We Asked A Trainer To Explain 'Muscular Endurance' To Us In English

Erin Bunch
·5 mins read

From Women's Health

Strength training is an important part of any well-rounded fitness regimen for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn at rest. But muscular strength is not the only thing you should be training for when you do those squats or lift those bells; you also want to be working on your muscular endurance.

“Generally speaking, muscular endurance is your ability to repeatedly exert and maintain muscular force or tension for extended periods of time,” says Wendy Batts, NASM master instructor and performance enhancement specialist. In other words, the more reps you can do or the longer you can run or jump rope, the more muscular endurance you have.

Endurace is an important consideration when it comes to your muscles because the more of it you have, the less likely you are to fatigue.

If this is the first time you’ve ever even thought about muscular endurance—aside from desperately wondering when your fitness instructor or trainer is going to end a particularly punishing set of reps—you’re not alone. Prepare to get caught up, asap, though, because below is a primer on the different types of muscular endurance, how they’re measured, and what you you can do to improve your own.

Different types of muscular endurance

In strength training, muscular endurance refers to the amount of reps you can do of an exercise (think: squats, lunges, or pullups). “Due to the prolonged durations involved, muscular endurance-focused activities are typically performed at relatively lower intensities,” Watts explains. “In resistance training, this would be performing an exercise using a weight you could lift for, let’s say, 20 repetitions or holding an isometric exercise, like a plank for 60 seconds or longer.”

Before you try it, you might want to perfect your plank form...

Sometimes, people will also refer to muscular endurance in a cardio setting, which is also known as cardiovascular or cardiorespiratory endurance. This refers to the length of time an individual is able to perform a cardio activity such as swimming, cycling, or running at a moderate, steady state pace.

It’s also possible, says Watts, to improve muscular exercise during higher intensity exercise, and there are two terms used to describe this: strength endurance and power endurance.

“Strength Endurance refers to the ability to produce moderate to high levels of muscular force or tension repeatedly, with minimal rest and recovery—think lifting a heavy weight or piece of furniture, stopping to rest for 30-60 seconds when needed, and then repeating,” she explains.

Power Endurance, on the other hand, refers to the ability to produce explosive force repeatedly with minimal rest and recovery, such as might be utilized or trained in activities like sprint workouts, tennis, golf, softball, or combat sports.

How to measure muscular endurance

Muscular endurance can be measured in a variety of ways, depending on the activity or muscle group,” says Watts. For the upper body, a common assessment for muscular endurance is the push-up test, where an individuals does as many push-ups as possible in one minute, she says.

“Other common tests for muscle endurance include time-based assessments such as the wall squat test for the lower body, or a front or side plank hold for time to measure endurance of the core musculature,” Watts explains.

The most common way to measure cardiorespiratory endurance with via a VO2 Max test. FYI: most smartphones now gauge your VO2 Max if you want a ballpark figure since the test itself is ~fancy~ and requires a visit to a training lab or facility.

What’s the optimal level of muscular endurance

According to Watts, there’s no magic measurement that’s been deemed optimal when it comes muscular endurance.

Instead, she explains, it’s relative to the individual and the activities or exercises they need to perform. “Optimal levels of muscular endurance would be whatever’s necessary to accomplish the desired activity,” Watts says.

How to train to improve muscular endurance

Strength training

To train specifically for muscular endurance (of the strength variety) in whichever muscle group you’re interested in improving, you’ll need to pay attention to four things: intensity, volume, rest, and frequency.

Intensity refers to the weight you’re liftting. “Utilize light-to-moderate intensity loads when strength training,” Watts says. Stick with a weight that's 50–75 percent of the most you could lift for that particular exercise move.

In terms of volume, Watts recommends you perform one to three sets of 12 to 25 repetitions, or at least one to two minutes of movement per set of a given exercise. This should not be easy; the muscle group you’re working should start to fatigue before you’ve finished your set. Watts then recommends taking just minimal rest between sets—no more than 90 seconds.

And as for how many times per week you incorporate this type of training into your regimen for best results? “The optimal training frequency is anywhere from 3-5 times per week,” she says. Following these parameters can result in improved muscular endurance in as little as four weeks on average, says Watts.

To improve cardiovascular endurance, increase the amount of time you spend doing the activity at a moderate pace, gradually over time. No sweat, right?

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