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November 15, 2022 10 min read

In the fitness world, endurance and stamina are often used interchangeably. Although the two terms share similarities and may refer to one concept, research indicates subtle differences when comparing stamina vs. endurance. In this article, we’ll explain the differences and how to improve both stamina and endurance.

Stamina and endurance in physical activities both involve parameters of time.

However, while stamina is the amount of time you can perform an activity using a specific muscle or group of muscles at maximum or near-maximum capacity, endurance is the maximum time you can continue performing a specific physical activity.

Stamina training – Image from Shutterstock

From a more scientific viewpoint, endurance is the body's ability to deliver oxygen to muscles while performing a physical activity, and stamina is more about the level of energy the body can deliver to perform a specific physical task.

It is important to note that endurance comprises two components: muscular endurance and cardiorespiratory endurance.

  • Muscular endurance refers to the consistency with which your muscles can repetitively exert force over a time period.

  • Cardiorespiratory endurance measures the efficiency with which your muscles, lungs, and heart can work together to maintain optimal performance of a specific activity over an extended period.

Triathletes – Image from Shutterstock

If you’re still confused about the difference between stamina and endurance, think about it this way — Stamina involves maximizing output while endurance involves maximizing the time of performing an activity.

For example, if you were a sprinter, you’d rely on your stamina to get you through a 100-meter dash where you would demand maximal output from your body.

In contrast, although also running, if you were a marathon runner, you would rely on your body’s endurance level to maintain a slower pace for a significantly longer period than the sprint.

Most people find no need to focus on either stamina or endurance in their workout routines, except those who train for specific events.

Others are quite happy training both stamina and endurance to maintain a fitness level that will provide multiple health benefits. For balanced workouts, you might want to run for several miles on some days, while opting for sprint repeats on other days. Each person can find what works for them, and work that into their fitness routines.

Let’s look at stamina and endurance in more detail, and discuss how to improve both.

Who Needs Stamina?

For optimal stamina, you want to be able to sustain prolonged physical and mental efforts without tiring when you perform physical activities that require explosive moments and large bursts of energy. Stamina is especially important in sports with quick matches or rounds that require explosive energy bursts.

It is not only sprinting athletes that rely on high levels of stamina.

Other sports that require such bursts of energy and overall stamina include Tennis, Baseball, Football, and Soccer. For instance, American Football players have lots of downtime, but when they go onto the field, they must exert large energy bursts. Likewise, once a batter in baseball hits the ball, all the reacting players need explosive energy to react as they are expected to.

Explosive power – Image from Shutterstock

Apart from sprinting at maximum speed, other examples of activities that require stamina include low-volume weight training in which fewer sets and repetitions are performed, and lifting heavier weights. Furthermore, performing the maximum number of squat jumps or push-ups at a high speed for one minute.

In short, stamina is the total time the body is able to exert large bursts of energy.

Training to Improve Stamina

The best way to build stamina is to perform exercises that require overexertion. It is a way of training your body to deal with the demands of maximum exertion going forward. It is true that your body will be unable to provide enough oxygen to muscles once stamina is exhausted, and that muscle failure may follow.

However, if you allow proper muscle recovery, your body will slowly train itself to handle the demand the next time you have to produce large bursts of energy.

It is never wise to repeat the same kinds of exercises day after day. Including a variety of exercises, and targeting different muscle groups in your workout routines can also increase your stamina.

Interval training

If you want to increase stamina for your athletic or other sports endeavors, interval training is highly recommended. Interval training increases your energy, which, in turn, boosts your stamina, regardless of whether you do it with weightlifting or cardio exercising.

There are no hard and fast rules, but the general rule of thumb is to do one exercise for 20 seconds, followed by another exercise set for 20 seconds. Then, spend the next 20 seconds resting before repeating the process for an overall time of 30 to 40 minutes. Do interval training 3 to 4 times per week — but mix it up, and challenge different muscles.

Progressive Overload Training

This training process is a great method to improve both stamina and endurance. The technique involves the gradual increase in stress on the body, causing improved musculoskeletal strength. The improved strength ultimately provides the power to storm through challenging physical activities.

Employing progressive overload training requires you to change one aspect of your usual workout routine.

It could be distance, speed, weight, volume, or intensity.

