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How To Train For Endurance: 4 Exercise Protocols To Optimize Your Endurance For Peak Health
Four endurance training protocols for all-day energy, peak physical and cognitive performance, and well-rounded health geared towards longevity.
If you missed last week on The 4 Types of Endurance & The 6 Benefits of Endurance Training, you might want to go back and start there.
But if you don’t care about the what and why, and just want the how then skip last week and dive right into the actionable training protocols below.
A critical caveat before diving in:
You cannot rely on just one of these protocols.
To build well-rounded fitness you must train each type of endurance.
Think of it like a pyramid.
Your low-intensity Zone 2 cardio is the base of the pyramid. The wider the base the better.
The tip of the pyramid is your VO2 Max which will only improve if you train at higher intensities.
Your goal should be to build the biggest pyramid possible. And that can only be done by building a really wide base and a really tall peak.
You need a mix of low, moderate, and high-intensity endurance training.
Adding these 4 endurance protocols to your weekly routine will help you build the biggest pyramid possible thus increasing your odds of living longer and improving the quality of your life both now and in the future.
CAUTION: For your safety, it is critical that you consult a doctor before implementing any of these protocols, especially if you have known cardiovascular concerns.
The 4 Endurance Training Exercise Protocols
Exercise Protocol #1: Muscular Endurance
Muscular endurance is the ability of a particular muscle to perform a certain movement for high reps or a long duration of time.
Capillaries, the smallest type of blood vessel, surround your muscles.
They are responsible for bringing in blood and removing waste from the muscle.
Training a muscle often and going to failure or close to failure builds more capillaries around the muscle which enhances muscular endurance.
Muscular endurance is a high-precision game.
So, train the exact movement you want to improve your muscular endurance in.
Want to be able to do more push-ups? Train by doing push-ups.
Want to be able to hold a plank for longer? Train by holding planks.
Want to be able to dead hang or wall sit for longer? Train by holding dead hangs and wall sits.
How you sequence each exercise in a training session doesn’t really matter.
However, Dr. Andy Galpin recommends training bigger muscle groups first (i.e., wall sits before pull-ups or push-ups).
Train muscular endurance 3-4 times per week.
Since improving muscular endurance requires training the muscle to failure or close to failure, the number of reps you must do to improve will be determined by your current failure point.
For example, you could do one round of wall-sits, push-ups, and planks to failure followed by two more rounds at 70-80% of failure three times per week.
This strategy can be summarized as doing 1 set to failure, recovering, and then doing 1-2 sets at 80%, 2-3 times per week.
Or you could take your current max for a certain movement, such as 25 continuous push-ups, and perform 3 sets of that movement at 80% of your max 3 times per week.
In this example, that means performing 3 sets of 20 push-ups 3 times per week.
This doesn’t need to add a bunch of extra time to your week.
Simply do a few minutes of muscular endurance training at the end of each aerobic or anaerobic endurance session.
Or perform 15+ reps during your hypertrophy (muscle growth) training to target muscular endurance at the same time.
Add 1-2 reps (push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, etc.) or a few more seconds (planks, wall sits, etc.) per week.
If you’ve been training by going to complete 100% failure and are starting to hit a wall, back off and train in the 80-85% range (which means fewer reps or shorter duration than your 100%) while performing more sets.
This will increase the amount of total volume/practice you’re getting in a week and help you bust through plateaus.
Exercise Protocol #2: Max Anaerobic Capacity
Max anaerobic capacity is the total amount of super high-intensity work you can do over 30-90 seconds.
Similar to muscular endurance, specificity wins.
You must train for the exact thing you want to improve.
If you want to get really good at sprinting 100 meters, train by doing 100-meter sprints.
If you don’t have a specific goal, just pick an exercise you’re comfortable with. This will allow you to focus on your breathing, posture, and performance.
You should also be aware of the eccentric load on your joints for the movement you select.
The eccentric is the negative or “lowering” portion of an exercise.
Running downhill puts your joints under a massive eccentric force which can cause injury.
Running on flat ground will be less eccentric force and on an uphill even less force than that.
In general, running is a high-impact activity with roughly 8 times your body weight being transferred through your joints into the ground on each stride.
The rower, assault bike, and swimming offer fantastic low-impact options.
Something like box jumps is not great because there is a lot of eccentric force on the jump down and you will have too many variables going through your mind (don’t slip, don’t smash my shins, etc.).
As a guiding principle, avoid movements where there are many technical considerations (kettlebell swings, clean and jerks, snatches, etc.) to avoid injury from a breakdown in form.
Goal #1 of any exercise program is to not get injured.
You will likely stick to one exercise per session so this doesn’t really apply.
However, if you hate doing repetitive movements you might opt to switch between sprints, an assault bike, and a rower within the same workout.
The minimum dose is 4 rounds per session repeated 3 times per week.
You can play with a variety of work to rest ratios anywhere in the 30-90 second duration to train at different intensities and keep it fresh:
1:1 rest to work: 30-90 seconds on and an equal duration of rest.
2:1 rest to work: 20 seconds on and 40 seconds of rest.
3:1 or 4:1 rest to work: 30 seconds on and 90-120 seconds of rest.
Each workout should consist of at least 4 intervals in total.
If you want to determine rest intervals based on how you feel rather than a set duration of time, wait until you recover enough to only nasal breath, give yourself another 30 seconds, and then do the next round.
