When It Comes to Fitness, What’s the Difference Between Stamina and Endurance?

Photo: Getty Images/BROOK PIFER
Whether you love to pack a punch during boxing class or enjoy taking leisurely hikes with friends, knowing the definitions of fitness terms that are thrown around can help you reap the most benefits of your workout routine—when you know exactly what instructors and influencers are talking about, you can make the most of their advice. Stamina and endurance are two of these terms, and commonly interchanged and mistaken for each other.

“While they’re related terms that refer to a person’s ability to sustain mental or physical effort over an extended period, there’s a difference between them,” shares personal trainer and Barry’s chief instructor Drew Nunez.

Experts In This Article

Stamina vs. endurance

“Stamina generally refers to a person’s ability to sustain [intense] physical activity for an extended period of time without experiencing fatigue,” explains Nunez. He adds that it typically refers to activities that require bursts of energy, like sprinting, weight lifting, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Endurance, on the other hand, generally involves activities that have prolonged and steady efforts, like long-distance running, cycling, or low-intensity swimming. “Endurance refers to a person’s ability to sustain a mental or physical activity over an extended period,” he says.

As Brooks running puts it, “Stamina is about maximizing output while endurance is about maximizing time while performing an activity.” Stamina has to do with increasing how long you can perform at your peak, or max effort, while endurance is just about increasing the duration. To get science-y about it, Brooks clarifies that "endurance can be defined by the body's ability to deliver oxygen to muscles while performing an action and stamina is more...about delivering energy."

While stamina and endurance may have different definitions and relate to different types of activities, jointly, they work to improve our overall training and fitness as well as activities in our everyday lives. “Together, they have a positive impact on physical health, mental well-being, daily productivity, and athletic performance,” shares Nunez.

Can you have one without the other?

While this pair typically goes hand-in-hand, there is one exception. "It is possible to have stamina without endurance,” says the Barry’s chief instructor. “You might have the energy and strength to perform a particular physical activity, but not be able to sustain it for a long period.”

If you think of running a long distance for example, you may be able to start the run at a fast pace, but soon burn out and not be able to continue. However, the opposite doesn’t exist, he says. To have endurance, you need to have a certain level of stamina.

How to improve your stamina and endurance

To train your endurance, focus on activities that require you to sustain a low-intensity effort for 30 minutes or more, such as jogging, cycling, or swimming, suggests Nunez. The trainer explains that this type of training is referred to as “steady-state cardio”and works to improve cardiovascular endurance and build the body’s tolerance to sustained physical exertion.

Try this endurance workout that zeroes in on the lower body: 

As for building your stamina, it’s best to practice activities that require high-intensity efforts for prolonged periods, such as interval training, HIIT, or circuit training. “These types of workouts can help improve your muscular endurance, increase your lactate threshold, and teach your body to recover quickly for intense efforts,” he adds.

The benefits of training both is that you’ll be able to push through all your workouts more effectively—no matter whether you’re aiming to go longer or harder.

This HIIT workout can help to build your stamina: 

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