4 Foolproof Methods of Developing Super Hero Level Endurance
Updated: Sep 18
When it comes to training, I like to think in terms of seasons. What I do in the winter differs from what I would do in the summer.
I emphasized different athletic qualities during the different training seasons.
Spring is a transition time from primarily indoor strength and conditioning to outdoor.
Summer is huge endurance mileage while doing just enough strength training to maintain strength and muscle mass.
Fall is a fun time with a mix of mountain biking, outdoor rock climbing, and starting to ramp up the strength training.
Winter is the season to get jacked with lots of kettlebells and callisthenics with enough endurance training to maintain a good base to kick off the spring.
What I do for endurance training for each of these seasons varies based on the goal, weather and interest.
What is endurance?
The simplest way to define endurance is the ability to repeatedly do a tax without becoming fatigued.
There are various metabolic and cellular changes that take place that lead to better endurance. Increasing mitochondrial density, oxygen carrying capacity, and ability to process lactic acid are just a few of the changes that will come from endurance training.
You can have steady, long-duration endurance like cycling or running or repeated bouts of work, like tossing hay bails all day on a farm.
Both require endurance, just different qualities.
If you want to run a 10k or ride 100 miles on your bike, you must maximize aerobic endurance, while the farm work will require you to maximize muscular endurance.
Ideal fitness that has you ready for anything life throws at you will have you optimizing both qualities.
Why Build Endurance?
Endurance training builds your heart and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. It also helps with metabolic health, reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes.
Once you are over 40, this is very important as people in the top 5 percent of cardiovascular fitness have a 100% lower all-cause mortality rate than those in the bottom 20%.
VO2 Max is one of the strongest predictors of early death with the people in the highest percentile having the lowest death rate. This isn't easy to test outside a lab but the training is pretty simple. Hard intervals that have you huffing like a steam engine for at least 3 minutes.
The higher your level, the better you will do at just about any physical activity. Being aerobically fit will help your strength training as it will improve your recovery between efforts, allowing you to train harder and get more work done in a session.
And referencing my post of a couple of weeks ago, improved cardiovascular fitness will also help your performance in the bedroom. Sexual performance is tied to blood flow so the fitter you are the better you will be able to perform. While we think of this for men, it has a strong effect on women as well.
Endurance training is a great way to burn many calories, which can help achieve the caloric deficit needed to help you lose body fat. This can be done with sustained steady state training or high intensity interval training. An effective program for fatloss and fitness will have both types of training.
Endurance training, strength training, and a calorie-reduced diet are the recipes for getting lean and healthy.
Coach Winston's Favorite Methods For Building Endurance
Also called Polarized or Contrast Training, this approach has you working at both ends of the training spectrum with little time spent in the middle.
This type of training is the optimal way to train for endurance performance. It takes a lot of time each week, but will be ideal if you train for running or cycling events.
80% of your training time is in Zone 2 (moderately easy sustained cardio)
This builds your aerobic fitness, improving mitochondrial density, capillarization of the muscles, and efficiency.
Duration: Aim for sessions of steady-state exercise like cycling, jogging, or cross-country skiing of 45 minutes or longer per session.
Intensity: A good heart rate zone can be calculated with the Maffetone Method—top of the range 180-your age. The bottom of the range would be ten beats lower.
So, if you are 50, your heart rate range for this workout would be 120-130 beats per minute. You won't explode if you go a little over, but you should be able to carry on a conversation but someone evesdropping would know you are exercising.
3-5 sessions per week.
During the warmer months, I aim for three sessions during the week of about 1 hour, with a longer ride of 2-4 hours on the weekend.
20% of your training time is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
This type of training is super intense to increase maximum power output and your VO2 Max.
Interval training alternates periods of high output with lower efforts to recover, as opposed to the steady nature of Zone 2 training.
My two favourite intervals for health and performance are 30-second sprints and 4x4 intervals. I suggest alternating a session of shorter intervals one week and the longer intervals the next week.
30 Second Sprints
After warming up for 10-15 minutes, Sprint all out for 30 seconds.
On the bike, I jump out of the saddle and think of myself attacking at the end of a race to sprint to the finish. To make them even more demanding, do the sprints uphill.
After the sprint, I will ride easily for 2.5-3.5 minutes to recover.
Repeat 6-10 times.
Then, cool down for 10-15 minutes.
These intervals are great for increasing your VO2 max, improving all aspects of endurance performance, but be warned that they suck.
