When training clients, we often focus on how they can build stamina or improve endurance. Many times, we use these two terms interchangeably. Yet, they are two different things in a personal training environment.
Defining Stamina and Endurance
Merriam-Webster defines stamina as “the bodily or mental capacity to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity.” It defines endurance as “the ability to withstand hardship or adversity; especially: the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity.”
Admittedly, these two dictionary-based definitions are almost the same. But in the fitness world, each one has a very different meaning.
Stamina vs Endurance in Personal Training
In the context of personal training, stamina refers to the length of time a muscle or muscle group can perform at maximal capacity. Endurance is the maximum amount of time a muscle or muscle group can engage in a specific movement or action.
Let’s use running as an example. If a person is said to have running stamina, it means that they can run at maximum speed for a longer time. If they have running endurance, it means that they can run for long periods, but not necessarily at maximal speeds. An example of the former is a sprinter. An example of the latter is a marathon runner.
In the case of strength training, stamina refers to the ability to lift a maximum amount of weight multiple times. Endurance in strength training involves being able to do numerous reps at a lighter weight.
Stamina and Endurance in a Mental Context
Stamina and endurance are also sometimes used to refer to the amount of mental strength a client or athlete has.
They are said to have mental stamina if their brain supports engaging in high-intensity physical activity for sustained periods. They have mental endurance when they can push through lengthy, lower intensity training sessions.
Mental strength helps drive a client to continue when their body wants to give up. It pushes them to keep going despite feeling tired or pushed to the max.
How to Help Clients Build Physical Stamina
Because physical stamina involves using maximum effort, building it requires performing exercises that push the muscle or cardiovascular system to its limit.
Increasing stamina in the muscle involves performing multiple repetitions using the heaviest weight possible. The goal is to push the muscle to fatigue, to where it cannot do another rep without compromising strength or form.
The first step in this type of stamina training is to assess muscle strength. Determine the maximum amount of weight a client can push, pull, or lift. Next, develop a resistance training program focusing on the use of heavy weight.
The idea is to continuously push the muscle to exhaustion. Push the muscle fiber as far as it can go, increasing the weight as necessary. This will increase muscle mass. It also builds stamina.
Increasing physical stamina of the cardiovascular system requires going all-out for as long as possible while performing some type of aerobic exercise. An example of this training is doing sprints or doing some type of speed work.
Another option is to engage in cardio that is high in intensity. This increases your client’s stamina level. It also positively impacts the aerobic system. This system uses glycogen to help fuel the training workout.
Interval training can also improve stamina. The body is pushed to its limits repeatedly during this type of exercise session. Being able to withstand repeated bouts of maximum effort is critical to completing the workout.
It is important to note that, when building stamina, it is possible to push the body too far. This is referred to as muscle fatigue, which actually reduces muscular strength.
Research indicates that muscle fatigue can limit athletic performance. It can also increase one’s risk of developing a neurological disorder or a disorder in the muscle of the heart. Therefore, this type of training should be monitored and assessed regularly. Client safety is the top priority.
Ways to Improve Cardiovascular Endurance
Endurance training is less focused on using heavy weights. It also doesn’t require sustaining a maximum heart rate. Instead, the goal is to simply engage in a particular exercise for longer periods.
Increasing endurance generally involves slowly increasing the amount of time a client spends doing a particular activity. An endurance athlete often devotes several hours per week to their sport of choice.
For example, when training for a triathlon—which involves swimming, biking, and running—clients often begin slowly. They start doing each for shorter periods. The closer they get to the event, the more time they spend doing each sctivity. By race day, they can cover the distances required.
If your client is a runner, a tempo run can improve cardiovascular endurance. A tempo run involves running at a pace that pushes the body but doesn’t require maximal effort. These sessions can involve running at a steady pace throughout the exercise session. This is called a lactate threshold run.
Another variation is to increase speed gradually until you’re able to sustain the running pace. This is often referred to as a progression run and improves endurance performance.
Some clients may struggle with endurance training because workout sessions increase over time. If they don’t have a lot of free time, they may find it hard to devote the time necessary. Therefore, this type of training may be more appealing to an athlete. They often rely on endurance to get through lengthy training sessions or games. So, they’re more likely to welcome the time commitment that comes with endurance training.
Tips for Increasing Muscle Endurance
You can also help clients improve muscular endurance by creating a training program that requires sustained muscle exertion. Again, the focus is not on pushing the muscle to exhaustion. Instead, an endurance exercise involves lifting lighter weights for more repetitions.
What does a muscular endurance training program look like? One option is to have clients do three sets (12 reps each) of a particular exercise. The weight should stress the muscle but doesn’t require it to max out. This is different than a stamina training program which would involve doing fewer reps of a heavier weight.
Increasing muscular endurance takes time. It requires multiple training sessions to increase the muscle’s strength. That’s why it is helpful if clients commit to working with you for months, if not years. Engaging in repeated workouts will help improve their endurance.
Building Mental Endurance
Sometimes it isn’t the body that gives out during a training program or race. It is the mind. So, it’s important to work with clients to build their mental endurance too.
Encourage them during your training sessions. Remind them to “keep going” or to do “just one more.” Tell them “you got this” or “look at you go!”
Give them mantras they can repeat when they start to feel fatigued. Help them find their internal motivation so they can keep moving, even when their body is saying it wants to give up.
Nutrition for Stamina and Endurance
Creating an effective stamina or endurance training program involves more than picking the right type of exercise, intensity, and weight. It also involves reinforcing the role that nutrition plays in enabling the body to progress.
While calories are important, so too is the consumption of enough carbohydrates to fuel the body and enough protein to fuel the muscle. Calculate how much they need of each to get through their workout program.
Inspired by working with athletes and seeking a profitable and rewarding career? Sign up for the ISSA’s Strength and Conditioning course to help all athletes reach their maximum performance.
About the Author
Christina DeBusk is an ISSA-certified Nutrition Specialist, DNA-Based Fitness Coach, and health writer focused on helping people achieve their best life possible. www.christinamdebusk.com