Nearly every runner wants to learn how to run longer and faster. How do you increase stamina for running if you’re brand-new to the sport? How do you build stamina for running when you’re a veteran?
If you’re new to running and you aren’t already in decent cardiovascular shape, you know how hard it can be to run very far—or very fast. If you’re a more advanced runner, you know exactly what it felt like and the consistency and time it can take to learn how to increase running stamina and endurance.
But how do you build stamina if you’re a brand-new or seasoned runner? Great question!
Even if you’re just starting out, it doesn’t take a miracle to improve running stamina. We’ve all been there at the beginning. It can feel tough to be sucking wind with your legs on fire after just a few minutes of running when you’re starting out.
However, it only gets better. It’s no secret how to build endurance for running and improve your stamina—you just need the dedication, motivation, and commitment to making each mile count. Before you know it, you’ll be running longer and experiencing the joys of runner’s high. We’re here to help you get there!
How to Increase Running Stamina
Below, we’ll show you everything you need to know to learn how to build up endurance for running. In fact, most of these tips will build more than your running endurance—you’ll have better stamina for cycling, swimming, hiking, and really any cardio-based activity.
1. Be Consistent to Improve Stamina
There’s no quick fix to increasing running stamina–you’ve got to be consistent to yield the results you want. There are simply no shortcuts in learning how to build stamina. Training on a regular schedule teaches your body to adapt to the amount of work you’re putting in.
Let’s say you’re just starting out with running and you want to know how to increase your running stamina. Make a plan that incorporates running longer and farther every week–and commit to it.
For example, if you’re running three times a week for 20 minutes, increase the amount of time you run and the number of times you run every week incrementally.
For the first week, add one run (for a total of four runs) and add five minutes to each run.
On week #2, add another five minutes to each run. You’ll be running for 40 minutes four times a week.
For the third week, add five more minutes to each run, for 45 minutes of running four times per week.
On week #5, add another run so you’re running 45 minutes five times per week.
For the sixth week, bump up one of your runs to 60 minutes, and keep the others at 45.
Look at that! In just six weeks, you went from running 90 minutes total to 240 minutes total. Little bits of time add up and your body will respond well to the gradual increase. However, listen to your body. If you’re feeling sluggish, slow it down and adjust as needed.
2. Incorporate Tempo Runs
Not only does it matter how far and long you run to learn how to improve your stamina—it matters what type of running workouts you are doing. Tempo runs are typically a shorter distance–but at a much quicker pace.
The benefit here is that running at a faster clip will make running at an easy “endurance” pace will feel easier, and it will make you a stronger, faster runner. If you’re anything like me as a runner, you might hate tempo runs at first but will learn to love the thrill of a shorter, intense workout.
Here’s an example of a good tempo run for someone who is used to running about 35-40 miles per week.
- Start with a quick warm up to loosen your muscles.
- Run “comfortably hard” for 20 minutes–about 20% harder than your easy pace. We aren’t quite going for race pace, but you should definitely be breathing harder than a normal training run.
- Finish up with a cool down and some dynamic stretching to limit soreness and help prevent injury.
3. Get Some Cross-Training In
If you’re a die-hard runner like I used to be, cross-training isn’t your first choice. It’s tempting to only focus on running when you’re learning how to increase endurance, but it’s a lot of impact on your legs and entire body. Plus, cross-training has a lot of endurance-increasing benefits!
As long as it’s a cardiovascular activity, it’s going to improve your stamina and endurance without all that pounding on your legs. One or two days a week, incorporate a few of the following into your workout schedule:
- Outdoor biking or an indoor spin class–it will get your heart pounding!
- Swimming laps–also good for sore muscles!
- Elliptical training
- Tabata workouts
Plus, cross-training helps you from burning out and prevents overuse injuries.
4. Add in Strength Training
If you want to build your stamina, you need strong muscles that will support your entire body with each stride. That’s where strength training can make a huge difference in developing stamina and endurance.
Plus, weaving in strength training doesn’t have to take a ton of time. You can get a solid strength session done in five minutes. Follow along with Nate for a five-minute full-body workout filled with squat jumps and hand-release push-ups that will have your heart pounding and muscles burning–in a good way!
5. Eat Right!
The foods you put into your body play a giant role in fueling your stamina and endurance. If you aren’t eating healthy, nutritious foods, your body simply won’t have what it needs to increase run farther and increase stamina.
First of all, make sure you’re eating enough. One of the things most runners love about running is that it burns A LOT of calories. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, you still need to consume enough calories to fuel your run–and your entire day.
