Training Tools and Techniques for Sport Endurance

Endurance sports are still being understood. What works for one athlete might not work for you. This blog will provide you with the basic tools, warnings and techniques for sports endurance. It is your responsibility to try them out and see which one works for you.

endurance athlete


Many times in this sport, you will find yourself training in very extreme climate conditions. Acclimatization is our ability to adjust to climate extremes. 


Dr. Winant stated that the secret to conquering the cold is staying hydrated. He mentions that "if you are dehydrated you can't transport heat to the extremities" (Tinley, 32). Others might say that having a higher body fat percentage can increase your resistance against cold weather but the battle is mental. 


Heat management is another aspect that an endurance athlete should master. Hydrating is also the secret to heat management because "wherever there's heat, there is a potential danger for the endurance athlete" (Tinley, 33). 

Aerobic Exercise:

Aerobic exercise is the cornerstone of endurance. Aerobic exercise requires aerobic energy. It enables elite runners to run marathons in two hours and six minutes and allows triathletes to persevere through eight hours and 140 miles of swimming, biking, and running.


  • Increase the number of your capillaries, the tiny blood vessels that carry oxygen and fuel to the muscles and cart waste products away.
  • Increase the total volume of your blood, making you. the circulatory system is more efficient.
  • Strengthen your heart, thickening the walls and allowing it to pump more blood and oxygen to your system with each stroke.
  • Increase the number of oxidative enzymes in your muscle fibers. More enzymes allow you to break down carbohydrates and fat faster, keeping you up and running longer.

The best way to strengthen your aerobic system is through a regular program of sports such as swimming, running, cycling and cross-country, and skiing, which involves large, oxygen-hungry muscle groups. You will achieve the greatest aerobic benefits when you train at about three-quarters of your maximum efforts for at least 20 minutes at a time. Aerobic exercise will help you, the endurance athlete, gain exactly what you're seeking - the ability to keep on going.

Altitude Training

It is harder to train altitudes at first. The shortage of oxygen is impossible to ignore; at 5,000 feet you have to breathe 20 percent harder than at sea level to get the same amount of oxygen into your lungs. Experts recommend a bare minimum of two to three solid weeks of acclimatization and training under conditions similar to what you'll see during the race.

What works even better is training five to six days per week at sea level and one to two days per week at altitude. Follow this with two to three solid weeks under race conditions at altitude and you're all set assuming you can still pay for groceries after all the traveling and time off.

Lastly, when racing or training at altitude, remember that additional stresses are being placed upon your body. Experts recommend extended warm-up and cool-down periods, careful attention to proper hydration, and a conservative approach to pacing in the early stages of any competition.


Amphetamines, better know as "speed", are among the most commonly abused stimulants in the endurance arena. It is easy to see why. Marathon runs triathlons and ultra-distance cycling are as much a matter of grit and mental toughness as of raw talent. Unfortunately, mental toughness is sometimes supplied via chemicals.

The risks posed by amphetamines far outweigh their benefits. If you are not convinced, an example of the dangers of amphetamines occurred at the Tour de France bicycle race in 1966. Tom Simpson, Great Britain's first world champion, collapsed on a hot day during the 2,000-foot climb up Mount Ventoux. Simpson died on the way to the hospital of acute cardiac failure, caused by his use of benzedrine tablets during the competition. Amphetamines are banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and most other national and international sport-governing bodies. 

Anabolic Steroids

What do you think of when you hear the word 'steroid'? Images of bulging biceps, broad backs, and highly defined abs of world champion bodybuilders might come to mind. Steroids are synthetic versions of the male hormone testosterone. Steroids have long-term health effects. When taken regularly and combined with appropriate training methods, steroids help build lean muscle mass, increased strength, and instill or enhance aggressive tendencies.

While they do build tissues, anabolic steroids are "androgenic" meaning they tend to produce alternate sexual characteristics. Men's breasts can get enlarged, their testes may shrink and sperm counts can decrease, resulting in sterility. Women may develop facial hair and a deep voice. Baldness and acne have been noted in both sexes.

But these superficial changes are symptoms of more serious difficulties. Steroid use can lead to cardiovascular problems by raising blood pressure and serum triglyceride levels and encouraging cholesterol deposits on the walls of the arteries. Cancer of the liver, kidney, prostate gland, and breast are also well-documented side effects. Anabolic steroids can be psychologically damaging as well. Anabolic steroids are not physically addictive like heroin or cocaine. However, when athletes stop using anabolic steroids, size and strength improvements disappear. Most athletes cannot tolerate this withdrawal and quickly return to using steroids. They become psychologically addicted to the steroid and its effects.

