How to Go the Distance

Find your limits by training for physical & mental endurance

There are two types of physical endurance: cardiorespiratory and muscular. And there’s good reason to attempt to improve both, especially if you have any desire to compete in athletic events, or even if you simply want to remain a lifelong exerciser. Cardiorespiratory endurance refers to your ability to keep going during aerobic activities such as swimming, running, or cycling. Whenever you engage in these activities for more than two minutes straight, the dominant energy system that’s fuelling them is oxygen (hence the term aerobic), so the better your heart (cardio) and lungs (respiratory) function, the more efficiently the fuel will reach your muscles to help you continue the exercise. With improved endurance, your body more effectively accesses and utilizes fat as a fuel source, which will help you decrease body fat. As a result of boosting your aerobic endurance level, you can challenge your body to take on more work without feeling as fatigued. For instance, with a solid base of endurance training, you might be able to run eight miles instead of four—without feeling winded.

On the flip side of cardiovascular endurance is what’s known as muscular endurance, or your muscles’ ability to keep contracting against resistance for a long period of time. It’s a natural fit with cardiorespiratory training, and it will make any endurance activity, such as Ocean Rowing, much easier for you to perform. The longer the continuous activity in a sport, the more muscular endurance training will come into play.

After consistency comes progression. To achieve this, think about your training in four-week chunks. For three weeks, focus on consistent bouts of increasingly longer aerobic activity. For example, if your goal involves competing in a running event, you might run 15 miles per session the first week, 20 miles the second week, and 25 miles the third week. In that fourth week, you’ll go through a recovery period. Maybe you run 15 miles again like you did in the first week, or you do the same length of cardio but in different types of activities, such as cycling or rowing on a machine. And that’s the best part of endurance training—you can build endurance using any combination of activities, so you cut the boredom factor and avoid plateaus.

After four weeks, pick up where you left off, increasing the duration of exercise slightly. So if you’re running 15, 20, and then 25 miles in those first three weeks, in the fifth week, you might start with 20 miles and progress from there. Just watch the intensity.

Endurance training is tough—it’s not only physically exhausting, it also challenges your mental fortitude. That’s why by giving yourself a reason for being out there is the best motivator. “What do you hope to get from endurance training?” a leaner physique? The ability to row 6,000 miles across the Pacific ocean? Or run a half marathon? Whatever your goal, keep it in front of you. Then set short-term goals that coincide with your long-term ones so you stay in the game, such as logging three cardio endurance workouts every week or something similar.

Also, watch your attitude as you train. Your mind’s stronger than your body, so if you’ve got negative self-talk going on, you’re going to impede progress. When you start down-talking yourself, kick those thoughts out of your head and replace them with positives. Then do some visualisation. The mind doesn’t know the difference between what you see and what you do; visualise your training, and watch your performance increase. For instance, when you’re doing cardio indoors with music, close your eyes for an entire song. Picture yourself racing and succeeding. Practice going for longer and longer periods of time with your eyes closed and visualise great performances. You are a winner and you can do it!

just giving pacific 2012