Examples include increasing the duration and frequency of your workout, adding additional weight to the bar, increasing the number of repetitions, reducing the time between reps, or increasing the volume and intensity of your workout.

Another way to increase the intensity of your workout for short periods is by performing brief sprints while biking, swimming, or running.

PRO TIP: It is crucial to maintain a healthy balance between bouts of intense workouts and recovery.

Take Caffeine as a Safe Stimulant

Caffeine is a safe stimulant that increases your heart rate and provides a temporary boost of energy levels.

2001 study reported that athletes who consumed caffeine supplements were able to train at more significant power output and for an extended duration when compared to their performance without caffeine.

Caffeine Supplement – Image from Shutterstock

Although supplements are not recommended or suggested for long-term use, they can be used to improve endurance. Caffeine supplements can provide the body with additional sources of energy.

This is because caffeine makes the body tap into its fat and carbon stores, utilizing energy significantly more efficiently.

Furthermore, the study also revealed increased power output and speed in participants who consumed caffeine before partaking in simulated race conditions for 60 seconds to 2 hours. However, according to the study, caffeine does not improve maximal oxygen capacity or strength directly.

Who Needs Endurance?

Endurance is the maximum time a specific muscle group or the body can perform or exert force in a specific physical activity. Unlike stamina, maximum force is not a goal for endurance, but maximum time instead. Sprinting event athletes require maximum stamina, while endurance is essential for marathon athletes who have to push their bodies to endure the challenges of running long distances over extended time periods.

There are two components that have been suggested to make up endurance as a whole: muscular and cardiovascular endurance.

As their name suggests, muscular endurance focuses more on the physical capabilities of the skeletal muscles while cardiovascular endurance focuses on the extent to which the heart and lungs are able to perform during intense physical activity.

Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance is the ability of your skeletal muscles, or one specific muscle group, to perform a particular physical activity or exert force for an extended period of time. Using the example of running again, the amount of time your leg muscles can exert the force required to run a long-distance marathon is muscular endurance.

Instead of sprinting 100 meters, an endurance challenge could be to run 2 miles at a similar pace. The goal of endurance training is to remain below the point where your body can no longer deliver enough oxygen to the working muscles.

Cardiovascular Endurance

Cardiovascular endurance, also known as aerobic or cardiorespiratory endurance, is the ability of your heart and lungs to supply the necessary oxygen to the working muscles. If you run, swim, or cycle in a marathon, cardiovascular endurance refers to the time and distance you can perform before you are out of breath.

An example of cardiovascular endurance if you are a strength builder in a gym is the number of repetitions you can perform using lower weights.

For instance, weightlifting is mostly associated with strength and stamina, but there is such a thing as strength endurance as well. Instead of doing six repetitions of bicep curls using 35-pound weights to build stamina, the goal when you’re building endurance would be to lift 15-pound weights comfortably in sets of 20 repetitions.

Lighter weights – more reps - Image from Shutterstock

Methods to Improve Endurance

Let’s look at cardiovascular and muscular endurance separately.

Cardiovascular Endurance Training:

It is to improve your ability to sustain a specific pace or workload without overtaxing your heart. The goal of cardiovascular endurance training is to be able to increase the pace or workload without overworking your heart.

Aerobic exercises that increase your heart rate and keep it elevated for an extended period of time can improve your endurance. If your regular exercise routine includes aerobic exercises like cycling, swimming, jogging, or rowing, you are already improving your cardiovascular endurance.

If you’re not a fan of prolonged periods of cardio exercises, you might opt for high-intensity interval training. Recent studies suggest that HIIT may be more beneficial for cardiovascular endurance improvement.

For example, one 2021 review found HIIT has a more significant positive impact on cardiorespiratory fitness than training with low to moderate intensity.

A  2018 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research determined that six sessions of sprint interval training improved endurance and aerobic capacity in trained runners.

HIIT is short, high-intensity bursts of cardiovascular exercise with rest periods lasting the same time or longer immediately afterward. It is typically done on an elliptical trainer, treadmill, stationary bike, or running or cycling on the asphalt.

One example of a HIIT workout is sprinting for 30 to 60 seconds, followed by 1 to 2 minutes of jogging or walking, repeating the cycle for 10 to 30 minutes.

Muscular Endurance Training:

Muscular endurance refers to the capability of a muscle group or specific muscle to continue exerting force against resistance without tiring.