I’m not a big fan of counting calories–life’s too short! But, if you’re trying to lose weight or get a good sense of how much you should be eating, try this calorie calculator for runners.
Now, there’s a flipside to this. Just because you’re running a lot doesn’t mean you eat as much as you want. Depending on your size, a five-mile run burns around 500 calories. A large milkshake or double cheeseburger can easily contain many more calories than that–and it’s going to weigh you down rather than help increase your stamina.
The bottom line? Make wise food choices (while allowing yourself to indulge occasionally). Think lean meats, fruits, vegetables, healthy grains, and low-fat dairy. Don’t overthink it too much–food is meant to be enjoyed and nourish our bodies!
6. Get A Running Buddy
Have you ever had someone in your life push you to help make you better at something? It could be sports, your career, your attitude, or your diet–basically, just about anything.
You can also use the help of a running buddy to learn how to increase your running stamina–especially if they are a more experienced runner than you are. When I was in college, I used to try training with runners who were a little bit faster than me and would push me to go just a bit farther than I would on my own, and it certainly did wonders for my running stamina!
How do you find a running buddy? Ask a coworker who you know is into running, join a running Meetup group, or look up local running clubs in your area. As a bonus, running buddies also help keep you motivated and consistent when you know someone is counting on you to run with them.
7. Train Hard, Rest Harder
Recovery is the most important yet probably the most overlooked aspect of building running stamina. You can't train if you can't recover, and you won't be able to achieve consistency without active and passive recovery.
Active recovery involves engaging in low-intensity activities on your rest days, which can significantly enhance your muscle recovery process without putting additional strain on your body. Activities like walking, light cycling, or gentle yoga are excellent for promoting blood circulation, which helps in flushing out toxins accumulated during intense workouts. This increased blood flow delivers nutrients to your muscles, aiding in repair and growth.
Never underestimate the power of a good night's sleep, especially when it comes to recovery and performance enhancement. Sleep is when the magic happens: muscle repair, memory consolidation, and the release of growth hormones that aid in recovery. Lack of adequate sleep can lead to decreased performance, slower recovery times, and an increased risk of injuries.
Staying adequately hydrated helps regulate your body temperature, maintain blood volume, and facilitate muscle contractions. When you're dehydrated, your body can't perform at its best, leading to decreased stamina, increased fatigue, and a higher risk of heat-related illnesses.
Make sure to drink water throughout the day, not just during and after your runs. The amount of fluid needed depends on various factors, including your sweat rate, the humidity, and the temperature. A good rule of thumb is to drink when you're thirsty and ensure your urine is pale yellow in color. Incorporating electrolyte-rich drinks after long runs can also help replenish the salts lost through sweat.
8. Get Your Head in the Game
Running might seem like something that just happens on two legs, but the most important part actually goes on between your two ears—in your mind. A strong, in-control mind can be better than any pair of muscley legs. Seriously.
Visualization, or mental imagery, involves creating a vivid mental picture of achieving your running goals, including overcoming the challenging segments of your runs or races. This technique not only prepares your mind for the task ahead but also boosts confidence and reduces anxiety.
Controlled breathing is another crucial aspect of mental training that benefits both the mind and body. Proper breathing techniques can improve oxygen efficiency, reduce the risk of cramps, and help maintain a rhythmic pace during runs. Additionally, focusing on your breath can calm the mind, alleviate stress, and keep negative thoughts at bay.
9. Gradually Increase Mileage and Intensity
Increasing your running stamina isn't an overnight process—it takes time, patience, and persistence. You won't go from running a 5K to a 10K in a week (or at least you shouldn't). Running is a long-term game, and that's how you have to approach it with your training.
The cornerstone of safe progression in running is the 10% rule, a widely recommended guideline suggesting that you should not increase your weekly mileage by more than 10%. This methodical approach allows your body to adapt to the increased demand without overwhelming it, thereby reducing the risk of overuse injuries, such as stress fractures, shin splints, and IT band syndrome.
We recommend applying that 10% to a time-based training schedule rather than mileage. Miles can vary depending on whether you're doing hills and workouts—but time is a relatively unbiased progression tracker, as well as intensity-monitoring scores.
Incorporating a variety of training intensities throughout your weekly routine is crucial for building stamina and improving running economy while keeping the risk of injury low. Different types of workouts—such as long slow distance runs, tempo runs, interval training, and easy recovery runs—target various aspects of running performance.
