What is aerobic endurance and how do you improve it?

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.

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. 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. 

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.

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 fibres 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.

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.

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.

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.