Reader To Reader: Building Stamina

How should a newbie runner build up his stamina? Here's what you thought


Posted: 29 December 2006
by Jane Hoskyn


You're in pretty good shape and do plenty of strength work at the gym, but you get puffed out climbing the stairs. Will running help you ramp up your stamina? What the best way to go about it?

"Can anyone give me some tips for building stamina? I'm a total beginner. I'm looking to build lung capacity and cardio-vascular fitness rather than calorie-burning. I run on a treadmill rather than road, and it's part of my gym programme which mostly consists of resistance machines. I'm a non-smoker, 5'6", nine and a half stone, good blood pressure – but I get puffed out climbing stairs, and the rowing machine seems like torture. Any advice?"Alan Chan
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Your best answers

  • Get outdoors
    I'd highly recommend mixing your treadmill running with some outdoor runs. For me, this provides a similar benefit to using free weights, in that your musculature is constantly challenged in lots of ways by undulating surfaces, wind resistance etc. Think more about time than speed. Get 30 mins comfortable under your belt as your first goal – easily reached goals are the way to go. Start off with 10 mins now, do that for a couple of weeks, than add 1 or 2 mins (or whatever you reckon) a week. You'll improve in leaps and bounds, way faster than you might expect. Heart rate monitors are really good for base training and will give you instant visual feedback on whether you're training at the most useful level or not... which is often amazingly slow. – Dave Cochrane
  • Set a target
    Enter a race. You know you want to. – Plodding Hippo
  • Variety is the key
    I started three years ago on treadmills, but it's nothing like running outside. Now I find a treadie hard to bear. Also try a combination of other things, like club track sessions for building speed, and spinning classes for building lung capacity. Variety prevents boredom and repitition, even if it is only varying routes when you are out. Even running a route in reverse makes it different. – DoctorK
  • A running partner helps
    I'm also a beginner: my friend and I started running three months ago. We just steadily built on our distance, adding an extra ten minutes or so every week. Now we can run for a couple of hours, which I never thought I'd be able to do. I used to go off like Penelope Pitstop and then turn purple after 10 minutes, but I've just learned to pace myself somehow. Running with my friend helps. I push the pace and she pushes the endurance, so we're a good team. We're trying for three runs a week now: one fartlek/pace run, one strength run (hills) and one long distance run. The hills have made quite a difference in building up leg strength. We avoid boredom by not planning our routes too much and just head off down various roads. We have added a few miles by getting lost on occasions. We did our first 5K fun-run a few weeks ago, which felt great. We're signed up for a 10K in February and a half-marathon in March. – Namaste
  • Ditch the treadie
    Get off the treadmill (most boring form of exercise ever invented!) and out of the gym. Mix up your routes with some good gradients and conditions. The best thing I did was to start trail running, initially as the only way to get a good run and exercise the dog in a time-efficient manner! The mix of underfoot conditions and gradients sets challenges to your muscles that a treadmill can never do, and, let's face it, it's what our bodies were originally designed for. Oh and I still get out of breath running up some flights of steps; I just do it faster than I used to. – Timothy Hallaways
  • Get the right shoes and remember to stretch
    If you've got the right shoes for your feet and gait, I'd say that the calf and shin problem will subside once your body gets used to running. Just make sure you're doing plenty of stretches after your sessions. – Zakkala
  • Try heart rate training
    If you just want to improve your CV system, I'd recommend running at 70% of your max heart rate (usually about 220 minus your age) for increasing amounts of time. Pushing yourself hard will give you strength and speed benefits, but it isn't going to improve your fitness in the same way. – Mister W
  • Faster, longer, free weights
    It depends what you're training for. Steady state cardio is fine and does have health benefits, but you'll soon plateau. So to get a better training effect you'll either have to run faster or longer. If you want to race, some speed and hill sessions will build stamina, and I'd definitely recommend weights for building endurance (upper and lower bod). Choose free weights over machines as they train more muscles and in a more functional way. Using a rower is good providing your technique's good. Row at a pace that leaves you breathless but still able to talk a bit. What about stationary cycling or swimming? – Siance
  • Mix up your aerobic exercise
    Basically the answer to your question is aerobic exercise which uses a large number of muscles (body movement) to perform. So as well as running you could swim, cycle of mix all three for variety. Remember a minimum of 30 mins, so if you cannot make the 30 min mark you are working to hard! I'd also recommend heart rate training. You will find yourself primarily working in the aerobic zone, but if you find it getting too difficult you're probably entering your anaerobic zone and will tire very quickly, probably within a few minutes. If you manage to do this for a minimum of 3 times a week, you will soon see improvements. Heart rate monitors are excellent for performing this type of exercise, and also for seeing the results in front of you as you improve. This is because you'll eventually be able to perform the same exercise at the same intensity, but at a lower heart rate. To improve further, either run further or faster. If you don't have access to a monitor, run at a speed where you can hold a conversation. – Sean T
  • Fartleks for stamina
    To build stamina, something like fartleks would be good, or intervals: where you run at a fast pace for a minute, recover for two. You could mix up these times to suit you, with longer fast-paced bursts and shorter recoveries. – Kieren
  • Don't get carried away with the cardio
    When you're a new runner your cardio fitness develops much quicker than your musculo-skeletal structure. This often leads to shins splints and other lower body injuries which damages confidence too. My tuppenceworth on the stamina/speed thing is to do interval training. It's pretty uncomfortable to do, but you tend to see good improvements. Don't do them very often though; and when you do, make sure it's not on a hard surface. – Keith the Plumber


