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Long Endurance Variations
By Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCS
Ever feel anxious, bored or perhaps even uninspired by the thought of doing a long cardiovascular workout indoors when the weather simply will not cooperate? Below are nine creative suggestions for how to make endurance workouts interesting, captivating and challenging by adding variety when you most need them.
- Choose things you really like doing Perhaps the most obvious option for successfully completing endurance workouts is to choose something you really enjoy spending lots of time doing—which is certainly made easier during nice days, especially if you like activities such as trail running, hiking, mountain biking or roller blading. Even when the weather turns nasty, you can still plan on cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or even occasional muddy trail running trips as options. However, when the weather (or work hours, or lack of daylight) forces you inside for endurance workouts, you can try one of any number of things below to make them more successful.
- Select a non-human companion for company and entertainment. This may take the form of music or books on tape (tapes, CD’s or MP3 players), books (especially if you are using a recumbent bicycle, although for low intensity workouts I can even be found reading on the elliptical), magazines, newspapers, or videos, movies or television reruns if you have a workout area set up at home. You can even use the time to work on brainstorming for some problem or issue you need to solve at work. Keep in mind, however, that these suggestions are for low intensity endurance workouts – if you try to multi-task when doing an intervals workout, for example, you either will not be able to hold onto the book or magazine when sprinting, or your intensity levels will be less than optimal to constitute a pure intervals workout!
- Try something new that requires complete concentration and keeps your interest levels high. Examples might be taking a step or kickboxing class, participating in a circuit workout that keeps the heart rate elevated somewhat while you move from station to station, or going with a friend so that you can chat before or after (maybe even during!) your workout.
- Join a group (such as a local support network for running, cycling or swimming) of like-minded people that are training for some endurance event (marathons, triathlons and centuries are famous for having endurance training groups on weekends; if you live close to the mountains you can join hiking groups for conditioning outings). You may even find it enjoyable to take a ski conditioning class that will combine circuit-style weight training with more general aerobic and plyometric training to get you ready for the slopes. Larger groups such as Seattle’s Mountaineers or Portland’s Mazamas can also be great places to meet other people who have similar interests and can support you and be companions for endurance training, including hikes in the mountains.
Time management factors
- Split your time between machines so that you do not get bored by staying on one piece of equipment for too long. Since many gyms actually have a time limit on how long you can occupy any single cardiovascular machine, this option works well whether you are doing a long aerobic workout (more than an hour) or even a moderate workout of 45 minutes. If you do opt to try switching machines, just be sure to move quickly to the new machine in order to keep your heart rate elevated.
- Try a pyramid. Feel free to vary the timing in some way on the piece of equipment you are using. A favorite routine for staying focused during your workout is to do pyramids: warm up for 5 minutes at a comfortable level, then boost the resistance (speed, leg turnover or stride rate, or ramp height are also suitable ways to increase difficulty) and go for 4 minutes, boost again and go for 3 minutes, and so on until you do 2x1 minute at the highest difficulty, then come back down the other side. This gives you 15 minutes going up and 15 going down, then you can repeat the pyramid a second time for a total of 60 minutes and a great challenging (mental AND physical) workout. If you are doing a weighted pack work-out, you can also do the same sort of thing with pack weight: start light, add 5# to each 3-5 minute stretch until you’re at target pack weight for the workout, then start taking weight out until you’re back to where you started.
- Accumulate your time. If you find you cannot do a 4 hour hike on a weekend, but could do 2 two-hour pack walks morning and evening, then do so. Theoretically speaking, ideally you want to try to build those endurance workouts so they are all in one segment, but as long as you accumulate enough workout time in the early season (say, to within 6 weeks of any training outing that will involve continuous movement for more than 4 hours) you will see enormous benefits over not getting those longer workouts at all.
Variety is the Spice of Life
- Build cross-training into your routine. It is important that you are not always doing the same aerobic exercise day in and day out. An example would be to choose hill walking, hiking, elliptical, and step classes or exercise tapes as varied cross-training cardiovascular alternatives and try not to do the same thing one day after the next, which allows certain muscle groups to rest while others are challenged, and also makes it more interesting to get back to the activity you have not done in a while.
- Try doing an exercise circuit. Not only is this a great way to break up the cardiovascular workout, but you may find that your whole body endurance increases over what you would be able to accomplish with straight aerobic workouts. By alternating between cardiovascular work (for anywhere from 2-5 minutes at a stretch) and strength exercises (such as triceps dips, pull-ups, pushups, or other dumbbell and body weight resistance exercises) you insert small bursts of anaerobic activity similar to sprints, but using different muscle groups than what you’re targeting in the aerobic exercise, so that when you return to the elliptical, bike or treadmill your legs are relatively fresh and yet you’ve been moving continuously for the whole time.
Most importantly, keep at it; if you find one day that you cannot face doing a scheduled stairs workout but would much prefer to get in the pool and swim, rather than dragging yourself unenthusiastically through the stairs workout, indulge yourself in the swim – you may find yourself recharged, invigorated, and ready to tackle the missed workout the very next day.