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Ah, yes, stamina – that necessary ingredient to continual achievement, productivity, goal optimization, and overall ability to move through life. It is defined as the bodily and mental capacity to endure a prolonged effort or activity.
Without stamina, you can fall down never to get back up or be seen again.
Why is stamina important?
In short, stamina allows the body to adapt to outside stressors better in order to improve optimal functioning. During a long slow distance cardiovascular exercise, aka LSD, your body adapts to the physical stressors of the movement via the external force.
Your capacity to tolerate the stressors and function better correlates to:
- The amount of time or duration of the exercise
- The intensity or rate of speed at which you are performing the exercise
- The frequency of exercise or how many times you are doing the exercise per week
Let’s say you are a beginner runner, and you have 3 months to train for your first 5 K run. First of all, good for you!
Second, you are going to need to build up your stamina by:
- Incrementally adding distance to your training runs (you may even start out walking)
- Increasing the speed at which you run, such as, from a 15-minute mile pace to a 12-minute mile pace
- Adding days to your training schedule
Your body is going to adapt to the stress of training and will build stamina over time.
Your body’s oxygen consumption (or the ability to extract O2 and fuel muscles) will increase. The strength of your quadriceps, calf muscles, and gluteal muscles will get stronger as a result of your training, and you will be able to endure more and perform better.
A good rule of thumb, if you are training for a 5 k run, is to increase your mileage by 1-2 miles per week with a minimum of two to three dedicated running training days.
Work your way toward running 4-5 days per week toward the end of your training, and then taper off back down to 2-3 days of training days with ample rest days just before the race to have a fully rested system prior to your big day.
Don’t forget to have fun and enjoy it even if you perform differently than expected. You have accomplished a lot just by getting to the finish line, all thanks to increased stamina.
What hinders stamina?
The biggest myth around stamina is that you have to do MORE in order to build it, leading to not taking enough time to recover between training sessions.
Not taking breaks can lead to burnout, fatigue, and even injury. Even worse, if you are trying to lose weight, it can impede your body’s fat-burning capability since it did not have enough time to repair and build muscles.
To prevent burnout, make sure your training program has planned recovery days where you are exerting less force, such as:
- Just walking instead of running
- Doing low weight-bearing exercises, such as swimming, for 30 minutes at a slow and steady pace
- Taking a gentle yoga class
- Getting a massage
All of these activities promote much-needed rest and recovery for your body to work even better the next time you have an intense training day.
What supports stamina building?
Aside from doing the proper exercises, the following also need to be considered when building stamina:
- Hydration: Adequate hydration is a key component in ensuring that your muscles have adequate nourishment to function optimally. Hydration levels also affect mental health, digestion, and stress levels.
Most people need to drink 8-10 glasses of fresh, pure water per day. If you are not sure you are getting enough water, carry a 24 oz water bottle with you daily and make it a goal to fill it up three times. That way, you know you are at least getting in 72 oz per day.
- Proper Breathing: Breathing properly during exercise is key to optimizing your stamina.
When you are performing an exercise, for example, a bodyweight squat, you are going to want to inhale through the nose during the preparatory phase of the movement, bending the knees, and exhale through the mouth during the execution phase of the exercise, pressing through the heels to stand.
This breathing technique facilitates optimal muscular functioning of the quadriceps, gluteal muscles, and supporting abdominal muscle groups. If you hold your breath during exercise, you are not going to be engaging the muscle groups properly and risk injury.
Furthermore, when you concentrate on your breath and body connection, your mind has no choice but to be present where the body is. This mind-body connection encourages the practice of being present, which enhances focus, mental clarity, and reduces stress.
- Sleep: Make sure you have adequate sleep. Your body is not a robot and needs complete uninterrupted sleep to gain important benefits. (Of course, if you are a new parent, you can forget about this. But do not worry, when your children get older, you will have your sleep back.)
Keep these tips in mind for better sleep habits:
- No Wi-Fi or TV 1 hour before sleep.
- Your last meal should be 3 hours before sleep.
- Keep all electronics outside the bedroom.