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Hi, can anyone give me some good tips for building stamina (i'm a total begginer). I'm using treadmills at the gym rather than road running, and if you put me on 12-13kph i can run as long as you'd like me too, and it doesnt really do much for me. I'm looking to build stamina / lung capacity / CV fitness rather than calorie burning for weight loss. i've been put on a program at 7.3mph upping the gradient by 0.5 every 20 seconds and hit the brick wall at about 7 minutes, usually remaining on gradient 9.5 for as long as i can.
I'm a non smoker, 5'6", 9 1/2 stone, good stregnth fitness, well hydrated with good blood pressure. However i'm getting puffed out climbing stairs, and the rowing machine seems like torture, my CV fitness is appalling.
Is this a good way to build stamina, or should i change my training ragieme? I want running to be mostly to improve CV fitness, i dont want to loose too much weight. My running forms part of my overall gym program which mostly consists of resistance machines. What benefits will building my legs on machines offer (which again is the bain of my life as they are like twigs)?
Posted: 22/12/2006 at 11:28

Alan, it depends what you're training for. Steady state cardio is fine and does have health benefits but you'll soon plateau so to get a better training effect you'll either have to run faster or longer.

If you want to race, some speed and hill sessions will build stamina and I'd definitely recommend weights for building endurance (upper and lower bod). Choose free weights over machines as they train more muscles and in a more functional way.

Rower is good providing your technique's good (seen bad backs with improper form). You don't have to beast yourself on it. Row at a pace that leaves you breathless but still able to talk a bit. What about stationary cycling or swimming?
Posted: 22/12/2006 at 13:19

If you want to just improve your CV system then I'd recommend running at 70% of your max heart rate for increasing amounts of time.
Posted: 22/12/2006 at 13:35

ok thanks, sound like i'm probably pushing a bit too hard then, as by the end of the run i have to sit down and am completely out of breath for a good few minutes. The brick wall i hit is not down to lack of motivation, as i genuinly enjoy running.

I've always thought that unless i'm pushing myself so its uncomfortable, i'm not going to get anywhere (as is the case in weight training)?? Doing a hill climbing running session seems to push my boundaries a bit, long distance puts me off as i think i will burn too many calories.

Does anyone know if its safe to run with aching legs post build-up sessions? For eaxmple i know you are not meant to weight train if your muscles still ache, but can i still run OK if my legs ache from a leg workout the day before?

I don't really do much on the bike machines, but do also do a hard workout on the cross trainer (level 14 out of 20, random program for 11 mins). I find this good stuff.
Posted: 22/12/2006 at 14:08

Alan, trust me.... if it's CV improvements you're after then you need long slow runs at (or below) 70% of max HR. Pushing yourself hard will give you strength and speed benefits but it isn't going to improve your fitness in the same way.
Posted: 22/12/2006 at 15:02

Alan, I'd say CW's advice is sound. You want to calculate your max heart rate (as a rough guide 220-your age) and then pound along at around 70% of that for increasing periods of time. You'd be amazed how quickly you'll get inside an hour for 10k on a running machine, provided you stay hydrated, motivated, comfortable, and dedicated.

