Endurance can be thought of as how well all of your systems work together: Your heart-stroke volume (the amount of oxygenated blood pumped to the muscles with every beat), your muscle strength and efficiency (the muscles' ability to turn that O2 into energy they need to contract), your metabolism (how efficiently you metabolize fat and carbohydrates to use for fuel and flush out lactate build-up, believed to be a cause of muscle fatigue), and your neuromuscular system (your brain and body's ability to communicate about which muscles to contract and when). Sure, you work on your endurance every time you head out for a run. But the only way to track your progress is to have a controlled test that gauges how well these systems work together. Peter Park, C.S.C.S., Lance Armstrong's personal trainer and fitness expert for livestrong.com, developed this tempo-run test that measures your endurance in 45 minutes.
1. Set a one-percent incline. Warm up at an easy pace for 10 minutes.
2. Do a 30-minute tempo run at 85 percent of your maximum effort. This is a bit slower than your 10-K race pace—an 8 on a scale of diffculty from 1 to 10.
3. Cool down for five minutes, and note the distance you covered during that 30-minute tempo run. (It might be easier for you to gauge that distance if you reset the treadmill after your warmup.)
Age 35 AND UNDER 35-50 50+
Great >4.6 miles >4.2 miles >3.8 miles
>5.2 miles >4.8 miles >4 miles
Good 4-4.5 miles 3.8-4.1 miles 3.3-3.7 miles
4.2-5.1 miles 3.9-4.7 miles 3.5-3.9 miles
Fair -3.9 miles -3.7 miles -3.2 miles
-4.1 miles -3.8 miles -3.4 miles
Pick two of these three workouts, and do them on nonconsecutive days each week.
1. Run a lap of a track at 5-K race pace with 30 seconds of recovery between reps. If you scored Fair, do eight laps; if you're Good, do 10; if you're Great, do 12.
2. Do mile repeats 20 seconds faster than your 5-K race pace. Rest one minute between reps. If you're Fair, do three; Good, do five; Great, do eight.
3. If you're Fair, do a 12-minute tempo run at 85 percent effort. If you're Good, do two; if you're Great, do three.
Last longer: Make sure you get the best rest during training.
If your workouts are always at the same, comfortable pace, your cardiovascular system probably isn't as fit as it could be. "You need to move out of your comfort zone and force your heart to work harder and act more quickly in order to improve your cardiovascular fitness," says Tim Church, Ph.D., a professor at Louisiana State University. Your heart is like any other muscle. When it's challenged, it grows stronger. And when it's stronger, it can pump more blood with each beat, delivering more oxygenrich blood to your muscles so they can perform their best.
The best, most accurate way to measure cardiovascular strength is to find a gym that tests VO2 max. But a simple step test can give you a general idea of where your blood-pumping engine stands. Using a 12-inch-high step (or the second stair of a flight in your house), step on and off for three minutes. Step up with one foot and then the other. Step down the same way. Try to maintain a steady, consistent four-beat cycle, "up, up, down, down." Aim for about 24 steps per minute. After three minutes, sit down and immediately check your heart rate—place your fingertips on the side of your throat and count the beats for one minute.
Age 18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 66+
Great -93 -94 -96 -101 -103 -105
-84 -86 -90 -93 -96 -102
Good 94-110 95-111 97-119 102-124 104-126 106-130
85-100 87-103 91-106 94-112 97-115 103-118
Fair >111 >112 >120 >125 >127 >131 >101 >104 >107 >113 >116 >119
Hill training forces muscles to recruit two to three times more muscle fibers than flat-land running, which makes it a great way to improve your cardiovascular strength, Park says. Do it once a week. Find a hill that's two to three blocks long and that has a gradual incline—not too steep. After a 10-minute warmup, run up the hill at 80 to 85 percent effort, trying to maintain a consistent pace. This should feel slightly slower than your 10-K pace. When you reach the top, run slowly back down (recover for about one minute). If you're Fair, do six hills; if you're Good, do eight; if you're Great, do 10.