Improving your muscular endurance can allow you to perform more reps when you work out. Furthermore, it can reduce injury risks and boost your energy when you’re performing your normal functional activities in your everyday life.

A popular way to do muscular endurance training is by completing all the sets of one exercise before proceeding with another exercise or the next activity in circuit training.

One of the best muscular endurance builders is performing high-volume strength training, which includes more reps and sets. You should aim to complete at least 3 sets of 15 or more reps with a load of 60% or less of your one rep max (1RM), according to a 2021 review published in the journal Sports. In weight training, 1RM is the maximum weight you can lift in a single repetition.

Another way to improve endurance is to decrease your rest time.

According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, you need about 30-second rest between reps when you are doing muscular endurance training.

Another method to improve your endurance is to exercise more.

The recommended time to spend on endurance training for strengthening your lungs, and heart, and optimal health benefits is 150 minutes per week. However, working out for 300 minutes or more per week can boost the resulting benefits of improved endurance and stamina.

What About Mental Endurance?

Your mental capacity or endurance can be seen as mind-over-muscle, which is your ability to fight through fatigue by using visualization techniques. So far, this article covers only the physical aspects of stamina vs. endurance, while mental capacity plays a significant role in physical activities.

Furthermore, mental stress and mental fatigue can even affect just the perception of workload and effort.

According to a 2016 review published in the Frontiers in Physiology, participants experiencing mental stress would perceive the workload to be greater than participants without mental stress who perform the same workload. The review emphasizes the significant importance of mental balance in endurance performance.

The Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport published the effects of external reminders of focus on muscular endurance in a  2011 paper.

The publication noted that straightforward verbal cues like “push the bar,” “push your arms,” and more complicated cues such as “focus on moving and exerting force through and against the barbell,” and “focus on moving and exerting force with your arms,” significantly improve endurance.

Practice Breathing

Practicing simple respiratory or breathing exercises is another way to improve endurance and stamina. According to a scientific paper published by Sport Mont in 2019, mastering simple breathing exercises, and then utilizing those breathing techniques during physical activities can improve stamina.

Breathing exercises – Image from Shutterstock

Respiratory exercises train your lungs to deliver oxygen more efficiently throughout your body, while also improving your mental mood state. A common breathing exercise is to inhale deeply through the nose during the less taxing phase of an exercise, and then hold the breath for about 5 seconds or exhale during the difficult phase of the exercise.

Stay Hydrated

Don’t be so focused on maximum stamina and endurance that you lose sight of the importance of staying hydrated and maintaining adequate levels of electrolytes.

Regardless of how strong you are or how long you can endure, if you deprive your body of electrolytes, the oxygen supply to your muscles will be compromised.

Heat exhaustion is a significant threat if you disregard adequate hydration before, during, and after workouts. According to studies, drinking low-sugar, electrolyte-rich sports beverages containing electrolytes pre-, intra-, and post-exercise can significantly increase stamina and endurance. Electrolyte sports drinks replenish crucial minerals like sodium, chloride, magnesium, and potassium that you lose through sweat.

Post-exercise recovery

Although consistent training is required when you build endurance, beware of overdoing it. Cool-down stretching and rest days are crucial to building endurance. During endurance training, you will likely challenge your body to endure more weight or distance for longer periods. Never exceed your body’s physical capability.

Post-workout stretch – Image from Shutterstock

Until you have significantly improved both stamina and endurance, fatigue and exhaustion can jeopardize all your hard work.

Neglecting your body will eventually cause it to shut down, but not without warning you. So, listen to your body when it shows signs of fatigue and exhaustion.

Note that good recovery includes sufficient sleep, enough fluids, optimal nutrition, and warm-up and cool-down stretching to prevent tight muscles. It is always a good idea to reach out to a personal trainer to help you design a workout routine that will help you reach your fitness goals without compromising your health.

The Bottom Line

Stamina and endurance both involve physical activity pace parameters. The difference is performing activities at maximum capacity for stamina, and performing activities for maximum periods of time for endurance.

Remember that progress is never achieved overnight, so don't overexert yourself. Increase the parameters, be they weight or time, gradually.

Most importantly, never ignore what your body tries to tell you.

Stay hydrated, eat healthy, rest enough and choose exercises you enjoy. It makes no sense to work so hard and spend so much time doing something you don’t enjoy.