I'd also HIGHLY recommend mixing your treadmill running with some outdoor runs...for me, this provides a similar benefit to using free weights in that your musculature is constantly challenged in lots of ways by undulating surfaces, wind resistance etc.

Think more about time than speed. Get 30 mins comfortable under your belt as your first goal - easily reached goals are the way to go. Start off with 10 mins now, do that for a couple of weeks, than add 1 or 2 mins (or whatever you reckon) a week. You'll improve in leaps and bounds, way faster than you might expect.

Heart rate monitors are really good for base training and will give you instant visual feedback on whether you're training at the most useful level or not...which is often amazingly slow.

Best of luck and merry xmas!
Dave
Posted: 23/12/2006 at 16:18

To build stamina you need to work at anywhere between 55%and 90% of your max heart rate for a minimum of 30 mins each session. But as people have already mentioned if you work at around 70% you should get a good workout but not too hard. You will find yourself primarily working in the aerobic zone but if you find it getting too difficult you are probably entering your anaerobic zone and will tire very quickly , probably within a few minutes. If you manage to do this for a minimum of 3 times a week you will soon see improvements. Heart rate monitors are excellent for performing this type of exercise and also seeing the results in front of you as you improve . This is because you should find that you can perform the same exercise at the same intensity but your heart rate will be lower over a period of time. Then to improve further you need to as already mentioned either run further or faster to continue improving. If you do not have access to a monitor then run at a speed that you can hold a conversation maybe speeding up so that you can say only a few words as you progress . Basically the answer to your question is aerobic exercise which uses a large number of muscles (body movement) to perform. So as well as running you could swim , cycle of mix all three for variety. Remember a minimum of 30 mins , so if you cannot make the 30 min mark you are working to hard!
Posted: 23/12/2006 at 17:03

And if you are worried about using too many calories then just eat more!
Posted: 23/12/2006 at 21:26

Alan -it is true that slow longer runs build stamina, but it takes time to get it. I started 3 yrs ago on treadmills but it is nothing like running outside. Now I find a treadie hard to bear.
Also a combination of other things -like club track sessions for building speed -and stamina, and spinning classes I find are great for building lung capacity, you could try some aerobic classes or stuff like body attack too. Variety is good too to prevent boredom and repitition even if it is only varying routes when you are out -simply running a route in reverse makes it different. Good luck with it.
Posted: 24/12/2006 at 14:13

I always thought the longer slower runs build endurance.

To build stamina I think doing something like fartleks would be good or intervals - where you run at a fast pace for a minute, recover for 2

you could mix up these times to suit you with longer fast paced bursts & shorter recoveries.

I could be wrong though - sometimes it's hard to make the distibction between endurance & stamina - at least i find it hard
Posted: 24/12/2006 at 14:55


Nam
My friend and I started running three months ago. We just steadily built on our distance, adding an extra ten minutes or so every week. Now we can run for a couple of hours! I NEVER thought in a million years that I would EVER be able to run for two hours!!! Now we started to map our runs online to figure out how far we're going. I used to go off like Penelope Pitstop and then turn purple after ten minutes but I've just learned to pace myself somehow. Running with my friend helps. I push the pace and she pushes the endurance so we're a good team. We're trying for three runs a week now. One fartlek/pace run, one strength run (hills) and one long distance run. The hills have made quite a difference in building up leg strength. We avoid boredom by not planning our routes too much and just head off down various roads. We have added a few miles by getting lost on occasions. We did our first 5k fun run a few weeks ago which felt great. We're signed up for a 10k in February and a Half mara in March. Initialy I thought "who are you trying to kid?!" but we recently managed 11 miles and I'm beginning to think we can do it. Just want to survive it, not in it to win it so to speak. Running has always been my nemesis and I've been exstatic to have got my head around it. Looking forward to 2007 with our first proper timed races and many miles to come. Merry Christmas all.
Posted: 26/12/2006 at 00:11

