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When we talk about muscles, we often talk about making them stronger, but another characteristic that’s just as important is endurance. While muscular strength usually deals with how much you can lift, muscular endurance deals with how long you can do it. And just like with strength, you can train for and improve endurance too. So even if you’re not working towards running a marathon, muscular endurance has many benefits because even doing everyday activities—walking, carrying groceries, gardening—requires stamina. Here’s why muscular endurance matters, how to measure it, and what exercises are best to build it.
Meet the Expert
What is Muscular Endurance?
Muscular endurance refers to how long muscles can sustain an exercise, says Tori Simeone, a Tone It Up Trainer. Building muscular endurance can be done with weights or bodyweight only, and it’s important for overall health and injury prevention.
Lesli Shooter, a Performance Coach at Future, explains further: “Muscular endurance is the ability of the muscle to repeatedly contract, produce force over time, and delay fatigue. It is the ability of the muscle to maintain efficient contraction and force production as long as possible.” It’s a combination of strength and endurance and is useful when your muscles engage in high-intensity work over time. For example, says Shooter, cross country skiers (especially when sprinting up hills) and rowers can both use muscular endurance to increase power output and prolong fatigue.
What Are the Benefits of Building Muscular Endurance?
Building muscular endurance will enhance your overall health and wellness, says Simeone. But other benefits include good posture from your muscles being able to hold you up in place all day, increased metabolism, improved confidence, and fewer injuries.
In terms of helping you work out, Shooter says muscular endurance “exercises train the body’s anaerobic edge and conditions the body to tolerate higher workloads.” In other words, you’ll be able to improve work output at certain intensities and perform for a longer period of time before getting tired.
“Muscular endurance training is important for anyone wanting to perform at higher intensities and nicely complements other traditional strength and endurance training, says Shooter.” It’s also great for people “with limited time and who want to make gains in anaerobic capacity and fitness.”
How Is Muscular Endurance Measured?
When measuring muscular endurance, Shooter says you’re assessing one of three things: how long someone can produce a certain amount of force (e.g., holding a plank), how many times someone can repeat a certain movement with or without weight (e.g., doing push-ups for one minute), or how much total work someone performs in an isokinetic environment (e.g., knee extension/flexion via an isokinetic dynamometer).
How Often Should You Exercise for Muscular Endurance?
You can do muscular endurance moves every other day, says Simeone. “You want to give your body a rest day in between so that you can recover and come back even stronger for your next session. Add in stretching and any other recovery tricks you can on your in-between days so your muscles can be ready to go,” she says. Shooter agrees that recovery is important and says that Future coaches also include mobility work and other supportive sessions to improve recovery processes to improve muscular endurance indirectly and overall sport and life performance.
It will depend on your fitness goals, but Shooter says muscular endurance training ideally will be performed twice a week for six to eight weeks at lighter loads. She recommends less than 60 percent of your one-rep max (the maximum weight you can lift for one rep of an exercise), with a high number of reps (12+) and little rest. “To get the most out of muscular endurance training, it is important to keep the rest periods short, let the fatigue accumulate, and keep the form solid,” she says. “These workouts will be uncomfortable, but this is part of what makes them effective.”
Exercises That Build Muscular Endurance
If you're looking for some dedicated exercises to build muscular endurance effectively, here are seven that require no equipment.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips, feet parallel.
- Shift your weight into your heels (make sure you can wiggle your toes).
- Do four walks side-to-side.
- Do 15 reps total.
- Get into a plank position with your hips in line with shoulders, feet hips with apart and parallel, elbows in line with shoulders.
- Pull your belly in and tuck your hips.
- Hold for 90 seconds (You don’t have to start right off the bat at 90 seconds; you can work your way up to this, says Simeone).
- Lay on your back and lift your knees towards your chest.
- Lift your shoulders off the floor, tuck your chin in, and place your hands behind your head with your elbows wide.
- Switching legs, pedal your legs, bending one leg while straightening the other. Stop the knee when it is directly over your hip at a 90-degree bend for maximum work. Bring your opposite elbow to the bent knee.
- Go through this for 15 reps.
- Start in with your hands directly below your shoulders and your lower body resting on the balls of your feet.
- Slowly move your body down as close to the ground as you can without touching it.
- Push back up to the starting position.
- Lay your back flat onto the mat.
- Keep your knees bent at 90 degrees.
- Slowly raise your upper body until you're in a seated position.
- Slowly lower yourself back down to the mat.
- Stand with your feet just outside of your hips
- Sit back and down.
- Go as low as you can with good posture and drive back up to a standing position.
- From a standing position, take a big step forward.
- Drop your back knee just above the ground.
- Drive up to a standing position.
- Switch legs.