Your legs will burn, and you will be sucking air. I hate doing them, but I love the fitness I get from 4x4s
Warm-up: 10-15 minutes
4 Minutes Super Hard (85-95% Max Heart Rate)
4 Minutes Easy
Repeat 4 Times
Cool down For 10-15 minutes.
Intervals should only be done once or twice per week.
I will alternate doing Sprints one week and 4x4s the next. Occasionally, I will do a 2-3 week block of 2 X 4x4 workouts per week to boost my fitness in the late spring, but it can be very fatiguing.
Tire Drag and Loaded Carry Program
This is what I do in the Fall when it is getting too cold or the mornings are too dark to ride.
I got a harness from Amazon and attached it to a tire.
I then drag that tire around my neighbourhood.
It makes walking into a butt-burning cardio workout. When just dragging the tire, my heart rate gets up between 125 and 145.
Loaded carries are walking carrying a weight.
For this program, we use the suitcase carry, which is walking with a weight in one hand. When one hand gets tired, switch hands.
Suitcase carries build your grip, core and shoulder stability.
Adding a suitcase carry with a 35-pound kettlebell to the tire drags becomes a much more challenging workout.
You can get the tire for free from any tire or auto shop, as they have to pay to get rid of used tires. A car tire is good, but you can get an SUV or Truck tire to increase the resistance.
Drill a hole in the tread and put an eye bolt with washers to give you a place to clip your harness.
Pro Tip: To strengthen your knees, begin each tire-dragging workout with 5 minutes of backward dragging.
Hard Day: Tire drag and suitcase carry. My heart rate gets up to 155. I do 1 mile with the tire drag and suitcase carry before finishing the rest of the workout with 20 minutes of just tire dragging. The 1-mile drag and carry takes about 20 minutes.
Moderate Day: 30-60 minutes of just tire dragging. My heart rate reaches the Zone 2 range of 125-135 beats per minute.
1 Hard Day per week
2 Moderate Days per week
I use this for myself and clients who are pressed for time. You get stronger, build endurance, and add a bit of muscle mass with only 30 minutes spent training per session.
For this training session, you will need an interval timer on your phone and a heart rate monitor with a chest strap, as you don't want to wear a watch when doing kettlebell movements.
I pick compound movements like kettlebell clean and press, front squats, pullups, or snatches. Some days, I will do the movements with two kettlebells, and others do one side at a time.
This type of training is autoregulated based on your strength and cardiovascular fitness.
Here's an example using a weight I can do five reps with.
Set the timer to beep every 30 seconds for 30 minutes.
When I start the timer, I do two reps of the double kettlebell clean and press.
At 30 seconds, I do two pull-ups.
I will alternate every 30 seconds until my heart rate increases to 135 beats per minute.
Then, I will only do another set when my heart rate is down to 125.
I will continue this until the time is up.
Each round, I mark it in my training notebook.
When I start this type of training with a new weight, I usually get 20 rounds in 30 minutes. Over the course of 6-10 weeks, I'm eventually able to do 30 rounds of each movement.
This mix of short bouts of hard work with aerobic recovery improves strength and endurance. The time-efficient nature is helpful for people who can only get 3 X 30-minute workouts each week.
Duration: 30 minutes
Intensity: 5 Rep max weight
Frequency: 2-3 times per week
Kettlebell Swing Conditioning
This is my go-to when I'm pressed for time to train. The kettlebell swing builds the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and grip strength.
And it drives up your heart rate like running without the impact.
For those over 40, the swing is also vital as we lose fast-twitch muscle fibres as we age, and it allows you to train explosively without the impact of jumping.
Start with a 10-minute EMOM (Every Minute On the Minute)
10 Kettlebell Swings - rest for the remainder of the minute.
When the timer beeps, go again.
Add a rep or a minute each week until you are at 20 reps or 20 minutes.
Intensity: Women 12-16 Kg and Men 20-28 Kg.
Duration: 10-20 minutes
Frequency: 3-5 days per week
You now have several ways to build endurance in your toolbox.
Don't try to do all of them simultaneously, as you will quickly over-train.
Whichever method you choose, do it consistently for 12 weeks before switching to another method.
I like to use the seasons to influence which method I will use. Spring and summer will be the 80/20 method with cycling, the fall will be a mix, and winter will be mostly kettlebells doing swings, snatches and strength aerobics.