Enhancing Your Endurance

There are many experts and articles that discuss ways to improve your endurance. In this article I will explore the relationship between strength and endurance; how to develop strength, hence developing greater endurance. Developing strength and endurance simultaneously will result in maximum power, the best combination to compete and do your best in swimming, biking and running.

Resistance is one of the best ways to develop and stimulate strength. The best way to achieve resistance in the water is by either using a kick board, placing all the demand on your legs/feet or to use a pull-buoy in between your legs, relying on your arms & your stroke, and or by using fins.  By eliminating a body part, you create a form of resistance and a greater demand on one part of the body.

Once you’ve decided to include these as part of your workout and or training, you can begin to time yourself. By tracking your time and challenging yourself to go faster during each lap or length of the pool, you are developing your endurance and strength at the same time.  You can use any of these techniques while using your whole self, just your arms, or just your legs.

See if you can do one length of the pool at 80% maximum effort, then 60% maximum the next lap.  See if you can maintain alternating the two for 10-20 laps/lengths of the pool.  Then see if you can do some sprints: ½ lap 90% ½ lap 75%.  Can you repeat this for 6-10 laps?  Next, see if you can challenge yourself to find your 80% maximum, and be able to maintain for an additional 6-10 laps/lengths of the pool.  Then you can try being at 90% for 3 laps.  Then perhaps 80% for 3 laps?  By trying different lengths and levels of effort during your sprints you are developing your strength and endurance. Notice I have used different percentages to increase your strength.  It is very important at this point in your training to learn to rely on yourself and knowing what percentage of effort you are putting out instead of relying on a watch.  What you feel is a much more accurate way to measure yourself than time.  Now is a great time to start practicing becoming aware of the feeling. Ask yourself: What is 80% maximum for me?

You can also add variety to your swim program by adding in different strokes.  Take backstroke or butterfly for instance. By adding them into your training routine, your freestyle will become much stronger.  Why?  You’re stimulating as well as using muscles in a different way, which adds over-all strength to your traditional use of the muscles during freestyle.

I think the greatest way to begin developing a feeling for your strength and endurance on a bike is by spinning.  A spin class gives you the opportunity to monitor your pace, and power. See if you can find a gym, or facility that provides spin classes, and has monitors attached to the bike.  Certainly the instructor will have a program designed for the class; however, you can work within their program to suit your own needs and desires.  Or, you can always do a spin class for yourself on your own. What is so useful about using monitors is that they show you your wattage (which is power) and your RPMS (which is speed and endurance). To begin with, I highly recommend keeping your RPMS up between 80-120.  I know this may seem high, and many may disagree, but I will explain why.

Begin by getting onto your bike and setting your monitor.  Once you begin to start spinning, get your RPMS up to at least 100 within the first 2-3 minutes.  Then within six minutes take your level to 110 RPMS.  Once you are feeling comfortable spinning your legs at 110 RPMS, start to add on watts by increasing the tension.  You should already be at 110-120 watts. Go very slow adding just a fraction on at a time, and watch your watts come up.  Continue to maintain the 110 RPMS while striving to reach 180-200 watts within your first 15 minutes of being on the bike.  Now you can begin to settle in to this level of riding and your warm-up has begun.  Now it is time to develop strength & power (which is also your watts), while maintaining a continuous level of training (RPMS).  There are a few ways to develop strength and power.  One is to bring in hill climbs; second is to add in sprints.

Hill climbs can be set for a minimum of five minutes up to a maximum of 8 to 10 minutes long.  During a hill climb you add a much greater amount of tension to the bike, however, maintaining no less than 75 watts.  I know many instructors who will say it is okay to drop down to 60 watts, but this allows for too much pressure to be placed on your knees.  By keeping at 75 RPMS, you must add a little less tension, yet you are allowing for a smoother and more consistent cadence. This will build your strength and your endurance at the same time.  Trust me, your knees will be happier, and this is closer to what you do outside on your road bike.

During the hill climb you can always challenge yourself to add small amounts of gear, but never allowing yourself to drop below 75 watts.  This will truly develop both strength and power/endurance while climbing a hill. During a hill climb you can also add ½ turn & stand in the bike keeping your RPMS at 75.  Again, watch your watts jump up.  Try standing for 30 seconds then returning to sitting for 30 seconds (these are called intervals) while spinning.  See if you can do 6 sets of interval training of 30 seconds each.  Then try one minute intervals for 6 sets. You can either increase the time of the interval training or the number of sets to challenge yourself more.

Sprints are another way to develop strength and endurance. A perfect time to interject sprints is right after a hill climb. I’m not much into allowing for rests, because when do you rest when you are out on your road bike?  Almost never.  Maybe occasionally coming down a steep downhill hill, but that is about it.  So allow for no more than 30-90 second rests before jumping into the next sprint.  Prior to the sprint, remove some tension to get your RPMS back up to 100-110, yet maintaining close to 180- 200 watts at this point into your ride. Once you have found that sweet spot where you can maintain 100-110 RPMS and 200-260 watts, (or enough tension on to know your working), you are ready to begin sprints.  What is nice about the monitors is the show you your time, and you can start and stop exactly on 30 seconds. Begin your first sprint, and bring up your RPMS to 120-125.  Maintain your RPMS for the full 30 seconds and watch the watts go up.