10. Optimize Pre-Run and Post-Run Routines
A thoughtful approach to what you do before and after you hit the pavement can make a significant difference in your running experience and outcomes. A solid pre-run routine prepares your body and mind for the demands of running, reducing the risk of injury and improving your performance.
Start with a dynamic warm-up to increase your heart rate and blood flow to muscles, and to prime your joints for movement. Focus on dynamic stretches that mimic running motion, such as leg swings, lunges, and arm circles, rather than static stretches. This increases flexibility and reduces the risk of strains.
Eating a light snack or meal that’s rich in carbohydrates and easy to digest, about 1 to 2 hours before running, can provide the energy needed for your run. Avoid heavy, fatty, or high-fiber foods that can cause discomfort.
Your post-run routine is all about recovery, helping your body to repair and strengthen in response to the stress of running. Think about including:
- Post-run stretching
- Refueling and rehydration
- Foam rolling
11. Sign Up for a Race
Signing up for a race gives you a tangible goal to work towards, provides motivation, and can significantly enhance your commitment to training. Whether it's a local 5K, a half marathon, or a full marathon, participating in a race brings a sense of purpose and excitement to your running routine.
Choosing a race gives you a specific target date and distance, which is invaluable for structuring your training plan. A clear goal helps in setting realistic training milestones and assessing progress along the way. It also allows you to tailor your training to the demands of the race, whether it involves hill training, speed work, or increasing endurance.
Racing allows you to push your boundaries and test your physical and mental limits in a supportive and structured environment. It's an opportunity to challenge yourself, see how far you've come in your training, and identify areas for improvement.
Frequently Asked Questions
We hear plenty of questions around this topic, so we thought we’d include a few of our most frequently asked questions covering everything from building stamina to improving speed.
How can I increase stamina in a week?
Really, you can’t. Stamina takes time to build and improve. You break down your body as you push it past its current capacity, and you get the endurance gains during the recovery phase—and a week isn’t long enough for this entire process.
If you need to increase your stamina before a big race or event, we recommend tapering. This won’t necessarily build your endurance—however, it’ll ensure you hit the starting line fresh and ready to go (which can feel like a big stamina boost).
How to build vs how to improve running endurance?
Building running endurance from nothing is different than improving it once you’ve plateaued. When you’re new to the sport, it’s all about slowly increasing your running volume while mitigating injury. The more volume you can tack on each week while remaining in your body’s adaptation zone (rather than overload zone), the more stamina you’ll build.
However, once you’ve built a solid base of endurance, putting on the stamina gains isn’t as easy. You’ll need to start mixing in tempo runs, longer runs, and a nice mix of cross-training to build your aerobic capacity without getting injured.
It’s a delicate balance.
How long does it take to build stamina?
Well, it depends. Every runner’s body adapts differently, so it might take longer (or shorter) for you to build a certain level of stamina. Your training, nutrition, and life stresses will all impact this progression.
However, making even slight stamina gains takes a solid amount of time. You have to put in the right amount of activity and stress to push your body past its current capacity, but you have to make sure it’s not too much to dip into the realm of overuse or overtraining.
Once you’ve pushed this capacity, your body will adapt and grow stronger to deal with the demands. This is where you build stamina. Sometimes, this will take a week or 2. However, if you push too hard, you might not many any gains at all—you might lose fitness. Again, it’s a delicate balance.
How to Build Running Endurance for Beginners
Brand new to running? Here are a few additional tips that’ll set you on the right track to building endurance (the right way):
- Start slow: Go slower than you think you need to. It’s not a race (yet). Training for a marathon is just that—a marathon. Don’t think you need to tack on the miles or the pace from the get-go. Give your body time to adapt.
- Focus on recovery: You build running endurance during recovery—not the actual runs. Your job is to push your push during workouts and then give it the time and recovery it needs to adapt and grow stronger.
- Improve running form: Don’t worry too much about nailing the right running form on your first week or even your first month. Try to find what feels right, whether that’s a heel stride, midfoot strike, or forefoot strike.
- Keep up your cadence: You’ll face less aches and fewer injuries with a higher cadence. We recommend trying to shoot for anywhere from 170-190 steps per minute. If you’re not there yet, don’t worry. Just try to increase it a little bit each week.
How to Build Endurance—Get Started!
Ready to get started with improving your running stamina today? Now that you know how to build stamina, it’s time to put your newfound knowledge to practice!
Knowing how to build endurance and actually improving your stamina are two different things—you need the discipline and commitment to put these tips into practice.
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