Thanks everyone, i know that this advice is going to help 100%, and as everyone seems to be giving the same advice. Its really encouraging to hear other success stories. I particularly like the idea of a variety of different training such as hill, road, long distance if this will make the difference. I had a go at a general run on the treadmill with 0 gradient at around 11.5kph (any slower feels a bit to awkward, too much like a trot) and kept going for about 13 mins, so as you can all see this gives a genuine idea that i'm not that fit at present. Question though - even if i'm doing a long run on the treadmill, should i still put it on a gradient to help build stamina, and in general terms which gradient is a substitute for road running? Around 2-3?
Posted: 26/12/2006 at 12:14

about 1.5-2%
but running outside is totally different anyway
id slow down to that trot, and slower-if you want to go for longer
Posted: 26/12/2006 at 12:23


Nam
Agree with SWH. My experience was that like you I'd run on the treadmill on what I thought was a reasonable speed for someone my height but I'd still wear myself out after ten minutes. I just couldn't understand it because my general fitness was really good, as I'd breeze through RPM classes etc but I just could not run for toffee!!! Then we just went out on the road and took it really easy, as in REALLY easy! Not much fast than walking pace, gentle jog... Suddenly it didn't feel as if my lungs were going to jump out of my chest and my breathing was much less "desperate" and hey presto we'd been going for half an hour!! Three months later we can do a couple of hours and we really didn't push ourselves hard as we're really not competitive, it just kind of crept up on us. Unlike on the treadmill I don't feel as if I'm going to fall over my own feet if I run slowly, but on the running machine it just feels really weird. I just use treadmill for sprints now if its freezing outside but enjoy running outside much more. Keep at it! Just take it easy.
Posted: 26/12/2006 at 16:18

Its really inspiring to read all the advice on here, I also am a relatively new runner, and set myself an initial target to run for 30 minutes without breaks, and when i started and could only do about 2 minutes, i thought that day would never come! But now 8 weeks later I am running 3 x 30 mins a week, and 60 mins at the weekend (but still with some walk breaks!) Once I got to the 30 minute mark I felt like I "should" run much faster - I tried a couple of sessions pushing it and only managed to run for 10 - 15 mins without stopping. Then I came on here and read the threads and realised that endurance and stamina is the way to improve as a beginner, and so I am now back to a steady pace and pushing my distance out. I must admit I am LOVING it, and can't believe I havent started running years ago - I hope the feeling lasts!! Any tips on goal setting for a newbie to keep motivated would be very much appreciated!!
Posted: 27/12/2006 at 11:40

enter a race

you know you want to----------
Posted: 27/12/2006 at 11:40

haha! i do but am a bit scared! I think i will get over excited with the adrenaline and be all done after 2 miles!
Posted: 27/12/2006 at 11:46

Funnily enough the only race i have ever entered was when i was about 13 years old, and it was a 12 mile charity run, and i managed to complete the entire race. Not bad!! I'm going to join a running club i think.
Posted: 27/12/2006 at 11:55

Thanks for starting this thread Alan, you have really inspired me to keep on running!
Posted: 27/12/2006 at 12:00

Blonde chick-i always strart too fsast
you learn pacing with experience
go for it!
Posted: 27/12/2006 at 12:02


Nam
I think I was really lucky to find a running partner and we complement each other really well. Neither of us would probably run as much on our own. Love running with her, I really do. Even on evenings when I initially really didn't feel up for it, its amazing when you then have a really good run. She paces me as I'd normally shoot off and wear myself out and then feel pathetic. At the same time I do encourage her to go a little faster than she would on her own so it works really well. I'm the one who encourages sprints and killer hills, and she is the one who keeps us going on long routes when I'm ready to flag down a cab...!

Keep on running BAC. It'll be the best thing that's ever happenend to you. A friend of mine is an elite runner and she was going on about "runners high".. I used to complain cos I could never run long enough for the 'free drugs' to kick in... but now I know what she means... that endorphin rush you get after about 20 minutes when you just fly... its fantastic...

