Wednesday, April 25, 2007

2 Ways to Build Endurance

When it comes to training the endurance of your body, the body adapts and increases capacity in the same way that it becomes stronger or adapts to other physiological needs. The body likes to keep capacity one step ahead of whatever demands are placed on it as part of its regular routine. So, someone who regularly doesn’t get more exercise than walking from the parking lot to his office only has enough endurance capacity to do that and a little more.

By staying just ahead of needs, the body reduces the chance of becoming damaged when occasionally pressed a little beyond what it’s used to, but doesn’t waste resources maintaining systems that have more capacity than is needed. It’s like choosing what kind of car to drive. If the vast majority of the driving you do is by yourself on city streets with lots of traffic, then (ego aside) all you need is a small, compact car that gets great gas mileage. You don’t need a gas-guzzling SUV or 4-wheel-drive truck with tires the size of a Buick. However, if you work on a ranch or construction crew and do lots of heavy hauling over rough terrain, then a Honda Civic just isn’t going to cut it and you’ll have to trade up to the big truck.

If your routine suggests to your body that a Honda Civic endurance capacity is all that is needed, it’s not going waste resources maintaining a monster truck endurance capacity. However, when your body perceives that it is more often being required to do more work, it automatically upgrades to the next level of vehicle. So the key to increasing your endurance capacity is to do enough extra work on a regular basis that your body decides it’s time for an upgrade.

There are two ways to trigger this adaptation. The first way, which I call the Slow & Easy method, is to make small increases in your daily activity. For example, if you don’t get any exercise beyond walking to and from your car each day, start by going for a stroll around the block each day. After a month, increase the distance or add a set of 20 jumping jacks before heading out on your stroll. Every couple of weeks, add a little more exercise or do the same exercise in a little less time. Make very small increases because you are getting this exercise on a daily basis; if the increases are too large, your body won’t be able to adapt quick enough and you’ll actually damage your body rather than make it stronger.

The second way, which I call the Hard & Sweaty method, is to periodically press your body to its physical limits and give it time to recover before stressing it again. For example, once a week you might jog or do calisthenics to the point of total exhaustion and maybe another workout once or twice a week that is about half of that big workout. This routine creates an immediate demand for growth and adaptation, but supplies sufficient downtime for the body to recover and meet that demand.

If you are someone who doesn’t get a lot of regular exercise or are just starting to add endurance training to your routine, I recommend you use the Slow & Easy method for at least the first six months. This will allow you to acclimate your body to a new type of conditioning. If you exercise regularly, especially if your training already involves an aerobic'>aerobic component, I suggest using the Hard & Sweaty method to increase your endurance.

In the next installment of this series, I’ll discuss how to apply these training principles to the two kinds of endurance that I discussed in the last installment. Until then . . .

Stay strong,
Live well.

John Fike

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