Endurance Training for Beginners

by Chris Pruitt


Endurance training focuses on the cardiovascular (i.e., heart, arteries, veins, and capillaries) and respiratory (i.e., lungs) system. Improving one’s endurance means improving your body’s ability to capture and deliver large quantities of oxygenated blood (and remove metabolic wastes) over extended periods. There are many options for endurance training from which the beginner can choose:

  • Walking
  • Stair climbing
  • Jumping rope
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Cross-country skiing

All of these rhythmic activities are suitable for increasing the heart rate into in the endurance-exercise zone. However, beginners might have to settle first for the fat burning zone until they are accustomed to higher demands and become fit enough to sustain a higher heart rate.

Warming Up

It isn’t unusual that beginners assume stretching should precede a workout. The pre-workout warm-up period is actually more important than any pre-workout stretch. Warming up is light activity that raises one’s respiratory rate, increases blood flow throughout the entire body, and elevates core temperature. The effect is to loosen dormant muscles, reduces tightness in all soft tissues, and increases blood flow into and out of muscles. Five to 15 minutes of brisk walking, jumping rope, or performing some other rhythmic activity at around 50 percent of one’s maximum heart rate – a level where you’re neither sweating profusely nor gasping for air – will suffice.


Walking is the simplest endurance training choice for beginners. Although elevation, terrain and the elements matter, walking is essentially focused on distance and time. The beginner need only make one of the following vows:

  • Covering a given distance regardless of time: “I’m going to walk a mile. I don’t care how long it takes me.”
  • Moving oneself for a given time regardless of distance: “I’m going to walk for thirty minutes. I don’t care how far it is, I just need to be active.”

Walking is very accommodating: several blocks around your neighborhood, around a park, or on a treadmill at a fitness club.

Using a stop watch or even a wrist watch, you could time yourself for alternating segments of walking slowly with segments of walking quickly, perhaps in response to hilly terrain, in order to provide basic, introductory conditioning for the heart and lungs. Walking such intervals for 30 minutes, switching speed and inclination, is a comparatively safe way to elevate heart rate and prepare for eventual continuous, brisk (fast) walking or even a bit of jogging.

On a treadmill, the same approach can be used; but, with even more precision. A 1-degree incline roughly approximates typical wind resistance on level ground when outdoors. A brisk walking speed will vary between men and women, young and old, fit and infirm.

Stair Climbing

Stair climbing is just about as accommodating as walking: you can climb real stairs in and on structures – like steps in a multi-story apartment complex or at a nearby stadium – or use a stair-climbing machine at a fitness club or home gym. Depending on the rise height from step to step, the number of stairs, and the speed at which the stairs are climbed, stair climbing will demand varying levels of flexibility, strength, and endurance.

Warm up for 5 minutes at a slow stepping rate, regardless of whether you’re on real stairs or a machine. Thereafter, gradually increase stepping speed to raise your heart rate into the fat-burning, and if possible, endurance zone. Your stepping pace should be purposeful and brisk for the next 20 minutes. End your workout by returning to the initial, slow stepping rate and maintain that pace for a 5-minute cool down.

Thirty minutes of these “steady stairs” is something that can be done every day. Repeat the above routine for a week, and if you aren’t nauseous or dizzy, you’ll likely be ready for more of a challenge sooner rather than later. Increase the stepping rate above the usual or do the usual stepping rate for a longer time or perform intervals. Don’t neglect the cool down.


Cycling is also a great endurance training option for beginners. It’s accessible: most people have a bicycle or could borrow one and stationary cycles are a fixture in most home gym and fitness clubs. And, pretty much everyone knows how to ride a bike, even if they’re not on the Tour de France or in the X Games. Cycling has, like walking, two main considerations: distance and time. Start taking regular rides in or out of doors, aware of how far you go and/or how long it takes.

Jumping Rope

An attractive reason to jump rope is that:

  1. If you’ve never done it before, you can learn a basic jump – the rope makes one pass beneath as both feet leaving and reconnecting with the ground at the same time – in a few minutes and
  2. It offers endurance gains while being gentler on the body’s most sensitive joints.

Beginners should do basic jumping at intervals. Perform timed segments of greater hustle with segments of lesser hustle. As with walking, rope jumping intervals will elevate heart rate and help to prepare for eventual continuous, fast jumping. Try to do a 15-minute basic jumping session.

Other Choices

Pools and bodies of water in and out of doors make swimming a pretty good option. Although, places to swim aren’t everywhere and not everyone knows how to swim. If you do know how and have access to a safe place to swim, try swimming for distance or time. Some fitness clubs offer counter-current pools, the aquatic equivalent of a treadmill.

Whatever you decide upon, a walk, a bike ride, or an elliptical (i.e., cross country) machine, anyone can at least start endurance training with little to no equipment or instruction.

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