There are activities where I consider my fitness above average:

  • Long-term stamina (hiking or cycling for several hours)
  • Going up a hill, or going up stairs

I have friends (same sex, same age as me) who have less stamina in these areas, meaning they are either slower than me, or they show more (or sooner) signs of fatigue (sweating, breathing) than me.

However, there are other activities where they have much more stamina than me:

  • Playing tennis
  • Running for 5-15 minutes, trying to get as far as possible.
  • Cycling up a hill (3 minutes)
  • Running to catch a train

As you can see, these are mostly areas where you have to give maximal performance for a short time (< 15 minutes).

These acitivities feel like pain to me. When playing tennis, I often feel the strong urge to take a break. However, I enjoy doing the long-term activities listed at the top.

What could be the reasons for this difference?

E.g. do I have smaller lungs, less hemoglobin, or maybe more stamina-instead-of-power genes?

What sorts of training methods could I do to improve my short-term stamina?

I have been doing training sets of 12 minutes on a stationary bicyle (in the gym) for over a year now. The reason I'm doing them is because I want to get better short-term stamina, and I hope that playing tennis will be more enjoyable if I have more short-term stamina. During these 12-minutes workouts, I'm trying to get as much performance as possible. My pulse rate goes to 170 BPM (now higher than 175) during such a workout.

However I don't see any improvement. I currently don't get more performance on the stationary bicycle than when I began doing these workouts, and I don't see any change in the activities listed above.

Grateful for any ideas and suggestions.

  • 2
    How frequently do you do these 12-minute sets? But to start to answer one of your questions--you aren't putting in even a tenth of the amount of training necessary to start blaming genetics or other uncontrollable factors. Jan 23, 2014 at 14:23
  • 2
    Thanks for the comment. I'm doing these sets 1-2 times a week. I know it could be more. And, I'm not looking to blame anything like genetics. I'd like to know why I don't see any progress, and whether I'm on the right path to improve something.
    – Bass
    Jan 23, 2014 at 14:44
  • You're right, my comment was harsher than I intended, I apologize. Jan 23, 2014 at 14:51
  • No problem. Still looking for hints on how to improve my short-term stamina.
    – Bass
    Jan 23, 2014 at 16:12

2 Answers 2


A few things to consider:

you're not as good at tennis as your friends are. From personal experience, my father can wipe the floor with me when we're playing tennis. When we played regularly, he was in his mid-60s, had had a sedentary job for all of his life and played for an hour once a week. I was in my mid-30s, go to the gym and run a lot, and usually ride at least 4 hours per week on a bike for my commute. In short, I'm whippet thin and consider myself pretty fit, and yet I'd never be able to beat him. This is partly from a lifetime of playing (and so being aware of tactics) and also from greater efficiency of movement: he might have less energy than me, but he'd be spending it more wisely. You could go and do a lot of interval training and still find that you struggled with tennis, because you hadn't done enough sport-specific movements.

In short, if you can serve an ace every time or break a serve with a volley every time, aerobic fitness doesn't mean a thing.

you could train a lot harder, and more effectively 12 minutes sounds like a long time to exercise at a high rate. To me, that sounds too long; you're sacrificing some intensity for duration, which (given you can hike for hours) isn't optimal. Instead of 12 minutes as hard as you can, try doing a minute as hard as you can, half a minute at easy recovery pace, another minute hard, half a minute recovery, and so on.

Different people react differently to that sort of training. I'm fragile and if I do hard interval work more than once a week, pretty rapidly I fall apart like a cheap watch. So concentrate on doing hard sessions like that infrequently: if you're going hard enough, you may not need more than once a week. Conversely, if you can do that session several times a week, you're not going hard enough.

heart rate is only a proxy for effort It's a fairly good way to tell if you're pushing yourself, but it's not perfect. Also, I assume your goal isn't to be able to sustain a 175bpm heart rate for 12 minutes: you want to be good at performing some other, more complicated activity. So practise that activity, or break it down into simpler components and do those. Again (and without having a perfect window into your situation, so this is a generality), specific training is going to help you more than general aerobic fitness.

  • Thank you, great hints. Now I'm doing a minute as hard as I can (currently about 370 watts), then two minutes recovery, then again one minute ... would upvote your answer if I had 15 reputation.
    – Bass
    Feb 6, 2014 at 9:12

Theres not really such a thing as "short-term stamina" or "long-term stamina", more just activity specific adaptation.

At the extremes, consider a 100m sprinter and a marathon runner both at their peak. Both of these atheletes are "running" however, the sprinter would beat a marathoner on a short course, but thats not to say the sprinter is fitter, but more adapted for that task.

We can say adaptation, as the 100m sprint and marathon exist on an easy to visualise continuum of running activities. As we paired out two runners again on longer courses, the difference between them would become less pronounced, with the marathon runners long-distance adaptations probably giving them the edge as soon by the 5km mark (if not eariler) - when the excess bulk of the sprint and difference in optimum stride would make it more difficult for the sprinter to maintain form.

However, sports and general activity aren't as simple as our continuum of running. Lets now see what might happen if we pit a team of sprinters against a team of marathon runners in a game of soccer. Here the different adaptations start to cause more interesting differences. The speed of the sprinters would give them the ability to quickly break past marathoners, however the marathoners ability to go for longer distances would benefit them as the game wore on. However, neither has trained for the sports specific adaptations of soccer that require quick changes in direction.

The short answer, is identify activities that you wish to perform well in and practise those. In your case, you are looking at quick aerobic activies where there is a lot of overlap between the skills required, in this case mostly quick short runs and bursts of speed.

For these, suicide runs, sessions of hill runs and repeated short-distance (1-2km) runs for time will help. Hill runs basically consist of finding a decent sized hill, running up as fast as possible, walking back down and repeating. As for tennis, again while the prior activities may help with your cardiovascular capabilities, remember that tennis requires the ability to move and change direction quickly, and often laterally or backwards, which isn't done during regular runs. So while the above may help you "last longer" you may still find yourself tiring as the activity is different.

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