Endurance vs. Stamina: They Don’t Mean the Same Thing But You Need Both

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Endurance vs. Stamina: They Don’t Mean the Same Thing But You Need Both
Source: Ron Lach

If you’re embarking on your fitness journey, or just hoping to increase the number of miles you can run before getting too winded, you likely want to know how to increase your endurance and stamina. But… don’t these terms mean the same thing? Not quite. 

The terms stamina and endurance are often used interchangeably in the fitness world but they actually have different meanings. Endurance refers to the amount of time that a person is able to perform a physical activity while stamina is the amount of time a person can perform an activity at peak performance. 

Still confused? Have no fear. We dug into the nitty gritty of both endurance and stamina training research and spoke with Brian Boyle, doctor of physical therapy, personal trainer for Kickoff with 24 years of experience in strength and conditioning and human performance, to get the details. Let’s dive in. 

Stamina vs. Endurance 

Still having trouble with the differences between endurance and stamina? Here are some examples to paint a picture: 

Scenario 1: A long-distance runner is training for their first half-marathon. To achieve their goal, they’re gradually increasing the number of miles they run over a matter of weeks and months until they can safely run 13 miles in one workout. This runner’s main goal is distance, so improving their endurance will be the key to success. 

Scenario 2: A soccer player spends valuable practice time on conditioning and sprint exercises to perform at peak levels during their short play times. This player is expected to exert themselves at maximum capacity at any moment, so they focus much of their training on stamina

What Is Stamina and How Do You Improve it?

Stamina is the total amount of time you can perform at an optimal level. This could mean your ability to maintain your fastest running pace for 100 meters. For the everyday person, especially as we age, this could also mean having enough energy in the day for physical demands of your life. 

Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill or routine guaranteed to improve stamina. You need

consistent exercise and a commitment to taking care of your mind and body to build and maintain stamina. 

Read on for expert-recommended ways to improve stamina and decrease fatigue. 

Stay Consistent 

It’s no secret that consistency is key to achieving our fitness goals — exercising frequently has been proven to reduce fatigue, improve sleep quality, and increase overall well-being as evidenced by a 2017 study that observed the effects of consistent exercise on employees with high levels of work-related exhaustion. 

“Our bodies love to move, and if we listen to our bodies and move, that lubricates our joints and keeps the pain sensations down. When we don’t hurt as badly, we feel younger and more energized to keep moving,” shares Boyle. 

In other words, move it or lose it — exercise regularly (even in small amounts) to increase your stamina over time. 

Get Enough Sleep

With stamina and athletic performance, if you don’t snooze, you lose big time. Neglecting rest might give you more hours in the day for productivity, but it dramatically reduces your ability to perform at your best. 

A 2017 review of sleep patterns in athletes found that, “Restoration of sleep and sleep extension in athletes improves sprint times, tennis serve accuracy, swim turn and kick stroke efficiency, swim sprint, basketball shooting accuracy (free throw and 3-point accuracy), half-court and full-court sprints, and time to exhaustion.”

Stay Hydrated

We all need to remind ourselves to drink more water, so here’s your reminder! Hydration is incredibly important for energy levels and stamina; dehydration has been linked to decreases in performance and other symptoms such as kidney dysfunction, heat-related illness, and body mass loss (don’t get excited about this if you’re trying to lose weight; you’ll gain the “water” weight back once you rehydrate). 

The recommended amount of water that you must drink to stay healthy and perform varies widely from person to person, but the Dietary Reference Intakes for Americans recommends about 13 cups per day for males between the ages of 19 and 70 years old, and about 9 cups per day for females of the same ages. Health conditions, climate, and rigorous exercise affect your need for more or less water, so it’s always best to speak with your doctor about your specific needs.

See also: How Much Water Should You Drink Each Day?

Eat Healthy

At Kickoff, we believe that healthy eating does not have to be hard. Take the time to fuel your body, and it will reward you with enough energy to smash your fitness goals and improve your stamina. A one-size-fits-all approach to healthy eating doesn’t exist, but here are some tips for fueling from the experts: 

  • Eat a balanced diet of whole foods including proteins, carbs, and fat.

  • Prioritize fruits and vegetables in your diet with at least five servings per day.

  • Choose whole-grain carbohydrates like chickpea pasta or brown rice instead of refined grains and sugars like processed cereals and white bread.

  • Eat real food when you’re hungry and stop eating when you’re about 80–85% full to avoid that sluggish I-ate-too-much feeling.

What Is Endurance and How Do You Improve it?

Endurance vs. Stamina: They Don’t Mean the Same Thing But You Need Both
Source: Ramiz Haider

Endurance, while also a measure of performance, is the amount of time a muscle group can perform an activity. Some of the major sports that require serious endurance include long-distance running, swimming, cycling, and rowing. 

This term is often split into two categories — muscular endurance and cardiovascular endurance. 

Cardiovascular endurance means the amount of time that your heart and lungs can supply your muscles with oxygen. Muscular endurance is the ability of your muscles to perform the activity over an extended period of time, such as your leg muscles’ ability to keep running during a half marathon. 

Brian Boyle, DPT, approaches endurance training for his clients with their specific goals in mind.  Whether it be running, swimming, cycling, or a combination of activities, he stresses that dedicating more time gradually to the specific exercise is the best way to improve endurance and avoid injury. 

Here are some ways to kickstart your endurance training. 

Gradually Increase Activity Time 

Challenge yourself by incrementally adding time or distance to your exercises to improve your endurance and increase the amount of time you can perform that activity without exhaustion or poor form. Boyle also recommends increasing the frequency that you perform this activity. For example, if you only complete an activity once per week, increase it by at least one more day per week to see results. 

Using swimming as an example, Boyle helps his clients increase their endurance by breaking up distance and adding rest breaks to increase distance over time. “If my client wants to go from swimming 200 yards to 1500 yards, I will start them with 50-yard swims with rest breaks in between and gradually go up from there until they can spend more time in the pool,” he shares. 

Incorporate Interval Training in Your Routine

While you might not associate sprint training with improving endurance, incorporating high intensity interval training into your routine has been proven to increase endurance in trained runners. A study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that seasoned runners who performed just six sessions of Sprint Interval Training (SIT) saw improvements in their time to exhaustion (aka increase in the distance they were able to run) and their maximal aerobic speed (the lowest running speed at which maximum oxygen uptake occurs). 

Depending on the sport or activity you enjoy, add higher-intensity intervals to your workout with rest breaks in between to increase your endurance. Start with five to eight short-distance or 20-second intervals with one minute of rest between each interval once a week or once every other week. Gradually increase the number of intervals, the distance or duration of each interval, or shrinking the amount of rest you take between each interval as you adapt to the training. Just don’t do all of them at once — pick one each week or every other week to improve upon. This kind of training has also been linked to a healthier heart and cardiovascular system

Get Your Stress Under Control 

If you’re having trouble pushing yourself, stress and mental fatigue could be keeping you stagnant. Stress-relieving methods such as meditation and mindfulness can help you break through the fog — in a study completed on karate athletes, consistent mindfulness practices had a significant impact on both athletic performance and mood. 

If you pay close attention to your rest and recovery time (a massage can’t hurt), you’ll notice a payoff in your endurance and overall fitness.

Key Takeaways

Both trained athletes and the everyday person need endurance and stamina to live happy, healthy lives. Training for endurance and stamina requires consistency, discipline, strategy, and rest.  Struggling with the strategy and discipline parts of the equation? A personal trainer can help. Kickoff personal trainers can help you with personalized, structured plans for whatever activity you want to improve in. Start today with this quiz and get after it!