Endurance is a term often used in sport, but unfortunately can mean different things to different people. In sport, it refers to an athlete’s ability to sustain prolonged exercise for minutes, hours, or even days. To add to the confusion there are several terms used that mean more or less the same thing. In spite of all of this, I will try to be clear and explain a little of the basics that skaters need to know to improve their performance.
When most people talk about endurance, they are referring to aerobic (or cardiovascular) endurance, which is often equated with cardiovascular fitness. Aerobic means “with oxygen” and during aerobic exercise, the body uses oxygen to help supply the energy needed for exercise.
Aerobic endurance requires the circulatory and respiratory systems to meet the demands of the working muscles for as long as required. By elevating your heart rate with exercise, you will build muscle, strengthen your heart, improve blood flow, burn fat and improve your body’s ability to deliver oxygen and energy to working muscles.
Another type of endurance is muscular endurance. I’ll discuss that next week.
How is aerobic endurance improved?
The best exercises for improving cardiovascular endurance are activities that elevate your heart rate and keep it elevated for a sustained period of time. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, these activities include fast-paced walking, running, cycling, swimming, cross-country skiing, jumping rope and in-line skating. So you may have to consider cross training or adding an off-ice component to your training regimen.
Systematically increase either the amount you run each week or the speed at which you run by no more than 10 percent. Start out slow and gradually increase the intensity of your workouts. Whichever sport you choose, oxygen use should be increased to a sustainable level. This can be estimated by counting when your heart rate increases by 20 beats per minute more than the resting heart rate or you can look up your Target Heart Rate for your age range.
This is where my husband the editor, tells me to put in the disclaimer that you need to check with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise program, so I can avoid being sued if somebody’s heart explodes because they were working too hard. I hesitate to recommend a particular Target Heart Rate for you, since I have never seen you and that would be malpractice. There are so many factors to consider and different training philosophies out there. I have seen anywhere between 15% to 80% of your maximal heart rate suggested. I am also aware that there are different ways to calculate your maximum rate.
The target heart rate is only an estimate. Overweight or deconditioned people reach their target heart rate more quickly and with less effort. Athletic people reach their target heart rate more slowly. It is also probably safer for athletes to exceed the target heart rate, because since these targets are based on the conditioning of average people. If you are skating a few times a week, you may well be above average. People taking drugs that slow heart rate (such as beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers) may not reach their target heart rate despite intense exercise. They should discuss with their doctors what target heart rate is desirable.
What is enough exercise?
The Center for Disease Control suggests that adults should get a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic activity; preferably 5 hours of moderate or 2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week. By “moderate” they mean, “you can talk but not sing”. “Vigorous” means you can’t talk or sing, that’s a nice way of putting it, if they put “feels like impending death”, it might not have the desired effect of improving the cardio-vascular fitness of the average citizen. As well, they recommend additional muscle-strengthening activities for all major muscle groups at least twice a week. I don’t know if you are reaching their target for the average American, but I’d bet that you are closer than most of your friends.
Special considerations for figure skaters
After a fairly thorough search of the internet one thing became clear: there is not a whole lot of research out there specific to figure skaters. The type of endurance needed for a runner, who needs to keep repeating pretty much the same movement for up to 4-5 hours in the case of a recreational level marathon runner is different from the 20-60 second burst of activity required by a beer-league hockey player. And neither of these two athletes has to do it with a pleasant smile on their faces either. Figure skaters do intense bursts of activity that is sustained over 2-4 ½ minutes depending on the category. Hmmm … maybe it’s time to go back to school and finally start my Master’s Degree.
What do you think? Do you have any tips on how figure skaters can train for endurance?
More on this next week!