Endurance training strategies that work

One of the most popular and much-discussed training goals in sports is the optimal development of aerobic endurance capacity. And it may only be achieved by means of endurance training, of course.

Aerobic endurance in endurance training

Aerobic endurance is the ability to perform exercise training for prolonged periods of time, without experiencing muscle soreness.

The most important parameters in aerobic performance are the:

  • maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max)
  • velocity at lactate threshold (vLT)
  • efficiency of fat utilization by the working muscles (economy)

Researchers and coaches have persistently been trying to find a “magic formula” to enhance aerobic endurance, for years on end. In PubMed.gov alone, you may find over 28.000 scientific articles for this topic! PubMed.gov is a free search engine accessing primarily the MEDLINE database of references and abstracts on life sciences and biomedical topics. The above research and experience has led us to understand and design more optimal training strategies. Such, that have been proven to enhance athletes’ aerobic performance. 

Polarized Training (80/20)

A method revered in hundreds of books and articles.t. Polarized training or the 80/20 rule, defines the way in which exercise intensity gets distributed into a specific period of time. For example, if an athlete has to execute 10 hours of training per week, they will need to perform 8 hours of it at a low to moderate intensity (below the 1st lactate/ventilatory threshold) and only 2 hours at a high to severe intensity (above 2nd lactate/ventilatory threshold). Theoretically, with this endurance training strategy athletes achieve high-gain adaptations, due to high volume at low intensity. That is to say, they can train without the serious possibility of injury. Whereas, during the remaining 20% allotted for high-intensity exercise, they can achieve further improvements in terms of optimal stress.

Indeed, in scientific literature, it is commonly accepted that the polarized training method is more effective than other methods; (Neal et al 2012, Stoggl et al 2014, Manzi et al, 2014, Seiller et al 2015). While the effectiveness of this training method cannot be questioned, the “best practice” is to combine it with other aerobic endurance strategies; thus devising a more holistic approach in endurance training.

Long Duration – Low to Moderate intensity

Long runs, epic and century rides, long swimming sessions, are well-known training methods in the sports community. Especially for athletes who participate in endurance training and events like marathons, triathlons, mountain running, marathon swimming and much more. These types of  low to moderate intensity exercise make up the holy grail of training for any endurance athlete. And, without any exaggeration, it’s safe to consider this concept as the cornerstone mindset for aerobic endurance events.

A typical long run lasts approximately 2-4hrs at an intensity corresponding to 60-75% of the maximum heart rate or 70-85% of the vLT. This number changes to 4-6hrs when it comes to cycling sessions. We can apply a host of different “micro-adjustments” in long duration exercise. Micro-adjustments like faster finish or laps at the marathon pace; but the main idea here is to maintain a low to moderate exercise intensity for a prolonged period of time. This is, after all, the major goal of this strategy.

Under the “physiology” microscope, athletes can improve their running or cycling economy to achieve mitochondrial genesis (the energy factors of the human body), and to increase aerobic oxidative enzymes, in a very effective way. Looking at this in terms of science, it’s a type of exercise that can:

  • improve cardiovascular function
  • increase the left ventricle of the heart and the stroke rate
  • allow the body to transfer and consume the muscle oxygen in a more efficient way

High Intensity – Low Volume training

Perhaps the most-discussed topic in the sports science community, during this, modern era. Without a doubt, it’s the greatest trend and training method that has gained more traction than any; and has been registered in one too many training logs. And rightly so, as we can describe it as the best type of training in the world. A modern analogy might be this:  “If aerobics strategies had their own Instagram accounts, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) would probably be the most popular influencer of all!”

HIIT in endurance training

This type of exercise requires very high execution intensity, combined with short bouts of exercise, allowing for a rest period before each succession. Indeed, researchers have shown that HIIT is very effective for VO2max and Maximal Aerobic Velocity (MAV). And it is an integral part of the training procedure. If one takes into account the extremely effective results despite its short duration, they can justify the popularity of this training strategy. HIIT mainly performs at 90-130% of MAV for 30” – 8 minutes, with the exercise rest ratio usually about 1:1, 2:1 and 1:2. That is, depending on the short bout duration, intensity, goal. And, of course, depending on the overall athlete’s capacity and performance. After all, endurance training is no easy task!

Because of the high-intensity training pertinent to HIIT, coaches and athletes need to very cautiously implement it to their programs. Needless to say, it should be used in strictly specific periods, followed by the appropriately measured training load. And a coach should definitely complement it with detailed monitoring. Such, as to avoid over-training syndromes or muscle injuries.

Fartlek training or “speed play”

Fartlek training is simply defined as periods of faster running intermixed with periods of slower running. In all actuality, the intensity of training can vary from walking to sprinting. That is, depending on the training goals and the level and stamina of each athlete. What makes this training type interesting is, essentially, the fact that athletes can perform their sessions without the boredom over a possibly “too standardized” routine. And coaches, on the other hand, can be happy with a workout schedule that stresses their athletes at multiple training zones, just as needed. Especially when it comes to endurance training.

There are plenty of advantages in using this type of exercise. It features high adaptability, it improves fast-twitch muscle responses, and it’s effective both for the aerobic and anaerobic systems. However, like everything else in this world, this type of exercise comes with a few caveats. Coaches cannot collect detailed and clear metrics. And that’s due to the physics of the training. It can become painful to perform. If designed improperly, it can lead to injuries. But even so, Fartlek still remains a very effective tool on a coach’s belt.

Try these strategies


There are plenty of training strategies to choose from for all sorts of athletes. And, without a doubt, new ones will become available in the future. Nevertheless, no matter what training methods we decide to apply in our training programs, we always need to take into account the level of each athlete. Their ability to perform, their training goals and purpose, their age, and more. Eventually, there is no single best strategy to use “en masse”; there never was! And endurance training is no exception.

Endurance training strategies that work was last modified: July 27th, 2022 by Aris Myrkos