Strength and stamina are both important for overall fitness – here’s how to increase them

Ever felt as though you’re built for either strength or stamina? You can be both, as Anna Bartter discovers.

It’s only been three years since I completed the Brighton marathon, but ask me to run one now, and I’d really struggle. While in many ways I am fitter and faster now than ever, I seem to have lost my stamina and endurance, which is frustrating. Being able to run faster is all very well, but having to stop every few miles feels counterproductive.

We asked the experts if stamina and strength are mutually exclusive, or is it truly possible to have it all. 

What is stamina?

It turns out, stamina is subtly different from endurance. “Stamina refers to your ability to sustain prolonged physical or mental effort,” says fitness expert and trainer Penny Weston. “Endurance is about how long your muscles can perform a certain action, but stamina is about challenging yourself to improve and how long you can perform at maximum capacity.”

We tend to think about stamina in relation to strenuous or lengthy physical pursuits, such as marathons, climbing challenges or triathlons, but in reality, we all need a healthy dose of stamina to lead a healthy and fulfilling life. According to The Cambridge Dictionary, stamina is “the physical and/or mental strength to do something that might be difficult and will take a long time”.

It’s not just about fitness 

Stamina is also heavily influenced by mindset, as Penny Mallory, former champion rally driver and author of 365 Ways To Develop Mental Toughness: A Day-By-Day Guide To Living A Happier And More Successful Life, explains. “Stamina is an attribute that is extremely important for mental toughness and usually real stamina is a combination of both mental and physical strength,” she says. 

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Is it possible to have both?

Interestingly, many experts used to think that strength and stamina couldn’t co-exist. This was in part down to the idea of concurrent training being less than ideal.

According to research from the University of Dundee, training for strength and training for endurance or stamina bring about very different adaptations within the body. Combining both forms of training was thought to block “each other’s signalling” to adapt and improve, therefore appearing to be mutually exclusive.

However, Swedish scientists have discovered that while concurrent training might not be ideal for beginners, for seasoned exercisers like myself, it is certainly possible, and preferable, to have both.

In fact, it’s even been shown that stamina could help improve strength, with research published by the Department of Health Sciences at Mid Sweden University in Östersund proving that cardio can in fact “elicit greater muscle hypertrophy than resistance exercise alone”. 

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How can we improve our stamina?

The good news is that stamina can be improved by consistent training over time. But you’ll have to commit to it, Mallory warns. “In order to improve both strength and stamina you need to give 100% commitment to both; this is what will make all the difference to an outcome. You need to push outside your comfort zone, and only then will you start to see what your body and mind are really capable of.”

Variety is key

“If you keep doing the same 5k running loop over and over, you won’t improve your stamina,” cautions Weston. “You need to change something, such as adding in some weekly long walks or trying out intervals, which are one of the best ways to improve overall fitness.You could combine these with a walk by adding 30 second sprints every few minutes to improve stamina.”

HIIT is effective

“I usually recommend HIIT workouts to my clients wanting to improve their stamina and strength,” says Weston. “These short bursts of exercise followed by short rests will work to improve cardiovascular fitness, leading to increased endurance.” 

Strength is important too

“It’s important to do a mixture of stamina-boosting and strength training exercises to achieve peak fitness levels,” says Weston. “Strength training is vital to help build muscle and it helps our joints too. Once you’ve started with a weight and can lift that, you’ll need to increase your reps and then move up to a heavier weight and see how many reps you can do. Once your body gets used to lifting a particular weight, you need to switch to a heavier one. Try weight machines, hand-held weights or resistance tubing.”

Once you’re confident in your fitness levels, your endurance will increase, which will improve your stamina as you’ll be mentally confident of your capabilities.

“Remember, the stronger your body is, the stronger your mind is,” says Mallory. “Resilience and stamina are maintained with strengths of both kinds.”

So, there you have it: it seems rather than being mutually exclusive, when it comes to strength and stamina, you can’t truly have one without the other. 

Images: Getty

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