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I have always been a sport junkie, running once a week 15 miles, doing weight lifting and practicing kettlebells. After the new year the doctors found a tumor in my chest and luckily now after the treatment I can begin to train and continue with normal life. Anyway the therapy affected the power and endurance of the body and since before the disease I wasn't used to such circumstances now I am a little lost regarding the training.

While I haven't lost much power and am able to lift almost the same weights as before, the endurance is really low right now and I would appreciate if anyone could suggest what kind of weight training (is it better to begin with lower weights and do more repetitions, is it good to train every day...) and running (should I maintain a constant heart rate or is it better to do intervals, is it better to run long distances or is it better to run shorter distances at higher heart rate...) would be appropriate to get back in shape and regain the endurance in this situation.

Thank you!

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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I'll try to answer your question from my own experiences.

I used to smoke a lot, almost a package of cigarettes daily. I still had a fair amount of strength, and am a slim person by natural.

At some point, I decided to work on my endurance, my stamina. I ran on the treadmill next to an overweight woman, and couldn't run more than five minutes without gasping for air. My heart was pumping so hard it made me dizzy. That made me realise - being 24 years old at that time - that it was time to change my life drastically.

How did I accomplish this?

Build up gradually, and be determined. The mental conquer was - for me - far greater than the physical, as you have to keep pushing yourself further, even though it aches, burns in your lungs.

I started riding a stationary bike, as the running was too intense at first. I didn't ride it daily but every other day, as I wanted to allow my slowly recovering physique and muscles to recover fully before the next workout.

After two months, I started jogging on the treadmill, doing intervals. This way, I could push my endurance further and further, whilst giving myself time to recover. I followed this scheme:

  • 3 minutes of walking ( warmup prevents cramps in calves )
  • 2 minutes of jogging
  • 1 minute of walking
  • 6 minutes of jogging
  • 1 minute of walking
  • 10 minutes of jogging
  • cool down

As weeks and months passed, I increased speed and jogged longer periods before slowing down pace to walking speed. I always kept this interval principal as it allowed my recovering to improve. I think it is important to push your limits, but don't exagerate as it will do you more harm than good.

I quit smoking for over 8 months now, and am able to run 45 minutes on average 12km/h. I do sweat a lot, however I am recovered within ten minutes of rest. This improvement has made me determined to stay off cigarettes and live a healthy life.

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Now, after more than 6 months I can share the results and the way I have managed to regain endurance so far.

Below is the table of monthly stats for the past months:

month, total distance, avg. pace (min/km)
jan 12, 61.6 km,    5:38
dec 11, 86.5 km,    5:45
nov 11, 43.6 km,    5:47
oct 11, 50.7 km,    5:45
sep 11, 29.4 km,    5:10
aug 11, 10.0 km,    6:00
jul 11, 35.9 km,    6:11
jun 11, 78.0 km,    6:40
may 11, 35.5 km,    7:34

Beside running I've played tennis in the summertime, that's why the distances for july, september, and august are much shorter. Anyway while running I have kept the pulse between 165 and 175. When it went above 175 I slowed down and walked until it got to 165 and then started to run again. At the beginning there were many walking periods whereas now I can run whole training without walking periods in between.

This is how I trained and how I improved. Don't know whether it was the best way but nevertheless I am satisfied with the results.

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Under normal circumstances I would suggest interval training. If you Google "couch to 5k" or "couch to 10k" you'll find plenty of example workouts over a period of a month or two which are designed for a mostly sedentary person to work their way gradually up to having the endurance needed for a 5k or 10k run.

I've seen at least one study which showed that endurance is specific to particular exercises. What I mean is, if you run to build up your endurance then you'll have better endurance for running but not necessarily for rowing or swimming or even biking. Of course, there's some crossover, especially in the early going. When you first start endurance training much of your gains are from improved lung and heart function. Before long though, the added endurance is from the improved ability of the local muscles to process O2 and calories to generate energy (if you can find a copy of "VO2 Max" by Health for Life it's a good read on this subject). Since you use different muscles for different exercises this causes the activity specific improvements that I mentioned.

What does this mean? Well, if you want to improve your endurance when weight lifting then you might want to use a regimen that effectively turns your lifting into interval training. Keep up a fast pace in the gym, which may mean lighter weights. For variety (and to shock your muscles) I would occasionally mix in a heavy workout.

IMPORTANT: This would be my advice under normal circumstances. Please run any of this by your doctor first. Sometimes when a patient asks their doctor if they can start exercising again after a major health issue the doctor doesn't consider the extent/type/intensity that the person will be doing. This isn't a criticism of doctors, but they're all pretty busy. Hopefully they think to ask, "What kind of exercise", but it can get missed and they might just assume, "He's just going to be doing light jogging once in awhile".

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