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Endurance

Endurance is a topic of debate among fitness experts, with many debating it’s definition. Our definition is simple, it is the dictionary definition; “The act, quality or power of withstanding stress or hardship”. Simple as that.

Endurance falls into several categories in fitness terms. It can refer to the cardiovascular system and the ability of the body to store and utilise energy. It can refer to the muscles themselves and their ability to contract repeatedly against a given resistance. Lets look at each of the three endurance categories, our method for developing them and how they all come together.


Cardiovascular Endurance: This is the body’s ability to process, store and utilise energy through oxidation. Your lungs take in oxygen, the blood from your body cycles through the blood vessels in the lungs and the blood absorbs some of the oxygen in the lungs, travels back to the muscles and other systems, delivers the oxygen to where it is needed and repeats the cycle. That’s the simplest way of explaining it.

Endurance comes into the equation when the demand for oxygen increases. The oxygen is delivered to where it is needed because it plays a role in making energy from food available for the body to use as fuel. When physical activity increases, the need to process more energy increases and so the body has to utilise more oxygen. This results in the corresponding increase in heart rate and respiration.

Cardiovascular endurance is developed through challenging the system to beyond resting levels so the body is forced to make use of more oxygen in order to produce performances that are demanded of it. This is fairly simple in theory but not always in practice. There is a lot of debate as to what is best practice for conditioning the cardiovascular system. The common conclusion is that long, slow and continuous training conditions the body’s cardiovascular system most efficiently and allows for increases in performance. We believe this training plays a role, however it is not the most efficient method when used in isolation.

It still amazes me that people are still buying into the whole slow and steady story. Maybe it’s because that is an easier form of training due to lower intensities and most people are drawn to what is easiest. The truth is that many athletes, especially Kenyan runners, are implementing higher intensity training involving gruelling intervals that challenge the body anaerobically. They are doing so and winning races, but many still won’t buy it.

Any time the body is challenged anaerobically by way of the lactate system, there is corresponding aerobic development because the body goes into oxygen debt and has to recover back to normal levels as fast as possible. This recovery recruits massive resources from the aerobic system, perhaps even more resources than continuous training would employ.

Unleashed Training develops cardiovascular endurance with high intensity intervals to condition the cardiovascular system to go into overdrive and depletion in order to develop adaptations that allow for higher lactate threshold and faster recovery from oxygen debt, as well as strength training in order to develop mechanical efficiency, as proven by many scientists and athletic coaches.

Muscular Endurance: Muscular endurance is the ability of muscles or muscle systems to access, process, store and utilise energy for repeated muscular contractions against a given resistance. This ties in closely with cardiovascular endurance, the only difference being that the emphasis is now more local to the muscle being used as opposed to systemic.

When a muscle contracts it goes through a process of metabolising energy that is used to fuel the contraction. If the muscle is asked to contract more than once it has to immediately repeat the cycle. The more repeated contractions the muscle has to complete, the less energy there is available for further muscle contractions, especially when those muscle contractions are at a relatively high output of force. The muscles tire because there is less energy stored in the muscle ready for use and the body has to deliver that energy from elsewhere. When the muscle is trained to repeatedly contract, it develops endurance over time. This is an adaptive response that allows for higher performance each time the muscle is placed under such demand.

Local muscle endurance is developed by placing a stimulus on that muscle that is sufficient to challenge it beyond resting or long-sustainable efforts. The Unleashed Training method for developing muscular endurance is scientifically based and serves many purposes. We utilise density training, which involves maximum output in the shortest amount of time. An example would be performing as many pistols as possible in 10 minutes, or doing 100 pull-ups in the shortest time possible.

Psychological Endurance: Psychological endurance is at the base of all endurance. No amount of physical endurance can be developed without a corresponding psychological component. It is psychology that compels a person to get out of bed and train before going to work in their full-time day job. The Unleashed approach to endurance is a complete one, there is no isolation because to us there is only one type of endurance and encompasses all three components.

Endurance is defined as the act, quality or power of withstanding hardship or stress. Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to sustain repeated contractions against resistance for an extended period of time. Cardiovascular endurance is the ability of the heart, lungs and blood vessels to deliver oxygen to working muscles over an extended period of time at a given intensity.

Endurance is an ambiguous term, thrown around and claiming different definitions by all and sundry. Many people claim to possess endurance and claim that their version of it is superior and sufficient. The common fitness definition of endurance refers to cardiovascular fitness and simply the ability to perform at any intensity for any continuous time-period. This is a very limited definition and assumes that if one can jog, cycle, row etc, at a snail’s pace then he/she possesses endurance sufficient for any demands sport and life may throw at them.

We have a different view of endurance, one that is holistic in nature and permeates the entire human being, providing experiences that transform the person inside and out. Most people fool themselves into believing that they possess high-end skills and will-power that can withstand any and all demands possible. I see it in the gym when a person jumps on the rower to row 10,000 metres in the fastest time possible. They almost always slow down and pike well before they are physically forced to. Witnessing this so many times I have to conclude that endurance has a strong psychological component. This is evident in the very few people that push beyond apparent limitations and find a second wind. These individuals are not always physically the best performers, however they pull out results similar or superior to those with much more training under their belt and an apparently superior physical condition.

Many people like to believe they can push beyond their limitations. It’s human nature to want to be better, faster and stronger. It’s also human nature to protect one’s self from harm or excess. The protective mechanism is most-often over-protective and limits the individual in more ways than one. It is the exceptional individual that pursues peaks well beyond what they have been conditioned to believe are their limits.

Exceptional people endure. If it’s raining it doesn’t matter. If it’s hot, who cares? The exceptional person keeps going. There are no excuses, even when it gets so hard it seems they are on the verge of physical and mental breakdown.

Where does this strong will, hardness and willingness to suffer come from? It comes from recognition of desires and goals and then doing whatever it takes to overcome the obstacles to accomplish them. This applies to the mental and the physical. A strong will grows not simply from suffering for the sake of suffering, but from the voluntary suffering one goes through on their path to their intended purpose.

So the question is, is a strong will and endurance the end result of long and consistent training sessions? Or are the training sessions the result of a strong will and the desire to suffer and endure hardship on the way toward a goal? Whatever the answer, endurance in my opinion, can be stripped back and generalised to its broad definition; Endurance is defined as the act, quality or power of withstanding hardship or stress. It’s that simple. Physical qualities of endurance are temporary, they can be lost and reversed. The psychological will developed through the will to suffer for a purpose remains forever. That is discipline, that is endurance. No longer should you ever fool yourself into believing endurance is a 60 minute jog or a leisurely bike ride. It is so much more than that, it involves an actual element of real suffering, not for suffering’s sake, but because improvement and greatness are always located above and beyond your comfort zone. If greatness could be achieved freely and easily with little to no real endurance then everyone would be great and greatness would cease to be great.

The Unleashed Training approach to endurance is a full one, it includes the three aspects as a single unit. One cannot function without the other. Holding it all together is the mental/psychological factor.

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YOUR COACH – Chris Lyons

Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Sprint Ninja, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.

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