When you’re starting out, feel free to do less so you can focus on adherence.
Once you’re consistently performing this type of training, you can scale up the intensity and total workload.
Another way to think about max anaerobic capacity training is as follows:
At the bare minimum, aim for a total of 5-6 minutes per week of all-out work.
You can split that up any way you like in durations of 30-90 seconds of work per set over 2-3 sessions per week.
You have two main options:
Add a round
Determine how much distance you covered last week and try to do more this week
Exercise Protocol #3: Max Aerobic Capacity
Max aerobic capacity means exerting your max effort over 4-12 minutes with no rest.
Again, pick an exercise you’re comfortable with so that you can perform it with proper form and progressively increase in intensity.
You could do an all-out 1-mile run once or twice per week. Or whatever the equivalents are for swimming, cycling, or rowing.
Your goal is to find something you can perform at max intensity. Depending on the number of intervals you do, the entire workout may you as little as 8 or up to 30 minutes to complete.
These sessions will likely only consist of one exercise (running, swimming, cycling, rowing, etc.).
Feel free to switch it up week by week.
This protocol can be really simple.
Pick an endurance exercise and perform it for 10 minutes once or twice per week as fast as you can. No breaks or slowing down.
Try to go a little bit further in the same amount of time each week.
For a mental break and to attack this protocol from different angles, you can lower your intensity on some weeks.
Your max intensity week should feel like you’re going at your absolute max pace for 10 minutes total.
If you're running, you’ll probably feel like you’re a shade away from sprinting.
On other weeks, you can dial this down to somewhere between a Zone 2 pace and trying to run your fastest mile ever.
This type of “support work” will increase your VO2 Max and help you bust through plateaus when training at 100% max effort isn’t driving improvements as measured by distance covered over the same time.
For time efficiency, you could combine this max aerobic capacity training with max anaerobic capacity training by doing intervals as described above and then 5-10 minutes of running, biking, rowing, or swimming as fast as possible without stopping.
Try to cover more ground over the same period of time each week.
If you want to become a savage, you could do repeats.
For example, run 1 mile as fast as possible, recover, and then do it again, and again, for as many rounds as you desire.
Exercise Protocol #4: Long Duration Aerobic Endurance
Long duration aerobic endurance is maintaining consistent output over 20+ minutes.
This is your Zone 2 low-intensity cardio training.
Long duration endurance is repetitive.
It means hammering the same short movement pattern, stride, stroke, or rotation, thousands of times per session.
So pick something that you can do for prolonged periods of time over many years without getting injured.
If you dislike traditional endurance sports (running, swimming, cycling) you could do shadow boxing, skipping, or even circuits with low rest in between.
For example, farmer’s walks for 3 minutes, straight into a 1-minute plank, straight into bodyweight squats for 2 minutes, and so on.
Or one session could consist of 15 minutes running on the treadmill followed by 15 minutes on the bike and 15 minutes on the rower all back-to-back with no rest in between.
Exercise order isn’t relevant to long duration endurance.
Most of the time you will be performing the same movement for the entire session.
There are varying recommendations for total weekly volume.
World-renowned longevity expert Dr. Peter Attia likes to see 3-4 hours (180-240 minutes) per week.
I recommend starting where you can be consistent and adding slowly until you get to at least 120-180 minutes.
The end goal is a minimum of 180 minutes but ideally 240 minutes per week consistently.
More is better.
So if you feel like you can sustainably do more, go for it.
The metrics are pretty simple here.
Work towards adding more long duration endurance training until you’re in the 180-240 minutes per week range.
From there you can always add more or look for consistent increases in the amount of distance you can cover over the same period of time.
Weekly Summary: Endurance Training Protocols
Here’s a tidy summary of the 4 endurance training protocols above:
Muscular Endurance: 3-4 sets to failure or close to failure of the movement you want to improve 2-3 times per week at the end of an aerobic or anaerobic session.
Max Anaerobic Capacity: 5-6 minutes per week of intense work in 20-60 second intervals (up to 90 seconds max) over 1-3 sessions per week.
Max Aerobic Capacity: 10 minutes of all-out endurance work 1-2 times per week.
Long Duration Aerobic Endurance: 60-240 minutes per week (working towards 180 minutes per week minimum) of consistent pace hiking, jogging, swimming, cycling, rowing, etc.
Yes, this takes time and effort.
But you have 112 waking hours each week.
For a person that is doing the absolute maximum and not using any of the time savers included above, that’s less than 4.5% or 5 hours of your week.
And I can guarantee that you will EARN back more time than you spend exercising through:
extra years tacked onto your life,
improved metabolic health,
a healthy body weight,
more energy each day,
Two Critical Reminders
Goal #1 of any exercise program is to not get injured.
Goal #2 is to find a way to be consistent.
I don’t care if you only do 10% of the recommended workloads above for your first year of endurance training if that’s what it takes to build the consistency to train endurance for the next 50 years of your life.
Focus on adherence and consistency.
Master the art of showing up even if that means doing 2 minutes of exercise on a given day.
Play the long game.
That’s all for this week! Thanks for reading.
Much love to you and yours,
P.S. If there is anything longevity-related you want to learn about in this newsletter, hit reply to this email or leave a comment and let me know!