Cardiorespiratory Endurance Training
Getting up from the couch and walking to the kitchen might raise your heart rate, but in order for a movement to count as cardiorespiratory endurance training, the activity has to raise your heart rate and keep it elevated for an extended period of time. For someone with an average fitness level, this length of time typically ranges from 20 to 60 minutes, whereas an advanced endurance athlete may be used to training in their heart rate zone for several hours a day.
What is Cardiorespiratory Endurance?
Cardiorespiratory endurance, or cardiovascular/aerobic capacity, is the ability of the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen to working muscles for prolonged periods of time. Essentially, your cardiorespiratory fitness level is a measure of the strength of your aerobic energy system.
According to the American Heart Association, endurance activity keeps your heart, lungs and circulatory system healthy and improves your overall fitness. That’s why increasing your cardiorespiratory endurance makes it easier to carry out many of your everyday activities and it also helps you reach your fitness goals faster.
How Much Cardio Do I Need to Do?
Well, that depends on your goals. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that the average adult get 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week to develop and maintain cardiorespiratory fitness. This works out to be about 30 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise five days per week.
However, if efficiency is what you’re after, then the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends doing 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week, which equates to about three days a week for 20 to 25 minutes each session.
But remember, these recommendations are for people who want to meet the basic health guidelines or maintain their endurance level. If you’re looking to push your cardiorespiratory endurance to the next level, then you’re going to have to kick it up a notch or two.
Building Cardiorespiratory Endurance
The best way to build your cardiorespiratory endurance is by improving your body’s consumption of oxygen. In other words, you can improve your cardiorespiratory endurance by performing any type of prolonged exercise that recruits your aerobic energy system.
So, let’s say you play on a recreational soccer team every Friday night. At the start of the season, you might only be able to make it from the sidelines to midfield before you start gasping for air — not an effective way to be competitive on the field.
Now, let’s say you start training on your non-soccer game days by running, cycling, or swimming. If you add in three days of 30 to 45 minute aerobic training sessions, after a period of time (four to six weeks) you should see an increase in your body’s ability to make it from one goal to the other without having to stop halfway to take a breather.
Don't Forget to Mix it Up
The body is much smarter then we give it credit for. If the training plan you’re following has you running the same distance, on the same days, through the same trails, you're not going to be challenged enough to increase your endurance level. Will the workout get easier? Absolutely, but at a certain point, you will hit a plateau and your goal of upping your cardiorespiratory endurance will come to a screeching halt.
That's why you need to participate in a variety of aerobic activities such as jogging, swimming, hiking, cycling, aerobic style classes, recreational sports and cardio equipment such as the elliptical and stepmill.
Also, varying the amount and intensity you do will help challenge your endurance. Training to increase cardiorespiratory endurance should have you hitting a target heart rate that is between 50 and 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. If you are consistently training below the minimum, you are not going to increase endurance. Check out this table to get an idea of what your target heart rate should be.
Consider swapping out one of your longer moderate-intensity workouts with a shorter (20 minutes) session of high-intensity interval training once or twice a week. According to ACSM, HIIT workouts provide similar benefits as continuous endurance workouts, but in shorter periods of time.
For example, while swimming, you will swim one lap as fast as you can. Then rest for about the same time as it took you to swim the lap, and repeat. During the fast lap, your heart rate will be at the maximum range of your target heart rate zone and then you will bring it back down to the lower end during the recovery period.
Sara Lindberg, B.S., M.Ed., is a freelance health and fitness writer. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in exercise science and a Master's degree in counseling. She’s spent her life educating people on the importance of health, wellness, mindset and mental health. She specializes in the mind-body connection, with a focus on how our mental and emotional wellbeing impact our physical fitness and health.