As I found myself training a lot of eager beginners recently, one of my biggest concerns and challenges was to build them up without ‘breaking’ them. Often, the keen ‘over-achievers’ wanted to go faster or further and I found myself having to rein them in a bit.
So I thought I’d share the reasons why here and my tips on how to increase your endurance when you are a beginner.
Surprisingly, beginners SHOULD NOT focus their efforts on more difficult workouts or faster paces. There is indeed a time and a place for those sessions but the key thing to remember is that beginners are limited by two factors:
1. Endurance is low since they haven’t been running for long.
2. Injury risks are high.
And it is vital to keep this in mind! Both goals of maximising endurance and limiting the risk of injury are at odds with one another!
So how do we build endurance in a safe way?
I use two strategies with my beginners to both boost their run endurance and limit the injury risk: cross training and safe increase.
- Train the Heart without Damaging the Legs
Let’s face it, running is a ‘contact’ sport. It’s your legs versus the ground! Those impact forces are what damage muscles and connective tissues. Whilst some damage is a good thing because this is what prompts your body to adapt and get stronger, too much damage without adequate recovery will cause injuries.
To improve endurance (your ability to go for longer) you need to train your cardio-vascular system (your heart, your lungs, and the network of blood vessels). Increase your heart rate regularly and consistently.
But, the good news is, the heart doesn’t mind what you do in order to raise it. All it knows is that it has to pump the blood quicker to the muscles.
So, I always ask my runners to use an alternative form of training. There are many different forms of aerobic training without the impact forces that running produces: cycling, swimming, rowing, pool running…
Pool running is when you strap on a jogger’s (flotation) belt and mimic a running motion in deep water. It has all you need for your specific run training: elevates your heart rate, mimics running motion and adds resistance.
See the more comprehensive blog on I wrote on cross-training.
I’m not saying you should expect cross-training to replace running, but it greatly enhances your training efforts and increases your endurance with very little injury risk.
- Run Consistently but Conservatively
After all, the best way to increase endurance is to run more mileage. But mileage increases are the most common time period for injuries.
Mitigate the risk by using the 10% Rule. This means 10% increase weekly! New runners should limit their mileage increases to about 1-2 miles every other week.
That means some weeks your mileage won’t even increase at all—and that’s ok! Your body takes time to absorb the training and adapt to training stresses.
Even with slow, gradual jumps in distance, runners can still succumb to injuries if they run those miles too quickly or lack the strength.
First build strength in your legs and core. It’s critical to build an “armour” that helps protect you from overuse injuries—and you do that with a strong dose of strength workouts.
The most beneficial types of strength exercises for runners build runner-specific functional strength and help facilitate recovery.
Strength exercises such as squats, lunges, press ups, pulls ups are classics—and for good reason! They’re compound (multi-joint exercises) that train movements, not muscles. They will help beginner runners move more efficiently and develop the strength necessary to handle the rigours of running more and more mileage.
Most new runners simply don’t do enough strength training and the results are often injury or chronic aches and pains that derail consistent training over a long time period.
Add to this the rigours of running off-road (as we do in canicross) and things get even scarier. Trails are uneven and your feet will very rarely land flat. You need good shock absorbers and great balance. Are your ankles/knees/hips/back strong enough to sustain the stress of each impact?
To reduce the risk of going over on your ankles try some barefoot balance (proprioception) exercises.
We always tend to neglect our feet. Our feet are what connects us to the ground. The human foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments! Both your feet make up for 25% of all the bones in your body! Do you still think we should ignore them? They play a vital part. It is ignorant to think that we can stop our fitness programme at our calves. Feet need strengthening too.
Do some barefoot work, work your toes and soles, stretch the ligaments and tendons. Learn to land properly and lightly. Do some proprioception work (stand on one leg, close your eyes, look in various directions, raise on tip toes up and down, add dynamic environments such as wobble board, discs, bosu, fitballs, or simply stand on a pillow).
This is a must for beginners wanting to hit the trails!
- Finally, it’s all about Consistency
By increasing your mileage conservatively (10% a week) and injecting a healthy amount of aerobic cross-training, strength and balance work, runners will not only dramatically increase their endurance in the short-term, but will gradually build stamina over a long period of time with consistent, injury-free training.
And it’s this consistency that is the key to successful endurance building.
Have fun and train smart everyone!