Improve Your Endurance For Sport

Endurance is one of the most sought after athletic fitness qualities along with speed, strength, power and agility – having the ability to be less fatigued and fresher than your opposition in the final stages of a game can often be the determining factor in the final result.

For most sports such as football (American, Australian, Gaelic), soccer, basketball, tennis, hockey, rugby, traditional methods of improving endurance such as long, slow distance running such as those used to prepare for long distance track events are far from appropriate for the sports requirements and are often detrimental to the athlete’s overall athletic ability particularly when it comes to speed, strength and power.

The key quality required for great endurance in sports that are intermittent in nature (such as the ones mentioned above) is highly developed repeatable speed or repeated sprint ability (RSA) – to put it simply this means being able to sprint (or perform another high intensity activity) as fast as possible, as often as possible.

The 2 most effective ways in which you can improve RSA are to improve your speed and to improve your aerobic capacity. Here’s how you can improve these qualities:

Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Argentina) - arguably the greatest player in world soccer at the moment - has an outstanding combination of speed and endurance
Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Argentina) - arguably the greatest player in world soccer at the moment - has an outstanding combination of speed and endurance

Improve Your Speed

It might sound odd that getting faster helps you improve your endurance for sports, as they are thought of as opposing qualities. The reason improving your speed will in turn improve your endurance is due to the concept of “speed reserve” that was introduced by the late Charlie Francis. Consider that most sports an athlete will only reach sub-maximal speeds of 60-80% of maximum velocity – so the greater an athlete’s maximum velocity, the higher the submaximal speeds he can work at and also the ‘easier’ it will be to work at lower speeds (as these lower speeds will be a lower percentage of maximum velocity once you get faster).

There are many ways to improve your speed and a number of great resources that cover the topic in great detail. To keep it simple the keys are to be at a low bodyfat (if you aren’t you might want to check out these hubs: The Ultimate Fat Loss Guide and How To Boost Your Metabolism), run maximum efforts short sprints with full recovery between efforts, get stronger in the weights room with compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, lunges (see Starting Strength for more) and improve your plyometric ability with jumps and bounding exercises (see Vertical Jump Bible for more).

An example of a good speed training and plyometric workout:

  • Warm-up
  • Power Skips 2x20m or Squat Jumps 2x8 (rest 2 minutes between sets)
  • Broad Jumps 2x5 or Leap Frog Jumps 2x20m (rest 2 minutes between sets)
  • Single Leg Bounds 2x20m or Standing Triple Jump 2x5 (rest 2 minutes between sets)
  • 2x10m max effort sprints (rest 1 minute between reps)
  • 2x20m max effort sprints (rest 2 minutes between reps)
  • 2x30m max effort sprints (rest 3 minutes between reps)
  • 2x40m max effort sprints (rest 4 minutes between reps)

An example of a good full body weight training workout:

  • Warm-up
  • Squats or Deadlifts - 4x6
  • Bench Press or Military Press – 3x8
  • Lunges or Step Ups – 2x8
  • Pull Ups or Rows – 3x8

Use a variety of starting positions such as 3 point stance, push up start, lying start, jump back start, mountain climber start etc.

This article Speed-Strength Training Basics by Derek Hansen is an excellent starting point.

For further information I would recommend Kelly Baggett’s Truth About Quickness – Kelly Baggett is a highly regarded athletic coach and author on athletic development.


Improve Your Aerboic Capacity

Aerobic training is important for sports for a number of reasons - these being:

  • A more highly developed aerobic system means more energy can be supplied aerobically during high intensity exercise, which means athletes can work at higher intensities for longer
  • Improves the ability to use fats as a source of energy during exercise so glycogen can be preserved, which allows a player to perform at higher intensities in the final stages of games
  • Improves the ability to recover between high intensity bursts of exercise - Most sports are intermittent in nature (high intensity bursts interspersed with low intensity/rest periods), so being able to recover as effectively means you can perform at a higher quality for longer
  • It can help promote ‘active’ recovery between high intensity training sessions i.e. weights, sprints and plyometric training

Performing Extensive Tempo Runs is in my opinion the best way to develop your aerobic system effectively whilst still being able to recover for speed training and preserve important athletic qualities such as strength, speed and power which are often deteriorated with long, slow distance running methods.

Extensive Tempo Runs involve running work/rest intervals at speeds of 65-75% of maximum intensity (HR 130-150) over distances of 100-400m with recovery periods between repetitions of approximately 30-45 seconds per 100m and recovery periods between sets of approximately 1-1.5 minutes per 100m. The goal is to perform the workout at the same speed or progressively get faster (within the prescribed range) – if you cannot complete the next repetition at the same speed or faster then you should end the workout.

Extensive Tempo Runs are best performed on a grass field.

Examples of some Extensive Tempo Run workouts include:

  • Warm-up
  • 2 x 8 x 100m @ 70% with 45 seconds rest between reps and 1.5 minutes rest between sets.

OR

  • Warm-up
  • 4 x 3 x 200m @ 75% with 1 minute rest between reps and 2 minutes rest between sets

For more information on Extensive Tempo Runs I would recommend checking out Charlie Francis’ works.

Putting it all together here is a basic training template that can help your improve your endurance for sport:

  • Monday: Speed Training (AM), Weights (PM)
  • Tuesday: Tempo Runs
  • Wednesday: Speed Training OR Weights (if you are more strong than fast then speed training, if you are more weak than slow then weights)
  • Thursday: Tempo Runs
  • Friday: Speed Training (AM), Weights (PM)
  • Saturday: Tempo Runs
  • Sunday: REST

For information on vertical jump training check out my hub Vertical Jump – How To Jump Higher

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