Stamina is a quality we usually attribute to marathon runners or professional athletes, but it’s important for mere mortals, too. Increasing your stamina can help you perform everyday activities like gardening or shoveling snow more effectively. Boosting your stamina can help you improve your 5K time or help you better enjoy a friendly tennis match or a pick-up game of basketball. And because stamina goes hand in hand with cardiorespiratory capacity, increasing your stamina can also improve your heart health.
What Is Stamina?
“Stamina typically refers to a person’s ability to handle a specific stress — an amount of weight while strength training, a given pace during aerobic exercise, or a particular intensity during a cardio workout — for a specific amount of time,” says Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., Openfit’s director of fitness and nutrition content. “So if you’re doing a HIIT workout, your stamina refers to your ability to stay with it to the end.”
Though often used interchangeably, stamina and endurance are slightly different. While stamina refers to a specific activity and exercise duration, endurance broadly refers to how long you can exert yourself. So if you’re a runner, it’s how long you can sustain a given pace. In weightlifting, it’s how many reps you can do with a given load. “There is no time constraint,” says Thieme. “It’s just how long you can last.”
6 Ways to Increase Stamina
There’s no way around it: To increase your stamina, you need to exercise. But you can’t just clock 30 mindless minutes on an elliptical or run the same three-mile loop over and over again and expect to see results. If you want to increase your stamina, you’ll need to follow a few key guidelines.
1. Do tempo training
Jason Karp, Ph.D., owner of Run-Fit and author of The Inner Runner, recommends using short tempo runs (15 to 30 minutes) to increase running stamina. “Run at [just below] lactate threshold pace,” says Karp. “Lactate threshold pace is ‘comfortably hard’ running at the upper end of being purely aerobic, about 80 to 85 percent max heart rate for most people. It’s about 20–25 seconds per mile slower than a 5K race pace for pretty good runners. It should feel like a 7 or 8 on a scale of 1 to 10,” he explains.
The same principle can be applied to other forms of exercise, like cycling, rowing, and swimming. To increase your stamina, work at a pace that’s just shy of your max for up to 30 minutes.
2. Focus on lower-weight, higher- rep sets
To increase the stamina (or strength endurance) of your muscles, focus on lifting lighter weights and racking up more reps. For example, rather than doing the typical “3 sets of 10 reps,” use a weight that challenges you to complete 12 to 15 reps per set with good form. Doing so will increase your muscle’s “time under tension,” which can help you build stamina (and boost growth).
3. Reduce rest between sets
We’ve all seen the guy at the gym who does a set of biceps curls and then spends 20 minutes wandering around checking his phone, refilling his water bottle, and snapping mirror selfies before moving on to his next set. Don’t be that guy.
Reducing rest time between sets is another way to increase your time under tension and increase your stamina. Try capping your rest periods between sets at 60 seconds.
4. Don’t skimp on recovery
While reducing rest between sets can help increase your stamina, too little rest between workouts can have the opposite effect.
If you’re hitting the gym seven days a week without taking a break, you can increase your risk of overtraining. In addition to chronic injuries, an elevated resting heart rate, and a weakened immune system, the dreaded fitness plateau can be a symptom of overtraining. In other words, training too hard can actually stall your stamina-boosting efforts.
To increase your stamina and continue to make gains in the gym, dedicate 1 to 2 days a week to rest or active recovery (think: easy hiking and gentle yoga).
5. Fuel wisely
There’s no specific food or diet that can increase your stamina, but proper fueling will help you get the most out of your stamina-building workouts. Healthy carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can help top off your muscles’ and liver’s energy stores (i.e., glycogen), while sources of protein — lean meats, fish, legumes — can aid in muscle recovery.
6. Be consistent
Just like losing weight or increasing muscle mass, building stamina requires dedication. “The best way to increase stamina is through consistent practice,” says Thieme. “It really is that simple.”