:-)
Posted: 27/12/2006 at 12:24

I dont get runners high-ever

but running is the best thing that happened to me
Posted: 27/12/2006 at 12:39

Get off the treadmill (most boring form of exercise ever invented!) and out of the gym. Mix up your routes with some good gradients and conditions - the best thing I did was to start trail running, initially as the only way to get a good run and exercise the dog in a time efficient manner! The mix of underfoot conditions and gradients sets challenges to your muscles that a treadmill can never do and, let's face it, was what our bodies were originally designed for. The advice about enetering a race is also good - I started to keep fit and a friend suggested setting a target of, in my case, a half-marathon. I haven't looked back since. Best of luck - oh and I still get out of breath running up some flights of steps (just do it faster than I used to).
Posted: 27/12/2006 at 13:24

Thanks all! I do run outside always, as I hate exercise indoors anyway, am lucky enough to live near a running track and so do my week night sessions there (and long run on woodland trails), but i must admit that i do find it hard to keep motivated running around in a big circle! I think I am just finding it strange, because as a beginner you make such great strides (no pun intended - sorry!) through training, and almost each week you can see yourself getting hugely better and fitter. Now I have got to being able to run continuously for 30 mins, I kind of feel "what now?" and an impatience to keep pushing and pushing harder. On the other hand reading these threads make me realise that there is much merit in the fact of continuing to run regularly, and steadily increasing speed and distance and avoiding in jury. Maybe I just need to be a bit "easier" on myself!!
Posted: 27/12/2006 at 14:37

(Get off the treadmill)
I totally agree, although it has it's place in training on occassions , in my case very occassionally. If I didn't run outside I don't think I would be running at all ,the tread certainly is boring. Running out on a cool bright dry day can make the miles fly by. And sometimes you don't even want to stop . On a tread I am constantly watching the clock and wishing it would speed up so I can move on to something else.
And never ever be afraid of entering run's .And don't fret about being at the back either. Some people in these forums say that the races in which they came last were the most memorable in a good way that is , and also it's very rare that you will be at the back anyway if you choose one with a high number of entrants. Someone has to come last , and I never think anything negative about that person ,do you?, probably not. So put your name down you will not regret it .A few runs scattered here and there is the best motivtion there is.
Posted: 27/12/2006 at 14:54

Alan,

You should be looking at how often you run. 3 times a week is a good start point, but 5 times is essential to move yourself on.

The long run is importnat - at least 1 hour would be recommended.

To address speed you should be doing some faster paced work. A teadmill can be very effective - try 4 by 5 minute runs.

You should also seek out a local runni9ng club - cheaper than gym membership and would allow you to get some support / advice on a one to one basis.


Posted: 28/12/2006 at 23:33

**UPDATE** - I have done sessions on the treadmill at the gym for the past 2 evenings, and whilst i didn't quite manage 30 mins, i took the advice and ran for about 12 mins each, twice per session (i.e 2 runs per visit as part of my standard resistance machine training). It dawned on me that my calfs and shins were burning out before i was totally out of breath. Therefore will leg building prevent such aching in the future, or will the burning subside as my body adjusts to regular running?
Posted: 29/12/2006 at 10:00

Hiya Alan,

Well done on your progress!

If you've got the right shoes for your feet and gait, I'd say that the calf & shin problem will subside once your body gets used to running. Just make sure you're doing plenty of stretches after your sessions.

Having said that, I'm a beginner too so someone with better advice will probably be along soon!
Posted: 29/12/2006 at 10:03


Nam
On the rare occassions when I do use the treadmill (if its absolutely freezing outside or chucking it down, its ok for pyramid) hills or sprints, I always set it on a slight incline like 1.5 or 2. If its completely flat it almost feels like downhill to me and that can be quite taxing on the knees in the long run and also gives me shin splins type pains which I never get outside. I just feel a really clumsy runner on the treadmill whereas I really love running outside and feel much lighter. I do wonder whether I would have ever progressed had I not started to go outside. Give it a go, it might be revelation. :-)
Posted: 29/12/2006 at 10:27

Stretching too is really key to avoid pain afterwards - I never bothered at all until i got a lecture from 2 running friends who had had to pull out of marathons due to knee injuries caused by not stretching afterwards (specifically illiotibial band stretches) Check out the Beginners section on here for a great set of stretches to do afterwards, also makes your muscles longer and leaner then just stopping cold, and now i hardly get any aches at all even after an hour run!
Posted: 29/12/2006 at 10:36

Yeah I agree, stretching does help but isn't it horrible when you get the urge to want to run but you have to do some boring old stretching first! I found I got achy knees when I first started but I backed off the mileage and took it easy until they became accustomed to it. When you're a new runner it's unfortunate that you CV develops much quicker than your MusculoSkeletal structure. This often leads to shins splints and other lower body injuries which damages confidence too.

