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Endurance Training

What is the objective of endurance training?

The objective of endurance training is to develop the energy production systems to meet the demands of the event.

What are the energy production systems?

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is a chemical compound that supplies energy for muscular contraction. Actively contracting muscles obtain ATP from glucose stored in the blood stream and the breakdown of glycogen stored in the muscles. Exercising for long periods of time will require the complete oxidation of carbohydrates or free fatty acids in the mitochondria.

What types of endurance are there?

The types of endurance are aerobic endurance, anaerobic endurance, speed endurance and strength endurance. A sound basis of aerobic endurance is fundamental for all events.

Work conducted by Gastin (2001)[1] provides estimates of anaerobic and aerobic energy contribution during selected periods of maximal exercise (95% effort).

Duration % Aerobic % Anaerobic
0-10 seconds 6 94
0-15 seconds 12 88
0-20 seconds 18 82
0-30 seconds 27 73
0-45 seconds 37 63
0-60 seconds 45 55
0-75 seconds 51 48
0-90 seconds 56 44
0-120 seconds 63 37
0-180 seconds 73 27
0-240 seconds 79 21

Aerobic Endurance

During aerobic (with oxygen) work, the body is working at a level that the demands for oxygen and fuel can be meet by the body's intake. The only waste products formed are carbon dioxide and water which are removed by sweating and breathing.

Aerobic endurance can be sub-divided as follows:

  • Short aerobic - 2 minutes to 8 minutes (lactic/aerobic)
  • Medium aerobic - 8 minutes to 30 minutes (mainly aerobic)
  • Long aerobic - 30 minutes + (aerobic)

Aerobic endurance is developed using continuous and interval running.

  • Continuous duration runs to improve maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max)
  • Interval training to improve the heart as a muscular pump

Aerobic threshold

The aerobic threshold, point at which anaerobic energy pathways start to operate, is around 65% of maximum heart rate. This is approximately 40 beats lower than the anaerobic threshold. The aerobic thresholds of untrained males range from 35 to 65% VO2 max[2].

Anaerobic endurance

During anaerobic (without oxygen) work, involving maximum effort, the body is working so hard that the demands for oxygen and fuel exceed the rate of supply and the muscles have to rely on the stored reserves of fuel. The muscles, being starved of oxygen, take the body into a state known as oxygen debt and lactic starts to accumulate in the muscles. This point is known as the lactic threshold or anaerobic threshold or onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA). Activity will not be resumed until the lactic acid is removed and the oxygen debt repaid.

The body can resume limited activity after a small proportion of the oxygen debt has been repaid. Since lactic acid is produced, the correct term for this pathway is lactic anaerobic energy pathway.

The alactic anaerobic pathway is when the body is working anaerobically but without the production of lactic acid. This pathway depends on the fuel stored in the muscle which lasts for approximately 4 seconds at maximum effort.

Anaerobic endurance can be sub-divided as follows:

  • Short anaerobic - less than 25 seconds (mainly alactic)
  • Medium anaerobic - 25 seconds to 60 seconds (mainly lactic)
  • Long anaerobic - 60 seconds to 120 seconds (lactic +aerobic)

Anaerobic endurance can be developed by using repetition methods of high intensity work with limited recovery.

Anaerobic threshold

The anaerobic threshold, the point at which lactic acid starts to accumulates in the muscles, is considered to be somewhere between 80% and 90% of your maximum heart rate and is approximately 40 beats higher than the aerobic threshold. Your anaerobic threshold can be determined with anaerobic threshold testing.

Speed endurance

Speed endurance is used to develop the co-ordination of muscle contraction. Repetition methods are used with a high number of sets, low number of repetitions per set and intensity greater than 85% with distances covered from 60% to 120% of racing distance. Competition and time trials can be used in the development of speed endurance.

Example sessions

The following are the different types of speed endurance sessions with examples for a 800m athlete targeting a sub two minute 800m.

  • Pyramids - 200m, 300m, 400m, 300m, 200m (frp) [3', 4', 5', 4']
  • Up the clock - 600m, 700m, 800m (frp) [8']
  • Down the clock - 800m, 700m, 600m (frp) [8']
  • Differentials - 4 x 400m (1st 200m 32", 2nd 200m 28") [8']
  • Over distance - 4 x 1200m (srp) [8']
  • Under distance - 2 x (3 x 400m) (frp) [3', 8']
  • Quality - 3 x 600m (rp) [8']

' = minute, " = seconds, frp = faster than target race pace,
srp = slower than target race pace, rp = target race pace

Strength endurance

Strength endurance is used to develop the athlete's capacity to maintain the quality of their muscles' contractile force. All athletes need to develop a basic level of strength endurance. Examples of activities to develop strength endurance are - circuit training, weight training, hill running, harness running, Fartlek etc.

Effect on the heart

As an endurance athlete, you will develop an athlete's heart which is very different to the non athlete's heart. You will have:

  • Bradycardia - Low resting pulse rate of under 50 bpm
  • ECG shows ventricular hypertrophy (thickening of the heart muscle wall)
  • X-ray reveals an enlarged heart
  • Blood tests shows raised muscle enzymes

The above for the average person (non athlete) indicate a probable heart block, hypertension, heart failure, a recent myocardial infarct or cardiomyopathy. Should you need to go into hospital or see your doctor, you should inform them that you are an endurance athlete.

Referenced Material

  1. GASTIN, P.B. (2001) Energy system interaction and relative contribution during maximal exercise. Sports Med, 31 (10), p. 725-741
  2. McLELLAN, T. M. & SKINNER, J.S. (1981) The use of the aerobic threshold as a basis for training. Can J Appl Sport Sci. 6(4), p. 197-201.

Page Reference

The reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (1997) Endurance Training [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

Associated Pages

The following Sports Coach pages should be read in conjunction with this page: