How To Build Cardiovascular Endurance


Build Cardiovascular Endurance

So you’ve decide you want to get into shape. Mentally committing is a big first step. Your next step is to define what that means and then take action. Getting “fit” or “toned” or into “shape” can mean different things to different people. Take some time and determine what your goals are. Write those goals down and even share them with family and/or friends. You’ll be more apt to stick to the routine if you have a support team behind you.

Define the goal

Since you enjoy running, you decide that you want to focus on improving your cardiovascular endurance, getting a bit stronger, and prepare for an upcoming 10k run this fall. Let’s put together a game plan to help accomplish these goals.

Cardiovascular health

There are countless ways to improve one’s cardiovascular health:
• Walking/hiking
• Running
• Swimming
• Biking
• Rowing

In keeping with the 10k run example, we’ll stick with running as a primary exercise, and complement that with some strength training and some interval work to create a well-rounded program.

A quick Google search will result in countless strategies for improving one’s “cardio”. While it can get confusing and the experts will forever debate the finer details, the best program is always the one that you will actually stick to. If you work 70 hours a week, have 3 kids, and volunteer 4 nights a week; trying to follow a routine that requires 30 hours/week of your time isn’t realistic. Be realistic with yourself and follow a routine that you can be consistent with.

Cardiorespiratory fitness is defined as how “efficient” the body is. In other words, how well the body is able to sustain exercise (or any activity). There are three energy pathways in the body:

1. Alactic or ATP-PCr (anaerobic) involves maximum intensity exercise and lasts 0-10 seconds (100%).

2. Lactic or Glycolytic (anaerobic) involves high intensity exercise and lasts 10-90 seconds (90%+).

3. Aerobic involves exercise lasting longer than 90 seconds at a low to moderate intensity (50-75%).

*Please note these timeframes are estimations

Depending on your goals, you can focus your training on the proper energy pathway to best prepare you for your event or sport. This doesn’t mean you should focus solely on one pathway. There’s lots of research that supports training all three for best results. In fact, multiple studies of high level endurance athletes show them actually performing about 80% of their training volume at a low intensity and only about 20% of their time training at a high intensity. For our 10k run example, improving all three will certainly be a benefit.

Strength training

Your schedule allows you to run 3 times a week and strength training 2 times a week. Here’s what a sample week could look like:

Monday: Moderate 30-minute run
Tuesday: Strength training
Wednesday: Tempo run (roughly 30 seconds slower than your 10k pace)
Thursday: Rest day…maybe a yoga class or some mobility work
Friday: Interval training
Saturday: Moderate 45 minute run
Sunday: Rest day…maybe a walk or easy hike

The strength training is great for developing overall strength, improving speed, and to help with injury prevention. Done properly and at a high intensity, we can create an exercise circuit that will develop both strength and cardiovascular fitness.

Let’s take a look at a high intensity interval session (The Friday workout in our example above):
A1) High intensity cardio – 10 seconds
A2) During your 50 seconds of rest, complete 5 pull-ups

B1) High intensity cardio – 10 seconds
B2) During your 50 seconds of rest, complete 5 supermans

Alternate the A group and the B group every minute for 12-16 minutes. These workouts do not need to be long to be effective. Begin the session with a proper 10-15 minute dynamic warm-up and end with 10 minutes of stretching focusing on any tight or inhibited areas of the body.

Of course, there are additional factors that certainly play a role  proper nutrition, adequate rest/recovery, minimizing stress, etc. Getting the proper strength training and cardiovascular training in is a great starting point to get you closer to your goal.


Doug Balzarini

Doug Balzarini, CSCS, MMA-CC, is a personal trainer, strength coach, international presenter, and the founder of DB Strength. He also owns a fitness facility outside of Boston called, “Iron Village Strength & Conditioning”. He was the head strength and conditioning coach for the Alliance MMA Training Center where he worked with many top professional MMA athletes. He has also worked at Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego and, most recently, spent a year in Saudi Arabia where he designed and created programming for a new state-of-the-art facility. Visit or for more information.

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