Hopefully your watts will get close to 300.  Repeat this for a minimum for 3-6 sets.  In between each set give yourself a 20 to 30 second rest and then back off. Back off means returning to 110 RPMS (no lower).  After completing about 6 sets of sprints return to the 100- 110 RPMS, and see if you can maintain this pace for 5-10 minutes again keeping your watts close to 200-260. During this period of time if you are feeling strong, you can add a small amount of tension.  Again, watch the watts shoot up, keeping the RPMS at 100-110. You can repeat a hill climb, or add in more sprints to continue developing strength and endurance. I like to alternate hill climbs with sprints. Try 3 sets of hill climbs for 10 minutes, alternating with sprints.  One set of 8 sprints at 30 seconds, another set of 5 sprints at 1 ½ minutes, another set of 4 sprints at 3 minutes.  During each class or training time while on the spin bike you can challenge yourself to maintain your RPMS while adding small amounts of tension.  To truly develop your endurance, you need to be able to go faster for a longer period of time.  Usually 40 minutes into my ride after some hill climbs and sprints I find my rhythm, and the pace I can maintain. At this point I am usually between 80-90% of my maximum, this I know by my heart rate, my watts and maintaining my RPMS.  I call this my “humming spot” –  the sweet spot where I can stay for roughly another 30-60 minutes.  This is like your long flat road.  Being able to maintain at your 90% level for at least 30-45 minutes will tremendously develop your endurance.  To even further develop your strength, you can add in surges during this period of your ride. Add a one-minute surge in for every 5 minutes.  During the surge you amp up to 120-125 RPMS and maintain for the entire minute.  If possible add a small amount of tension, most importantly keeping those RPMS up at 125.  As you get stronger you can try 6 one-minute surges with 30 seconds rest in between. This is the type of power you will need to transition outside onto your road bike.  Those of you who have been spinning and have your RPMS at 60-80 are not training hard enough.

By beginning your training inside on the spin bike you will develop a sensitivity and awareness for your RPMS and will develop a level of comfort being there. You must be able to feel where you are to maintain what you feel on your bike. To be the best, you must be able to maintain power for a long period of time, which becomes endurance. This is key when on your road bike.  If you don’t have a monitor currently on your road bike, you may want to consider getting one. This will make your training much more efficient and useful to you.

RUNNING (my favorite)
How do you increase your power, strength and endurance in running?  Similar to riding your bike, we can use hills to develop power.   Many of you may not like the hills, but they truly are your best friend to develop greater power and strength.  Embrace the hills and have them become your best friend.  When first approaching a hill refer to the earlier articles on breathing, pacing and rhythm.   Always slow down your pace to regulate your breathing and find a new rhythm.  This should feel natural, and almost automatic to do.   This is essential when beginning a hill climb.  Trust me, you may need to go slower than you think to find a rhythm you can hold onto and maintain. Over time, by repeating hill climbs, you will gradually begin to increase your speed up the hill.  This is why I like to repeat hills, because I develop a sense of the hill, my rhythm, my pace, and the ability to increase my speed knowing the hill.

You may need to start with just a 10-minute hill and gradually build up to 20, 30, 40, even 50 minutes of hill climbing.  The longer the hill, the more opportunity you have to build your power and endurance.  Being able to run 45 minutes to an hour up a hill takes tremendous endurance. Repetition, as I have mentioned before, is key here.  While climbing a hill, you can look for moments where your experiencing ease.  It is at these moments when you can increase your pace.  Maybe start with 15-30 seconds and then back off to where you were before.  By doing so, you are developing additional power and strength.  Remember, there is no need to look at your watch for time.  Develop a sense of awareness for yourself about time.  Ask yourself: What does 15 seconds feel like?  What does one minute feel like?  What does a mile feel like? By developing a sense of time through awareness, you will be able to rely on yourself having a much clearer sense of timing and self-regulation which in itself will become a great strength and asset for you.

Running downhill will obviously feel like a breeze.  Here too, it is critical to find a pace, and rhythm that you can hold onto.  If you go too fast, you will run out of gas.  You will find pacing essential to maintaining a comfortable rhythm, one that you can hold on to.

Lastly, are the flats.  They can go on and on, this is why hills add in variety as well as an opportunity to improve your strength, power and endurance. First and foremost find your breath and your rhythm.  Once again, it is best to go a little slower to begin with, finding a comfortable pace where you can maintain your breathing.  From here, you have loads of time so use it wisely to add in more power and endurance.  On the flats is another great place to insert surges. The easiest way to begin a surge on the flats is by moving your arms faster.  I think of pulling my elbows backwards at a quicker pace.  Automatically your legs will become quicker taking a larger stride to maintain balance.  How cool is that?  The power of your arms will increase your stride.  Next, ask yourself it you can sustain this surge for one minute.  In a run, this is a long time.  After the surge, back off to your comfortable, rhythmic pace where you were before the surge.  Remember you have loads of time on the flats to insert surges.  Try to surge for 30 seconds to one minute every 5-7 minutes.  See how that goes.  You can even try to lengthen a surge up to two minutes every 7-8 minutes while running the flats.  Maintaining a surge for two minutes takes a tremendous amount of strength and power. Then see if you can build up to surging for an entire mile and repeating a mile surge every 3-5 miles.  Again, the longer the surge, the greater power and endurance you develop for yourself.  Alternating and playing with different lengthens of surges while on the hills, downhills, and on the flats will develop your strength, power and especially your endurance. Remember, whenever you begin to loose your breath, back off, slow down, reset your pace, and in time you will be able to build back up to a stronger rhythm, a faster pace, and maintaining for a longer period of time.