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Running Tips

Stamina vs. endurance: What's the difference?

Two runners on a sandy path in the countryside.

For a new runner, stamina and endurance might sound like one and the same — it's just being able to run for a long time, right? In reality, though, these terms have some differences, which will actually come into play during your training. Let's break down stamina vs. endurance.

Stamina is defined as the amount of time a muscle or muscle group can perform at or near maximum capacity, while endurance is defined as the amount of time a muscle group can perform a certain action. More scientifically speaking, endurance can be defined by the body's ability to deliver oxygen to muscles while performing an action and stamina is more so about delivering energy.

Still unsure of the difference? Here's another way to think about stamina vs. endurance: Stamina is about maximizing output while endurance is about maximizing time while performing an activity. For example, sprinters rely more on stamina to get them through a 100-meter dash where they are demanding maximal output from their bodies. While still performing the movement of running, distance runners opt for endurance; running at a slower, more sustainable pace to be able to run for a much longer period of time.

Training for stamina

To build stamina, training requires overexertion, generally speaking. When your body moves past the point of being able to deliver enough oxygen to muscles, it can lead to muscle failure. But after proper recovery, your body slowly trains itself to be able to handle more of the demand of maximum exertion the next time. Activities to train stamina include sprinting, strength training with heavy weight and low reps, or performing a task at max output in a given time (e.g., how many pushups you can do in a minute).

Training for endurance

When it comes to endurance, pace is everything. Endurance can be related to any of the above activities, too, but the goal is to do the activity for an extended period of time, not to overexert yourself. For example, weight lifting is often associated with strength and stamina, but there is such a thing as strength endurance, as well.

Rather than performing six repetitions of bicep curls with 35-pound weights (stamina), the goal of endurance is to be able to perform 20 repetitions with 15-pound weights. Likewise, rather than sprinting 100 meters, the goal of endurance is to be able to run 2 miles at the same pace. The goal of endurance training is to stay below the threshold where your body can no longer deliver enough oxygen.

Unless you're training for a specific event or sport, most people will find the most optimal health and balance by training both stamina and endurance. Some days you should aim to run for several miles, while the next day you might opt for sprint repeats. Find the balance that works for you, then stick with it.

Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.

Written By
Tim Kelly

Marathon Runner & Coach

Tim Running

Ohio native that loves travel, gardening, and helping people do more with their running than they thought possible. 8+ years as a running coach. 12 years as a runner and cyclist.