- Practice reflecting on gratitude or other mindful practices, such as mediation or gentle yoga, prior to sleep.
- Set up a bedtime routine, giving it importance equal to your morning routine.
- Trust you did your best during that day’s activities/work and seek to improve each day incrementally. No need to travel down worry lane.
- Nutrition: Make sure you are getting enough dark leafy greens, nutrient-dense carbohydrates, good-quality fat found in avocados and coconut oil, and proteins that support your nutritional needs and preferences. Minimize or eliminate sugar altogether.
What exercises are best to increase stamina?
According to the American Heart Association, adults should get a minimum of 150 minutes per week of cardiovascular exercise, which equates to 30 minutes of steady-state low-impact walking/jogging/biking/swimming for 5 days a week. (1)
Bear in mind that exercise is cumulative. That means you could take two 15-minute brisk walks per day and meet the recommended minimum requirement.
As with any new exercise program, be sure to check with your health care provider first if you have any heart condition, diabetes, or other chronic illnesses to ensure the exercise is appropriate for you.
Other great exercises to improve your stamina are as follows:
- Walking is an excellent low-impact cardiovascular exercise and is often overlooked. Doing two 15-minute walks per day at a brisk pace, preferably outside in nature, will boost not only your stamina but also the production of endorphins (the feel-good hormones). Endorphins help reduce stress levels and increase joy.
- Running will get your heart pumping right out of the gate. If you are a beginner runner, aim to walk for 2 minutes and then run for 2 minutes, until you reach 30 minutes total.
Continue to shorten the time you walk and increase the duration of your run time until you build up enough stamina to run the whole 30 minutes. This could take anywhere from 1 to 6 weeks, depending on your specific needs.
- Bicycling is a super fun way to move your major muscle groups with a low impact on the musculoskeletal system and big gains for your heart strength. There is a big difference between cycling, spin class, mountain biking, and casual beach strolling, but all are good for you.
- Stair climbing will raise your heart rate and stamina quickly because of the muscle groups involved in the movement and because you are propelling your body up.
If you work in a big office building and have access to lots of stairs, try starting at the bottom and working your way up for 15-30 minutes.
Alternatively, you can hop on a stair climber at the gym. A stair climber will feel different from climbing actual stairs, but both have benefits.
- Hiking is one of the best ways to boost stamina and be exposed to the beauty of nature. If it’s your first time hiking, make sure you go with a buddy and know the trail ahead of time. Pack water, snacks, and extra layers!
- Strength training is a great way to build lean muscle, increase bone density, and improve overall functionality. Total body strength training can be done a minimum of two times per week for 30 minutes.
- Dancing is a great exercise, and you can do it in the comfort of your own home! Put on your favorite tune and just let loose! Or you could try a local class and get a little fancy with your moves.
Either way, connecting to your body, breath, and rhythm is an excellent way to increase stamina and let go of the day’s stress.
- Vinyasa yoga, which literally translates to linking breath with movement, is also an excellent stamina builder. Do 30-minute to 90-minute practices, 2-6 days per week, to gain maximum benefit.
What quick exercise can be done to increase stamina?
Here is a favorable way to increase stamina if you are short on time and want maximum returns with low impact to your joints (it does require access to a treadmill or can be done outside with access to a good hill):
- Warm-up for 1-3 minutes. Alternate walking lunges, alternating arm-leg reach, and bodyweight squats, followed by stretching the quadriceps, calf muscles, and gluteal muscles.
- Start walking on the treadmill at an easy, comfortable pace with no incline for 1-2 minutes.
- After the 2-minute mark, increase your treadmill’s incline either to the max or a couple points less, and increase your walking pace to just before you need to jog for 1 minute. Make sure you hold onto the handrails.
- After 1 minute, decrease your incline by 4-5 points while maintaining your speed.
- After that minute, decrease your incline back to zero and lower your speed for a rest pace duration of 1-2 minutes.
- Repeat this cycle multiple times, according to your convenience, until you’ve reached 30 minutes max.
This quick and simple exercise will boost the release of endorphins in your body and help you increase your stamina.