Fitness Tips

I’m a Triathlete, and This Is How I Improve My Cardiovascular Endurance

Rachel Lapidos

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Imagine swimming for 2.4 miles, biking for 112 miles, then capping it all off with a full marathon run of 26.2 miles—one after the other. (I’m out of breath just thinking about it.) This is what completing an Ironman Triathlon entails. To accomplish such an athletic feat, you need to have really, really good endurance over anything else. As such, we got a triathlete to reveal his tips to improve cardio endurance, which can help you to go farther in your own training.

Anthony Chavez, a master trainer at CorePower Yoga, has completed over ten triathlons in his life. Even though not all of them were Ironmans, all triathlons test your endurance limits. “My endurance over the last couple of years have looked like really long bike rides or runs,” says Chavez, who points to a 42-mile trail race along with a 600-mile bike race as two (casual) examples.

Typical triathlon workouts entail logging long swims, bike rides, and runs, as you would imagine—but Chavez says that he has never “conventionally trained” for endurance marathons. Instead, he looks at the mental aspect of the race. “When I did the 600-mile bike ride, I talked to a bunch of professional cyclist friends, and all of them essentially prescribed that I should be riding 1,000 miles a month to train,” he says. “I vastly under-trained and did about 200 miles a month, and still completed the event. I really lean my success to mental training and yoga.”

“The real secret of my ability to do these endurance events is connecting the mind to the breath.”

Chavez says that his yoga practice and his love for triathlons grew hand-in-hand, and he credits his training on the mat for his incredible endurance. “The real secret of my ability to do these endurance events is connecting the mind to the breath,” he says. “In yoga, you’re not thinking about anything other than the capacity of your breath. And the ability to get comfortable with that while doing weird poses is the first step of endurance training for me.” He adds that he began to test himself and see how long he could hold each pose for, which kept getting longer and longer.

When you think about what’s happening to your body in a mindfulness practice, the ability to physically keep going in a more grueling activity makes sense. “If you can control your breathing, you can control your heart rate, so that helps buffer the lactic acid that’s building up in your muscles,” explains Chavez. “You can also control the amount of oxygen you’re getting, which shortens up the gap—you get more red blood cells and oxygen, which means more of an ability to keep going before you burn out.”

Ultimately, for Chavez, better endurance comes down to your breath. “Breathing can calm you down,” he says, pointing to one particular breathing technique that helps him to keep going in triathlon events: exhaling twice as long as you inhale. “This tones your vagal nerve, which releases serotonin and oxytocin, and physiologically makes you calm down,” he says. “So if you’re on a run and losing your breath, slow down your body and start to incorporate this technique. It works.”

Without having a handle over your breath, and the oxygen coming into your body, you wouldn’t be able to log one mile, let alone 26.2—so if you take Chavez’s tip to heart, you may find that the mental stamina can boost your physical one.

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