Anaerobic Exercise

Anaerobic exercise is an alternative energy system. Anaerobic activity has a lot to do with endurance even if most people would argue otherwise. Even within the longest events, you still need short bursts of speed. Often, races are won by athletes who throw in an anaerobic surge no one can match. Exercising at a three-quarter (75%) speed can vastly improve your body's aerobic capabilities. Conditioned muscles can store more glycogen. And these muscles, just plain stronger, don't have to work as hard. That means you won't need to turn to the anaerobic effort as soon. 

The anaerobic threshold is the tool of the conditioned athlete. Many less-gifted athletes have walloped more talented competitors simply by raising their anaerobic thresholds. You need to identify your anaerobic threshold to surpass it. Elite athletes check their anaerobic thresholds by trotting off to a lab, where they offer blood samples to measure levels of lactic acid. They also have their heart rates checked. Another way to do it is by doing a field test. A good field test is to run a 10K at just above your anaerobic threshold. An athlete can generally tell where that threshold is your breathing increases a little more than is comfortable. Let's say you run the 10k at that slightly uncomfortable speed. Your time is 36 minutes. You can safely assume that a 6-minute mile us somewhere around your anaerobic threshold pace. To get better, you have to push past your comfort zone.

Aspirin and Its Cousins

Aspirin is known for its ability to relieve soreness and inflammation. It is a blood-thinning agent that reduces the risk of a heart attack. It is also a very popular drug with competitive endurance athletes, who must train consistently, regardless of minor aches, and pains, and recover quickly from hard workouts and harder competitions. NSAIDs can assist the athlete by reducing swelling and speeding healing. But use can become abuse when athletes take them far more and in greater doses than recommended including just before and even during long races in hot weather. Moderation is key.

Blood Doping

Blood doping involves drawing out a quantity of blood a month or so before a major competition, then reinfusing it just before race day. This can increase an athlete's aerobic capacity by up to 10 percent. Unfortunately, no test methods are available to detect blood doping in competitive athletes. The bottom line is that blood doping gives one competitor an unfair advantage over another. The practice is unethical. Sadly, that fact alone isn't always the deterrent it should be at high levels of competition.

Cooling Down

It is an act of easing out of exercise. Like the warm-up, the cool-down has an important function in the exercise equation. And like a warm-up, it is usually neglected by endurance athletes. It helps your body move smoothly and comfortably from a hard effort to rest. During exercise, the blood vessels that sweep oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles are wide open. If you suddenly stop exercising, the blood begins to pool in these wide-open vessels and just sits there.

After you finish running, you might notice that you feel dizzy and light-headed, it is caused by the blood pooling in your extremities. The blood is not reaching your brain. Light cooling down exercise can help flush lactic acid from the muscles and the blood. As you cool down, your body gets busy restoring its. supplies of ATP, refilling the muscles' oxygen stores and easing back on hormone and temperature levels. All this will eventually occur without a cool-down, but a proper one will make this process quicker and easier.


Time off is a wonderful, and necessary, part of the endurance equation. Few people can train without a break and those who can often suffer the consequences. Time off means losing some of the training's benefits. These declines occur on all fronts, including cardiovascular capacity, muscular strength, and flexibility. After six weeks without training, you'll suffer an almost complete loss of any cardiovascular adaptations you gained. Worse, your total blood volume starts to decline after just a few days of inactivity. The less blood circulating through your system, the less oxygen is available to produce energy. Muscle strength diminishes about 1.5 percent per day as unexercised muscle fibers lose stamina and size. And without consistent attention, your connective tissues, ligaments, and tendons quickly become less flexible. 

Cross-training is a good idea for people who are coming back. You will come back quicker, with less risk of injury. You may be afraid of time off. If you are obsessed with doing something during the off-season, at least do something different. Perhaps the best part of a comeback is the freshened enthusiasm that comes with it.


There is an advantage of tucking in behind a moving object and enjoying the free ride. Out in front, you're forced to push through wind, or, in the case of swimming, water. It is beneficial for reducing resistance. 

In the blog, we touched on the do's and don'ts of endurance sports and how to get ahead. Look out for the next blog on how to get started on endurance training, and the basic nutrition guide.



Scott Tinley and Ken McAlpine. Winning Guide to Sports Endurance, Rodale Press, 1994