In my early twenties, I could deadlift almost twice my bodyweight, but I couldn’t even run one mile. My weak link was exposed when I attended a personal trainer workshop that included a barrage of fitness tests, one of which was a 1.5 mile run.
Even though I didn’t finish last, it was a bit embarrassing for me. The experience prompted me to shift my focus from strength and hypertrophy to working on overall fitness. I started running and practicing yoga and in 2009, I ran the NYC Marathon.
The spectrum for endurance sports is quite large and it is constantly increasing. When I first heard of the Ironman, I couldn’t conceive of how that was even possible! I now know many people who’ve finished Ironmans (yes, regular people just like you and me!). There’s even a DOUBLE Ironman for those rare individuals who think 140.6 miles just isn’t enough. I’m not proposing that we all go out and start competing in triathlons, but developing your cardio conditioning can make everyday activities easier and more enjoyable.
Testing Your Endurance
The funny thing with cardio is that it doesn’t always carry over from one activity to the next. This is part of the appeal of triathlons, as they test your endurance over three modalities. It’s amazing how sometimes a person can be good at one activity and very bad at another. Take me for example, I’m a decent runner and cyclist, but I’m a weak swimmer. (I’ve recently started practicing more though – I’m hoping to do my first tri in 2011!)
I’ve also known a few good runners who couldn’t even ride a bike, so skill specificity has a lot to do with it. You get better at what you practice; it’s really that simple. Wanna be a good runner? Run!
With that in mind, here are some guidelines to judge your aerobic endurance. (I’ve decided to make these gender neutral.)
Swim 750 meters (just under half a mile) in under 20 minutes
Bike 20 kilometers (about 12.5 miles) in under 40 minutes
Run 5 kilometers (about 3.1 miles) in under 30 minutes
I’ve chosen these distances because they are the standards used in most sprint triathlons. You don’t need to be able to do all three in order to test your conditioning. However, if you can’t pass at least one of these requirements, you ought to work on your cardio. (Serious athletes can do these requirements in less than half the time.)
One more thing, I’m not talking about running on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike. If you want to truly test your cardio, don’t use machines! For the swim, feel free to use a pool.
Make sure to check out part three of this series for information on assessing your flexibility.