Kick it up a notch: How to build your endurance

Whether it’s training for your first marathon or powering up for your next gym workout, you will want to build your endurance. But what exactly does that mean and what is the best way to do it? We talked to Dr. Jim McDeavitt, executive vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine, about the importance of endurance to get the most out of your workout.

When talking about endurance, it’s important to know about the muscle types involved in this process. They are slow-twitch fibers and fast-twitch fibers. The slow-twitch fibers are the ones that are responsible for endurance while the fast-twitch fibers are for, you guessed it, short bursts of energy.

A person jogging at sunset, their body a silhouette in front of an orange sky and sun“The slow-twitch fibers are designed to utilize oxygen very efficiently over a long period of time, so that’s the population of fibers you tend to call on and need to train when you do long-distance or time-intensive exercises,” McDeavitt said. “Fast-twitch fibers are full of glycogen, the fuel for muscles, which they burn very, very quickly.”

To train the endurance fibers, you’ll want to do relatively low-intensity exercise over a long period. So what is a low-level intensity exercise?

“You look up what your age-predicted, maximum heart rate is and settle into an activity level where you’re getting to about 60% to 70% of that maximum.   You need to sustain that for some time – generally 20-30 minutes three times per week – to train that population of slow-twitch muscle fibers,” McDeavitt explained.

But what about those fast-twitch fibers? Should we not worry about those? McDeavitt cautions against ignoring the other set.

“It’s a good idea to mix things up by leaning more toward the endurance activities that you want to build and then adding in some of the other fast-twitch activities.”

To start your training schedule, slow and steady will help you win this race.

“First of all, if you’re serious about this, I would commit to developing a schedule and start with the end in mind.  Set a realistic and achievable goal,” McDeavitt said. “A good training pattern would be to incorporate a more challenging endurance workout once a week, with less intense effort during other weekly sessions.   Allow yourself three to six months to get to your end goal.”

Also don’t solely focus on your workout routine. McDeavitt recommends “making sure you’re well rested and eating a well-balanced diet.”

Another thing to keep in mind is your mental health and reminding yourself it’s ok to take it slow. “When people get into endurance training, sometimes they get too much into it and may overtrain,” Dr. McDeavitt explained. “Possible signs of overtraining are increased injuries, fatigue, disturbed sleep patterns and depression.”

Learn more about Baylor Medicine Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

By Anna Kiappes

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