Two terms are often used when discussing physical exercise and performance: stamina and endurance. While people have a general understanding of these two terms, stamina and endurance have been commonly, but mistakenly, used interchangeably.
Stamina and endurance are both parameters of time for physical activity. However, there is a key difference between the two concepts: stamina is the time an activity can be performed at maximum capacity while endurance is the maximum time a physical activity can be performed.
As mentioned above, stamina is the maximum time the body, or a specific muscle group is able to exert maximum or near maximum force for a certain physical activity. One example that will be echoed throughout this article is running. Stamina is the total time the body is able to sprint – that is running at the fastest pace an individual is capable of.
Stamina is especially important in sports that require large bursts of energy. These are often sports where a round or a match doesn't last long. While most sports require stamina, some sports heavily rely on bursts of energy.
Aside from sprinting events, other sports that greatly benefit from stamina include Football, Soccer, and Baseball. For example, American football is mostly downtime but when they do play, the players must exert all the energy they can. This is the same with baseball – once the batter hits the ball and lets it fly, all the players must exert all the energy they can to react accordingly.
Endurance is defined as the maximum time the body, or a specific muscle group can exert force or perform a physical activity. Compared to stamina, force does not have to be at maximum as the goal for endurance is to maximize time. While stamina is key for sprinting events, endurance is required for marathons as an individual has to push the body to run for a very long time and distance.
There are two components that have been suggested to make up endurance as a whole: muscular and cardiovascular endurance. As their name suggests, muscular endurance focuses more on the physical capabilities of the skeletal muscles while cardiovascular endurance focuses on the extent to which the heart and lungs are able to perform during intense physical activity.
Muscular endurance is defined by the ability of the skeletal muscles, or a specific muscle group to be able to exert force or perform a specific physical activity. In the example of running, muscular endurance refers to the extent by which the legs are able to perform the activity.
On the other hand, cardiovascular endurance is the ability of the heart and lungs to supply the working muscles with enough oxygen. In the same example of running, cardiovascular endurance refers to how long an individual can safely run without being out of breath.
As defined above, stamina and endurance differ solely by the amount of force being exerted. The easiest way to differentiate the two is knowing when either is needed. Aside from the running example, here are a few other cases where activities would either need stamina or endurance.
If an individual has to do one pushup per second, it is stamina that will dictate how long that individual can perform pushups at a uniform rate. However, if an individual just wants to determine how many pushups they can perform regardless of rate and time, then muscular endurance will be the determining factor.
These two concepts are quite similar and the two are also involved with mental capacity. Up to now, the article has only mentioned the physical parameters that dictate stamina and endurance . However, the mental capacity for physical activity is a significant factor.
A 2012 paper published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology investigated the effect of mental workload on endurance. The study group compared the effect of a mental workload (in this case, making them perform mental arithmetic tasks) on their performance of shoulder abductions to exhaustion. The study found that the group of participants that were doing arithmetic tasks simultaneous to performing the physical activity showed great reduction in endurance and increase in strength decline.
Furthermore, mental stress and mental fatigue can even affect just the perception of workload and effort. A 2016 review published in the Frontiers in Physiology reviewed numerous literature stating that participants under mental stress would perceive work load to be greater than a group of participants performing the same work load in the absence of mental stress. This review emphasizes the importance of mental balance for endurance performance altogether.
The training for both stamina and endurance are highly similar because while their definitions may be technically different, their goals are quite parallel: both stamina and endurance are needed to allow the body to exert a force or perform a physical activity longer.
A 2019 paper published in Sports looked into how high intensity functional training (HIFT) can improve endurance, among other physical parameters. HIFT is an exercise routine that focuses on multi-joint movements that can be catered to all fitness levels and engage more muscle groups in the body.
The study subjected the treatment group to six months of HIFT through CrossFit. The participants were assessed before and after the six-month period and the results of the study showed great improvement in the participants’ endurance, as well as flexibility, power, and strength.
As mentioned before, mental focus is quite important for stamina and endurance. Cues for focus such as internal or external reminders for focus can greatly improve muscular performance. A 2011 paper published in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport looked into the effects of external reminders of focus towards muscular endurance in the form of maximum repetitions to failure, or to the point where form becomes deteriorated.
The study noted that simple verbal cues such as “focus on moving and exerting force with your arms,” “focus on moving and exerting force through and against the barbell,” “push the bar,” and “push your arms” were enough to significantly improve endurance.
Another way to improve stamina and endurance is by practicing simple breathing or respiratory exercises. This trains the lungs to be more efficient, thus improving oxygen delivery and even mental mood states. A common respiratory exercise is to inhale deeply through the nose, hold the breath for 5 seconds, and slowly release the air out the nose.
A 2019 paper published in Sport Mont studied the effects of breathing exercises on biathletes. The paper found that mastery of simple breathing exercises and utilization of these breathing exercises during physical activity was able to improve stamina in the biathletes. The paper also suggested that certain respiratory exercises (i.e., how long an individual can hold their breath) can be used as a tool to assess an individual’s stamina.
Although they are not suggested for long-term use, supplements have been used to improve endurance. Supplements like caffeine are able to provide the body with more sources of energy. Caffeine makes the body utilize energy more efficiently as it taps into the fat stores as well as carbon stores.
Stamina and endurance are very similar to one another, aside from their technical definitions. Through training and other ways mentioned above, both stamina and endurance can be improved.