effectively use oxygen during exercise. 

Training to improve your cardiorespiratory endurance increases your VO2 max, meaning your body becomes more efficient at consuming oxygen from blood, so you can burn more fuel and work out for greater periods of time.

Generally speaking, working on your aerobic endurance makes you fitter and able to cover longer distances but there are other benefits too. 

What are the benefits of aerobic endurance?

  • Aerobic exercise increases your stamina 
  • As your body becomes more efficient at moving oxygen into the blood where it can be used by the muscles, you’ll feel more energetic, as this efficiency means you use less energy
  • Helps control blood pressure
  • Helps regulate blood sugar
  • Can lower your cholesterol, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Helps you burn extra calories to maintain an ideal weight.

5 Training tips to help improve your aerobic endurance

It stands to reason that increasing cardiorespiratory endurance should be the first port of call for anyone training for a distance event. And the good news is there are plenty of effective ways to do just that. It’s not all cardio. 

1. Try some HIIT

Yes, we know, we know. HIIT – that’s high-intensity interval training – uses really short bursts of intense exercise performed at around 80-90% of your maximum heart rate. And mainly recruits those fast-twitch muscle fibers rather than slow twitch. Doesn’t sound like it’s going to help you work out for longer, right? Wrong.

Combined with your regular longer runs, rides and swims and other physical activity, HIIT can have great endurance benefits. It’s particularly good for boosting your VO2 max – studies show it can increase your VO2 max by as much as 46% in 24 weeks. It can also lower your resting heart rate and increase the amount of blood your heart pumps with every beat.

Check out our blog about HIIT treadmill workouts for training ideas.

2. Go long and slow 

The long Sunday run or ride is a staple of most training plans and with good reason. Training at lower intensity allows you to increase your aerobic endurance without putting too much stress on the body. 

Going slower may also help you become more efficient at burning fat instead of glycogen for fuel. Glycogen stores run out after about 90 minutes, which is why we need to take on energy gels and fuel during endurance exercise, but if your body is also able to burn fat you’ll become more efficient over long distances.

3. Get the music on

If you struggle with motivation then listening to music during your training exercises could be a simple way to boost your aerobic endurance. 

Studies have found that listening to music during aerobic exercise can increase the duration of your workout and reduce the rate of perceived exertion. In short, you can work out for longer and it feels like less effort. Winning.

4. Add in some strength training 

Strength training can be used alongside aerobic training to boost your endurance. Working on sport-specific movements can make you more efficient over longer distances. That means you can maintain proper form and your muscles can perform for longer without tiring. 

Muscle mass also burns oxygen both at work and at rest so more muscle can help your body become more efficient at consuming oxygen.

5. Build it up slowly and rest 

As with any type of exercise, if you want to improve your aerobic endurance you need to do it gradually and consistently. Building up the distance or duration of your workouts slowly and steadily reduces the risk of injury and gives your body the chance to adapt.

Rest days are also a vital part of any training schedule. It’s during rest that your body reboots, repairs and adapts to training stresses. Skip rest days and you could be at risk of overtraining syndrome. Often described as chronic burnout, overtraining puts strain on your heart and muscles and means your performance decreases rather than improves.

Nutritional tips to boost stamina and endurance

Consume those carbs

Your body’s preferred source of fuel during exercise is carbohydrate, which is stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. Glycogen stores deplete after about 90 minutes so if you exercise for longer, you’ll need to take on extra fuel to boost your endurance.

Veloforte’s natural energy gels with 22g of rapid-release carbohydrate are designed to provide energy on the go and will help you avoid the wall and work out for longer. If you prefer your fuel chewable, Veloforte energy bars offer upto 45g of easily digested carbohydrates.

Read about the best carbs for cycling and running here.

Choose natural energy boosters

While natural energy boosters such as caffeine won’t actually improve your VO2 max they can help with endurance performance, making workouts feel easier, so you can carry on for longer. 

Caffeine is nature’s secret weapon. It acts directly on your central nervous system, improving reaction speed, alertness and concentration whilst reducing your perception of exertion. You feel more awake and your efforts feel less strenuous allowing you to exercise harder for longer.

A well-timed Veloforte’s Doppio energy nectar can give you the boost you need with 75mg of natural caffeine from guarana, the equivalent of a large espresso. 

Make sure you hydrate 

Even small levels of dehydration can make it harder to push yourself. The NHS recommend drinking a minimum of 1.2 liters of water a day and you’ll need more when you’re exercising.

Taking hydration drinks before and during exercise will ensure you stay hydrated and replace lost electrolytes to fight off fatigue for optimal endurance performance. 

Veloforte’s all-natural Hydration powders such as Attivo, contain electrolytes – essential minerals lost through sweat – from pink Himalayan salt and coconut water and can help during endurance efforts over 60 minutes. 

Read more about hydration strategies for running and cycling here.

How often should I do endurance-boosting exercise? 

To improve your aerobic endurance and cardiorespiratory fitness, aim for between three and five sessions of aerobic exercise per week. 

Though the amount you do depends on your current fitness and genetics, and it’s important to build up gradually. Mix up your training so hard days are followed by easier workouts to avoid placing too much stress on your system and give your body that crucial time to adapt. Limit harder sessions and HIIT workouts to one or two a week.

How long should each workout be? 

The duration of your workouts also depends on your goals, current level of fitness, type of workout and other factors such as genetics. But there are some handy benchmarks. 

Most studies show that cardiovascular training requires a minimum of 30 minutes, three times a week to guarantee increased aerobic capacity and you should see results within about eight to 12 weeks. 

Consistency is the real key to seeing progress so follow a training plan that builds up your workouts sensibly, or work with a coach to devise a schedule specifically for you.

How can I tell when it’s ok to go further or longer?

Anyone who’s followed a training plan will know that longer cardio workouts increase gradually over a number of weeks and are often followed by an easier week every three weeks to allow your body to reboot and adapt. 

According to the University of Colorado Hospital, you should increase your time or distance by no more than 10-20% each week.

This gives your heart, lungs, muscles and joints time to grow in strength and get used to the stress being placed on them. It’ll also prevent you from overreaching. Think of it like building a wall. You have to add one row of bricks at a time otherwise it’ll all come crashing down. 

Author: Team Veloforte