Increasing your endurance is more complicated than simply going out a bit further or for a longer time. Your body will respond best to using a variety of techniques regularly. Here are some of the tried and true methods to mix into your training, but there are endless variations of these too.
This is a good method for those who are just starting out with an activity or new to endurance training. You simply alternate equal periods of high and low-intensity activity. For example, you might begin by alternating between two minutes of running and two minutes of walking, then extend this to three minutes of each, then three minutes of running and two of walking, then keep working up in this pattern. If you’re swimming, you might swim for a minute, then walk in the pool for a minute, or alternate between freestyle to gentle breaststroke or backstroke.
Mix up your intensity and the time taken for your intervals. Do intervals at high, medium and low intensity – for example, run very fast for 30 seconds, then jog for 60 seconds, then run at moderate pace for 45 seconds, etc. without ever actually stopping. This is often called ‘Fartlek’ (speed play) training when this is done in a random, unpredictable fashion. This is a good way to build endurance for field and court sports, where you need to be able to quickly change up your speed or intensity.
Your longer session should be at a steady pace that is up to 80% of your ‘race pace’ (i.e. the maximum you could do for that distance). It’s important to increase the distance of these sessions only a little at a time – 10% is often recommended – and alternate an increase with a slight decrease so you get a ‘gradual adaptation’ to the distance and the pace required. For example, if you ran 11km one week, you might run 8-9km the next week, before increasing to 11km.
This is interval training that is longer and slower than a sprint. The intervals should last at least 30 seconds, working up to 2-3 minutes (the longer your goal event, the longer the interval should be for most of these sessions). The rest intervals work on ‘active recovery’ – you’re still moving, but it’s very easy, so that your pulse rate comes down, but not enough to have a complete recovery between intervals. You can replace speed with a change to harder terrain, e.g. running/cycling up a hill, then coming back down at easy pace/walk or jog. Here’s another variation – the ‘cruise and sprint’ for running. Find a flat 100m and gradually accelerate so that you reach full speed at about 60m, then sprint to the 100m, then slow down gradually. Repeat until two minutes have passed, then rest 2 minutes. Try this 5-6 times.
There are many variations and definitions of tempo training, but in a nutshell, the idea is to go continuously at a pace that is “comfortably hard” – faster than moderate, but not really difficult. If you have a sports tracking watch, then this should put you into a zone that’s 85-90% of maximum heart rate. The ‘classic’ tempo format might look something like this: an easy pace for 10 minutes, then one block of a “comfortably hard” faster pace for 20 minutes (working up to 40 minutes or more for fitter, more experienced athletes), then coming down to an easy pace for 10 minutes. Another format is tempo repetitions, which is where you might break up the harder section of your run into three blocks, with a 60-90 second rest in between blocks. This is a good way to build up to a 20-minute tempo training block, but it can also be used by those with a decent fitness base, who might do the repeats at a slightly faster pace than a one-block tempo session.
This is something for more advanced athletes, and should not be done every week. It sounds simple on paper, doing it is another story: in the last 25% or less of your long, steady pace session, try to gradually accelerate your pace. This gets your body used to the fatigue you might experience late in a race and trains you to speed up for a big finish.