Back to the thread though... My two-penneth worth on the stamina/speed thing is to do interval training. It's pretty uncomfortable to do but you tend to see good improvements. Don't do them very often though and when you do, make sure it's not on a hard surface.
Posted: 29/12/2006 at 10:59

Hi Keith - what do you recommend interval wise? - i am a real newbie to running, and have just got to the stage of running for 30 mins without breaks and want to work on the stamina side of things, whats a good interval schedule? I run on either trails or track. Thanks!
Posted: 29/12/2006 at 11:02

Hiya Blonde - (that was quick!) - As usual there are loads of schools of thought on the topic of intervals. I followed a program that suggested running more of less flat out for 30 seconds then resting for 60 (or jogging recovery) and repeating ten times. You will find this pretty uncomfortable especially towards the end. I would seriously recommend that you have a solid base of slow distance running for a few months before attempting intervals because it's hard on the body.

Having said all that, I always found "fartlec" (speedplay) style intervals more fun though. You do a normal run as usual and every so often you run hard and fast and when you start getting tired you back off until recovery - you can cover alot of distance in this way :)
Posted: 29/12/2006 at 11:22

I've heard about the fartlec method and will definitley be giving it a go. Another barrier sometimes i face when running, which again hinders me sometimes is when i get a stitch. What exactly are they, why do i get them and should i keep running with a stitch, or is there a way to get rid of it? I have heard that it has something to do with drinking too much water before running, is this true?
Posted: 29/12/2006 at 11:34

I'm going with bricks'n'mortar on this one. Straw and sticks are so over rated.
Posted: 29/12/2006 at 11:45

Hehe, Alan you've touched on another well talked about subject which doesn't really have a proper answer! A stitch is supposedly caused by the organs, which are attached to the diaphragm, bouncing up and down and straining it. This is a possibility. I've also heard the drinking too much/not enough/eating before/not eating before running theories. Whenever you experience pain it's your body's way of telling you that there is (or could be) a problem. When you run through a stitch (which I think we all do) it does usually fade away. However, you tend to feel a nagging pain inside you for the next few days, so something weird was happening inside you.

I think you've just got to experiment to find out what you were doing before you ran and see if altering things stops it from happening.

Sorry for the wooly answer but I don't really know!
Posted: 29/12/2006 at 11:45

I usually put pressure in the area of the stitch whilst running with my hand , and also breath slowly and deeply for a few steps. It usually works .Ruuning through it does no harm we all do it.
Other methods are related to which step you breath out on . Not sure on the specifics but it's prob on one of the forums somewhere.
Posted: 29/12/2006 at 15:15


Nam
I usually get a stitch when I run too fast too long. When I slow it down a bit and breathe out really hard (something I read somewhere) it usually sorts it really quick.
Posted: 29/12/2006 at 16:08


Nam
The stitch thread is here...
http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/forum/forummessages.asp?UTN=696
Interesting.
Posted: 29/12/2006 at 18:01

it's great to hear from new runners and everyone seems to go through the same trials etc. I've made all the usual mistakes - going too far too soon and getting injury etc etc. So when my wife decided that she too wanted to take up runing it was a challenge to make sure she didn't get into the same problems. We started slow with a walk programme then went to walk run and now we are out to 4 miles. She couldn't walk for 15 mins in early May - she's lost three stone but still has several to go. We worked away at the walking and the early jogs that lasted for only a short time until now she can go out and run this 4 mile route knowing she can run to the best of her ability all the way round.

Now we have till April to get out to 10K but its only another half hours running - a steady increase of perhaps 5 more minutes over a few weeks will mean that by the late spring she'll easily be out at the distance . No injuries and no worry she won't be capable of the distance. Slow but steady building up strength and stamina so ech new goal is easily attainable.

Slow , steady patient progress thats the key!
Posted: 29/12/2006 at 18:52

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