Whether you’re an elite marathon runner or starting week 3 of a 5K program, running further and faster are two common training goals for people of all fitness levels.
While there’s no hard and fast rule or “one best way” to boost running stamina, there are some general guidelines you can follow that will help you perform better while staying injury-free.
To increase your stamina, you need to have a working definition of what it is. The easiest way to understand stamina in relationship to running, according to Steve Stonehouse, NASM-CPT, USATF certified coach, director of education for STRIDE, is to think of it as your body’s ability to sustain effort for a long period of time.
1. Start slow and tackle small steps
Even if you feel ready to bump up your distance or speed, it’s a smart idea to go slow and aim to make incremental gains in your training program. This is especially true if you’re new to a regular running schedule.
If you’ve been averaging 4-mile runs, don’t bump it up to 7 miles. To avoid injury and burnout, go up in small steps, such as increasing by 1 mile each week.
Another important tip, says Alex Harrison, PhD, CSCS, USATF-3, USAT, USAW, a sport performance consultant with Renaissance Periodization, is to always start training from where you are, not where you wish you were.
“Progress should be over many weeks, allowing time for recovery, but getting harder and harder,” Harrison explains.
2. Add strength training
If you’re not already doing resistance training workouts, then you need to add them to your running program.
Performing strength training exercises at least 2 to 3 days a week can help improve running economy, according to a review of literature from the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Plus, increasing the strength of all of your muscles helps reduce your chance of getting injured. Aim for full-body workouts that target the major muscle groups. Perform 2 to 3 sets per exercise, 8 to 12 repetitions per set.
3. Commit to training
You have to be consistent with your training to increase running stamina.
“Training needs to progress from less total training and less intense training to more total training volume and more intense sessions,” says Harrison.
If your running workouts don’t progress in volume or intensity over the course of months, there will be no progression.
4. Alter rest times and intervals
Other than simply increasing the number of miles you run each week, Stonehouse says he likes to limit recovery time between intervals, while also increasing the intensity of the running intervals. Both are great steps toward building stamina.
However, he does point out that the recovery period both during the workout and after is critical, especially when it comes to avoiding injuries.
5. Sprint interval training
Sprint interval training is a type of high-intensity training used in many sports like running to help boost stamina and speed.
In fact, a
The intervals of work performed are at 100 percent of your effort, or all-out sprints. The rest periods are longer to help with recovery.
6. Train for your distance
The distance or time of the intervals will be relative to the race distance you’re training for, according to Stonehouse.
For example, if you’re training for a marathon, “speed work” may consist of mile repeats. But if the training is for a 1,600-meter or 1-mile race, the speed work may be repeats of 100 meter, 200 meter, or 400 meter distances.
7. Slowly increase weekly mileage
The overall goal for a beginner should be to slowly increase mileage while getting stronger with resistance training. Following a training plan can help beginners build stamina and endurance while reducing the risk of injury.
Here’s a sample 5K training plan from Harrison:
- Week 1: 4 x (walk 1/4 mile, jog 1/4 mile), walk 1/4 mile to cool down
- Week 2: 6 x (walk 1/4 mile, jog 1/4 mile), walk 1/4 mile to cool down
- Week 3: 4 x (walk 1/4 mile, jog 1/2 mile), walk 1/4 mile to cool down
- Week 4: 3 x (walk 1/4 mile, jog 3/4 mile), walk 1/4 mile to cool down
- Week 5: 2 x (walk 1/4 mile, jog 1 mile), walk 1/4 mile to cool down
- Week 6: 2 x (walk 1/4 mile, jog 1 1/4 mile), walk 1/4 mile to cool down
- Week 7 (recovery): 2 x (walk 1/4 mile, jog 1/2 mile), walk 1/4 mile to cool down
8. Use heart rate data
If you have access to a heart rate monitor, consider using this information to help boost your running stamina.
“Heart rate monitor data can be critical for beginners to know how efficient your body is at working hard and recovering quickly,” explains Stonehouse.
9. Increase running volume
Running 1,600 meters or 1 mile may not seem too difficult, but if you’re racing against the clock, every second counts. And when you consider that a mile or 1,600 meters is an aerobic event, Harrison says you have to be incredibly fit to run it faster.
The best way to get incredibly fit, he says, is to run lots of miles per week, and progressively increase them over time.
10. Focus on running economy
Running economy reflects the energy demand of running at a constant submaximal speed. In general, runners with good economy use less oxygen than runners with poor economy at the same steady-state speed, according to a
Therefore, if you want to become more economical at running mile pace, Harrison says you need to run at or near mile pace.
One way to accomplish this is to sometimes run faster and sometimes slower, and then zero in on mile pace as the race nears.
Harrison outlines a sample workout from the Renaissance Periodization beginner 5K plan that helps improve running economy when training for a faster mile time.
How to do it:
- Jog 1 mile easy.
- Run 400 meters at 5K race pace.
- Walk 200 meters.
- Run 400 meters at 3K race pace.
- Walk 200 meters.
- Run 200 meters at mile race pace.
- Walk 200 meters.
- 6 x 400 meters at mile race pace minus 1 second per lap with a 400-meter walk recovery.
- Jog 1 mile easy.
11. Run on a slight incline
Other than being indoors, you can apply all of the same training techniques for increasing stamina to your treadmill workouts.
That said, Harrison does say in order to increase stamina on the treadmill, you need to adjust for technique.
“Running gait (technique) tends to be ever so slightly more passive in certain phases on a treadmill because of the absorption of the running surface and belt motor,” he explains.
To mitigate this, he recommends increasing the incline to 0.5 or 1 percent, and calling that “flat” is a great place to start.
12. Adjust for injuries
If you have impact-related injuries, such as shin splints or joint pain anywhere, Harrison says to consider increasing the grade 1 to 3 percent. Pace will, of course, have to be slower, but cardio benefit will be the same.
13. Stay hydrated
While hydration may not be a specific training strategy, it does affect your ability to increase stamina.
Since you lack the cooling effect of the air flowing by your body when you run on a treadmill, Harrison recommends using a fan or running in a facility with air conditioning.
“Running in 70-degree temps with no airflow on a treadmill is more like running in 85-degree temps outdoors,” he explains.
That’s why hydration before, during, and after your workouts is so important. For longer sessions, consider consuming carbs and electrolytes while exercising.
Whether you’re new to running or you’ve been hitting the pavement for years, talking with a running coach or personal trainer with experience training runners has benefits for all fitness levels.
When you’re trying to improve your running performance and endurance, getting input from an expert can help you get started on the right foot.
“In my experience, everyone gets involved with a coach or personal trainer for different reasons,” says Stonehouse. Whether it’s education, motivation, or accountability, he says a coach can be a valuable asset.
With that in mind, Stonehouse recommends consulting with a coach in the beginning of your running journey rather than waiting until you have problems or injuries.
And Harrison agrees. “There is a common misconception that a person should try to get to a certain level of fitness before starting to work with a coach,” he explains.
In reality, Harrison says the first few weeks and months of training are the most critical to be coached through, because people are the most open to injury when starting out.
“A good coach will know how to progress beginners into training while lowering injury risk, and they can also help instill good running motor patterns and training habits from the start, rather than trying to break bad habits that are formed when people go it alone before seeking expert advice,” he adds.
As you work toward increasing your running stamina, it’s important to remember that seeing improvement takes time.
Showing up, following a plan, and being consistent with your training is a great place to start.
And once you’re ready to up your game, the tips and techniques outlined above can help you perform better, run faster, and last longer.