Stamina is defined as: “The ability to sustain prolonged physical or mental effort”.
Increasing your stamina is important for a healthy lifestyle as it can help lower your heart rate, blood pressure and help burn fat. But as well as the health benefits, stamina is crucial for performance and can better you significantly as a player.
Regardless of what sport you play, whether you need to run around a football pitch for 90 minutes, a tennis court for 3 sets or complete several practice dance routines, one thing is for sure, you’ll need good stamina.
There are two types of muscle fibres in the body which contribute to stamina; Type II and Type I. Type II are known as the slow twitch fibres. They don’t work as quickly as the Type I (fast twitch fibres), but can work for a longer period of time.
We’re unfortunately unable to fully change the ratio of fast and slow twitch fibres in our muscles, but we can make the fibres we have work more effectively to improve our stamina which is where exercise and nutrition comes into play.
It’s a frequent misconception that long-distance running and cycling based exercises are the only key ingredients to increasing stamina. This isn’t entirely true. Although they contribute to building up your stamina and endurance, you need to improve your overall strength in various ways for the best results.
There are several other things you can do to help increase your stamina. Here are some top tips to help you along the way:
1. Combine your strength and cardio sessions
It’s common for people to reserve one day for strength workouts and another for cardio. Why not combine the two during your training session? (remember, planning cardio-only workouts will only prevent you from building stamina and endurance).
Increasing your muscle mass from strength training sessions will increase your metabolism and therefore stamina. By becoming stronger, your body will feel lighter and you will be able to control your movement more efficiently, therefore using less oxygen.
You could include exercises during your warm up such as squats and lunges which will increase the strength in your legs and leave you with more energy to complete fast-paced bursts or sprints. It will make running a full 90 minutes feel like a walk in the park.
2. Choose exercises using lots of muscles
Compound movements, such as squats, step-ups, press-ups or pull-ups, all utilise more than one muscle group, therefore will enhance your endurance quicker than isolated movements.
Hybrid exercises such as lunges also help to stimulate more muscles. The more muscles you can get working, the more it will challenge your cardiovascular system, which will in turn, improve your stamina.
If weight training isn’t your thing, cross-training is great for mixing it up and working different muscles. Also referred to as circuit training, it involves combining exercise of other discipline apart from weight training such as biking, swimming and jogging.
Swimming is a great example of aerobic exercise. Water provides 12-14% resistance compared to air which makes a number of muscles work harder and tones them without having to use weights. This exercise relaxes muscles, increases flexibility and enables stretching.
3. Apply fast-paced, dynamic activities to training
Fast-paced explosive-type exercises are brilliant to include in training as they take a lot of energy and really challenge your strength and stamina simultaneously. Once you get into this type of exercise, you’ll notice a difference in the speed in which you move.
Plyometrics or ‘jump training’ can be integrated into your training session. The combination of stretching and contracting your muscles from jumps, squats or hops is great for increasing stamina as the force and power from these movements builds up your overall strength.
Start including exercises like box jumps, burpees, one-leg hops or frog squat jumps into your session to really challenge yourself and improve your stamina.
4. Don’t forget to stretch
Although this may be an obvious one, some of us are guilty of not stretching properly before or exercise. Regular stretching helps skeletal muscle fibre recovery and maximises muscle strength and growth which contributes to increasing your stamina.
You should also stretch your entire body after warming up and after your workouts. It’s even suggested you should stretch your body on rest days. This will also prevent injury.
There are several different stretches you can do depending on your type of workout, but they can all be grouped into two categories, static and dynamic. Static are performed without movement, while dynamic are performed with movement.
Both are important and the key is to match the right stretch to the purpose and can vary on the sport you play.
5. Throw out the old routine
After approximately two weeks, your body will start to become familiar to your usual training routine, so remember to switch it up every once in awhile. You need to vary the ways in which you use the muscles to avoid overuse and develop less used muscles.
If you’re usually running around a football pitch for 90 minutes and base your training session solely on running, why not try switching to cycling or swimming to really challenge your muscles? This can also be used to motivate you as doing the same routines over and over again can become pretty boring.
6. Stay hydrated
When training of any sort, you must keep hydrated to stay on top of your game. You can lose a lot of fluid when you exercise (up to a litre an hour), therefore staying hydrated can make a big difference to increasing your stamina.
Water helps fuel all of your muscles and it’s advised to drink before, during and after exercise to boost your energy levels which in turn contributes to building stamina. It may also help to prevent cramp.
Being dehydrated can significantly affect your performance. You’ll feel tired more quickly and and struggle to control your temperature as well as usual.
7. Nutrition is key
A balanced diet is important for anyone, but players who want to become better at their sport will put as much effort into eating the right foods as they can.
Nutrients like complex carbs, protein, fibre and vitamin C keep you feeling active and energetic for longer, helping you build your stamina and be unstoppable on the pitch.
Although it’s said that nutrition and hydration aren’t the most important factors when it comes to stamina, they definitely play a big part in building and improving it.
Some foods that help build stamina include:
Green leafy vegetables (e.g kale, spinach)
8. Consider your rest time
If your sport focuses more on endurance like football, your body needs to become accustomed to recovering quickly from constant runs and sprints, therefore reducing your rest time during fitness sessions considerably helps this.
In a standard weight-training session, it is advised to allow between 30 and 90 seconds rest between each set, however if your goal is to improve your stamina, try reducing this to around 10-20 seconds. The shorter your breaks, the more it will challenge your cardiovascular system which can prepare you for match day.
Try completing a series of exercises such as pull-ups, press-ups, squats and sit ups back to back, taking as little time in between each exercise as possible. By the end of your sets, you should have a full sweat on by sacrificing some break time.
However, training your rest time can vary for each sport. If you’re a rugby player, using your rest time is an important factor. The resting phase between bouts of activity on the pitch trains your body to recover for the next phase, which certain aerobic exercises do not do.
9. Push yourself
If your goal is to cycle a further distance or complete 90 minutes of football without feeling sluggish towards the end, it’s important to continue increasing your workload during training.
Running the same distance over and over again without increasing your pace will cause no additional benefits as you’re not challenging your cardiovascular system and your body becomes too comfortable.
Try and push yourself to the maximum at every session too. Whether it be one more lap of the pitch or another length of the pool, setting goals will help motivate you for the next
10. Be patient and rest
Building stamina takes time and it’s important not to overload your body in the first few weeks. Training too much can lead to injury. Make sure you start slowly and build your training up as you begin to feel stronger.
It’s also important to give yourself some rest periods, plan a week or so of light training every now and again to allow your body to fully recover.
In addition to this, as obvious as it sounds, getting enough sleep is crucial for any performance. The recommended amount of sleep for adults is between seven and nine hours a night - maintaining this can significantly increase your energy levels so you can power through any necessary activities.