Reader To Reader: Building Stamina


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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