Woman runs on a path outdoors

Stamina vs. Endurance: Experts Break Down the Key Differences

Although often used interchangeably, stamina and endurance are not the same. Learn what the terms mean and how to train for each.

By Karen AspOctober 25, 2023


Stamina and endurance are two words that get frequently tossed around in the fitness world. Yet do you know the differences between the two?

Although these two terms are used interchangeably, they aren’t the same, and learning what they are could aid you in more than just your fitness endeavors. “Understanding endurance and stamina helps you tailor your fitness routine and tackle life’s challenges better,” says Peloton instructor Tobias Heinze. Here’s what you need to know. 

What is Endurance?

Endurance is the ability to sustain a specific amount of work or activity for a prolonged period of time. It’s not specific to a certain activity. What’s more, your endurance might be different for different activities, says Cherilyn McLester, MS, PhD, professor of exercise science at Kennesaw State University, and a member of NASM’s Scientific Advisory Board. For instance, you might be able to demonstrate a high level of endurance for walking but not running.

Of course, when people refer to endurance, they’re usually referring to moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic exercise. “Cardiovascular endurance refers to the ability of the cardiovascular system (the heart and all of the vascular components) to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the exercising muscle over a long period of time,” McLester says.

There’s also muscular endurance, which most commonly refers to a muscle’s ability to sustain repeated contractions against a force over a long period of time. There may even be another way to define it. “It can also be used to describe how well a muscle can use oxygen and nutrients to produce the energy required for prolonged aerobic activities,” McLester says.  

To optimize your fitness, you need both types of endurance. “Cardio endurance helps your body supply oxygen efficiently while muscular endurance lets you do tasks without muscle fatigue,” says Tobias. 

Fortunately, when you train for endurance events like a half-marathon, for example, these two systems develop together. “The cardiovascular system becomes better at delivering what the muscles need while the muscles adapt to be able to produce more energy to support sustained exercise bouts,” McLester says. 

What is Stamina?

Stamina is often mixed up with endurance, but it’s not the same. “Stamina best describes a person’s ability to sustain a prolonged activity at a high intensity,” McLester says. 

Plus, stamina has a mental side to it. “One distinction of stamina is having a strong mental component that allows somebody to maintain a high power output as fatigue sets in,” McLester says. “This strong mental component allows you to maintain a high power output as fatigue sets in.” For instance, an endurance athlete who pushes through the final leg of a competition, even in spite of fatigue, would be described as having good stamina.

Key Differences Between Stamina and Endurance

Endurance and stamina are easy to mix up, especially because they sometimes overlap.

With endurance activities, you’re asking your heart or muscles to sustain work that’s regarded as submaximal exercise. In other words, you’re not going all out. Instead, you’re doing aerobic exercise at a comfortable pace or asking your muscles to do repetitive and/or continuous work.

Meanwhile, stamina generally refers to achieving higher intensities of exercise and being able to either sustain them or successfully repeat high intensities. What’s more, “stamina may also refer to your ability to maintain a submaximal bout of exercise for an extraordinary amount of time,” McLester says.

For instance, an elite football player may demonstrate stamina by repeatedly achieving high intensities play after play until the end while a marathon runner might demonstrate stamina through a tough race, especially during the last miles. “Stamina indicates that something hard or difficult has been achieved,” McLester says. 

How to Build Stamina and Endurance

So how can you improve your stamina and endurance? Turns out, although the techniques might cross, each one requires something slightly different.     

Training for Muscular Endurance 

To understand how to train your muscles to have muscular endurance, get to know the Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (SAID) principle, McLester says. It explains how to get what you train for, and per SAID, if you’re looking for muscular endurance, your muscles need to contract repeatedly against low to moderate resistance. 

To accomplish that, you need to do exercises that use either body weight or light weights so that you can complete 15 repetitions per set. If you’re experienced, you can do more repetitions until muscle fatigue sets in. But how many sets should you do? If you’re a new exerciser, aim for one to two sets. Meanwhile, advanced exercisers can perform multiple sets. No matter how many sets you’re doing, keep rest periods between sets under a minute.

You’ll also develop muscular endurance if you’re doing aerobic training like running or cycling, McLester says. 

Training for Cardiovascular Endurance and Stamina 

Aerobic exercise plays a key role in increasing cardiovascular endurance. Exactly what you need to do, though, may depend on where you are in your fitness journey.

If you’re a new exerciser, start by doing endurance activities—choose whatever activity or activities you prefer—and gradually increase your duration and intensity. As you get stronger, you can make your workouts harder by doing things like interval training and pace/tempo training, which will help develop the stamina you need to work for a longer period at higher intensities, McLester says. If you’re an advanced exerciser, you can still improve endurance, but you’ll need to purposefully increase your duration and intensity.

“There isn’t a perfect formula to increase stamina, but consistently engaging with high-intensity endurance activities is key to improving stamina.” McLester says. Just make sure that you incorporate intensities that are physically uncomfortable and over time, try to sustain that level for longer periods of time. Ironically, that intensity boost will improve your physical stamina.  

When it comes to improving mental stamina, look to activities like problem solving and meditation.  

Measuring Progress: Tests for Stamina and Endurance

How do you know if what you’re doing is building your endurance and stamina? Although there are more defined tests for endurance than stamina, there are ways to measure each.  

For starters, cardiovascular endurance is usually measured with a submaximal or maximal aerobic test called a VO2 max test, McLester says. Through the submaximal test, you get an estimated maximal amount of oxygen your body can use while a maximal test measures how much oxygen your body is using. Once you get your VO2 max, you can see whether you have poor, average, good, or excellent cardiovascular fitness based on your age and sex. Note, though, that the VO2 max test requires expensive equipment and trained personnel.  

If you don’t have access to those tests, no worries. There are other measurements you can do on your own, and they’re easy. Simply keep track of your workouts and look for signs of longer exercise times or shorter rest breaks, Tobias says. 

Meanwhile, muscular endurance is easier to measure, namely because you can test it yourself. You simply count the number of repetitions of an exercise you can do, with or without added resistance. You then mark improvement by seeing if you can increase those repetitions over time, McLester says. For instance, you might count the number of push-ups you can do with good form until fatigue. If you can do more push-ups the next time you test, you know you’ve improved. 

Stamina, on the other hand, doesn’t have an assessment per se, but there is a way you can gauge improvement. “Better stamina can be noted with performance improvements, particularly with performances at high intensities,” McLester says.   

How Long Does it Take to See Results?

No doubt you’re hoping for quick results, but it's important to have patience. “Improving your endurance and stamina takes time,” Tobias says. Consistency and effort are crucial.

New exercisers will actually see improvements in endurance quickly. For instance, you might notice that your breathing as you exercise is getting easier or that you can exercise for longer without getting tired. And while more experienced exercisers can always improve endurance, you’ll need to purposefully increase how long and how intense you’re working, McLester says. 

Outside factors also impact your progress in improving cardiovascular and muscular endurance. Things like staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, consuming the proper nutrients, taking time to recover from workouts, managing stress, and recognizing signs of burnout and overtraining play crucial roles, McLester says. Your genes and age can also play a role, Tobias adds.   

Do all of the above, and you’ll wind up being physically and mentally tougher. “Remember that these qualities aren’t just about pushing your limits,” Tobias says. “They’re about building resilience in all aspects of life.”


Level up your inbox.

Subscribe for a weekly dose of fitness, plus the latest promos, launches, and events.

By providing your email address, you agree to receive marketing communications from Peloton.

For more about how we use your information, see our Privacy Policy.