How to Improve Your Aerobic Endurance

Aerobic endurance, if you’re a runner, cyclist, swimmer or triathlete, you’re probably already aware that it’s a cornerstone of athletic performance. The better your aerobic endurance, the longer you’ll be able to sustain the intensity you need to reach the finish line as fast as possible. But what exactly is aerobic endurance? What are the benefits of good aerobic endurance? And, how can you train to improve it? Our guide explains more.

12 September 21 175a6435
Aerobic training is a key component for the world’s top endurance athletes. To see a day in the life, training with Jonny Brownlee watch HERE

What is aerobic endurance? 

Aerobic endurance is your ability to exercise at moderate intensity for a given period without waning. The longer you can keep moving, the better your aerobic endurance. From a brisk walk to a light jog, it accounts for much of the day-to-day activity most of us undertake. 

You may have heard of it by other names. Aerobic fitness, cardiovascular endurance, or more simply stamina. Gym-goers often refer to aerobic endurance workouts as ‘cardio’ because, as the name suggests, it uses the cardiorespiratory system – heart, lungs, veins, arteries – to supply oxygen and nutrients to the muscles through the bloodstream, helping them turn fat and carbohydrate into energy. 

What is anaerobic exercise? 

The opposite of aerobic is anaerobic, which means without the use of oxygen. When our body is working anaerobically, the intensity is too high for oxygen to sustain the activity it demands. Think of sprinters in a 100m dash. They can only maintain the output for a handful of seconds before they have to slow down.

Unlike aerobic endurance, which can break down fat and glucose, anaerobic exercise relies on using glucose through a process called glycolysis that occurs in muscle cells. This creates lactic acid which is why muscles tire quickly after an energy burst. Or, as weightlifters say, you feel the burn.

What are the benefits of aerobic endurance?

Superleage Jersey 2021

Improves athletic performance

As your aerobic performance improves, you can exercise for longer at the same intensity. Another way of looking at it is that you can raise your intensity or speed (as long as you’re still aerobic) for a given period. For example, if you were to set out for an hour’s run, your improved aerobic endurance would allow you to go further at the same effort.

Promotes better mood

Exercise is a recognised mood enhancer. This is due to the release of hormones called endorphins. However, studies have shown the effects of training to improve your aerobic endurance can last beyond the short-term pick-up to helping alleviate low mood and anxiety longer term. Provided you complement it with the appropriate levels of rest and recovery, having a greater level of aerobic endurance can also make you feel more energised in general.

Controls blood pressure

Improved aerobic endurance may help combat high blood pressure. Otherwise known as hypertension, high blood pressure can lead to many health complications, including heart attacks, heart disease and strokes. Exercising strengthens your heart. This means it can more easily pump a greater volume of blood, or the same volume at a lower effort. As a result, the forces on your arteries decrease, lowering blood pressure.

Regulates blood sugar

Aerobic endurance exercise demands your muscles use more glucose. This means it can help lower overall blood sugar levels. It also makes your body more sensitive to insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that promotes glucose uptake, and helps counter insulin resistance.

Lowers bad cholesterol

Aerobic exercise can help lower harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and raise healthy HDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol can collect in the walls of your blood vessels and can come from a diet high in saturated fats and processed foods.

Helps maintain a Healthy weight

Aerobic exercise will help you burn calories and lose weight. However, exercise is not the only factor in weight control. Diet is a vital component, but exercising is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight.

How can I improve my aerobic endurance? 

Superleage Malibu 2021

Start training

This is a simple one. It could be as simple as heading out for a brisk walk several times a week. From a sedentary start, any form of exercise you do that raises your heart-rate, making your cardiovascular system work harder, will help to increase your aerobic endurance. Those who are just beginning to train, have had a long lay-off, or are returning from injury, may see rapid progress initially before the gains become harder to achieve.

Long training sessions

One of the training staples of the endurance athlete is the low, relatively slow bike and run sessions that help build aerobic fitness. Often completed at the weekend, the work is generally completed at a moderate intensity ie. you could still chat while you ride or run, but for a long, sustained period.

Interval training / High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Improvement in aerobic endurance is not restricted to long slow sessions. Higher intensity interval training can also have a positive impact. An example of HIIT training, could be 10 x 30sec sprints with 30 sec rest in between. Equally it could also be cross training, circuit style activities such as press-ups, sit-ups or burpees.


Recovery allows the body to rest and repair between workouts. During the recovery period, the body adapts to the stress of the exercise, muscle glycogen is replenished, and body tissue is repaired. Good quality sleep is an essential part of the recovery process.


Giving your body the nourishment it requires after aerobic endurance training complements rest. It is a vital way of allowing the body to get the maximum positive adaptation for your aerobic endurance. Good nutrition helps repair the micro tears associated with training, so you can come back stronger. Just as with rest, it also reduces the chances of injury, so you can train consistently and continue to improve your aerobic endurance. 

You can find further guidance on Nutrition and Alcohol in our blog.


How often should I do aerobic endurance exercise?

This depends on your goals, your training history, your current fitness and what other priorities you have in life. 

If you are just starting to train, three or four times a week for 30min to 1hr each session should see your aerobic endurance improve. If you want to complete a half-marathon, this would also be around the minimum amount you should train to be confident completing the distance. 

As you progress and your body becomes more used to training, most of us will be capable of upping the duration and intensity (at times) of aerobic endurance exercise. Elite performers often train for six or even seven days a week and often complete more than one session per day. 

For example, a professional triathlete may train for around 25-30 hours a week. The majority of this training will be focused on swimming, cycling and running. With this quantity of training, much of the workload is comparatively low intensity. This allows them to build their aerobic engine without risking injury.

How long should aerobic endurance workouts be?

There’s no specific length of time an aerobic endurance workout must be, but as you develop as an athlete you may find you’ll need to train for longer to create the stimulus to improve.

Some examples might include weekend long runs for those training for a marathon. These may go far beyond 2hrs. Long bike rides for Ironman triathletes can reach in excess of 6hrs, as they train for the 112mile bike leg of the event.

Not everyone needs to complete this duration though. High levels of fitness can be achieved with much shorter but still consistent training. 

What is VO2 Max and how does that relate to aerobic endurance?

VO2 Max is the maximum rate at which you can effectively use oxygen during exercise. VO2 Max is typically measured in millilitres of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight (mL/kg/min). 

Training to improve your aerobic endurance can increase your VO2 Max. Your body becomes more efficient at using oxygen from your blood, meaning you can burn more fuel and work out for greater periods of time.

While VO2 Max can be a useful proxy for fitness levels, it is not the only factor in performance. An athlete with a lower VO2 Max than their competitor, may find they can still achieve a better result, because they can workout at a higher percentage of VO2 Max for longer. 

What’s a good VO2 Max for an athlete?

There’s no one score that determines a good VO2 Max. It depends on your age, sex and current fitness levels. As a rough guide, anything over 60 would be deemed excellent and anything below 30 very poor. Elite endurance athletes can deliver scores of over 80 in testing.

Alex Yee Marten Van Riel Malibu

Sign up now