Muscular strength and muscular endurance are often confused with each other, and it’s surprising as the terminology can be quite confusing.
What is muscular endurance?
Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle to generate force over a given period of time.
It’s that simple.
In other words, it is the ability to maintain muscle tension over time, which usually translates into a greater number of repetitions or longer isometric time performing a given exercise.
The difference between muscular strength and muscular endurance
- Strength is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to generate tension against a resistance or load, whether or not there is movement.
- On the other hand, and as we pointed out before, muscular endurance is the capacity to generate tension during a determined period of time (here the important factor is time).
While strength can be measured, for example, by the total load lifted in a back squat, muscular endurance would reflect the number of repetitions that this person can do with a given weight.
Of course, the greater the resistance to be overcome (and the greater the force to be exerted), the lower the muscular endurance (the less time we can generate that resistance).
Benefits for your health
Strength and muscular endurance, although not equivalent, are closely related physical abilities.
Improvement of the cardiovascular system is the first and most important benefit to mention.
Muscular endurance work (we explain how to train this capacity below):
- Increases blood flow to your muscles;
- Increases beta-oxidation of fatty acids throughout the body;
- Improves vascular endothelium health; and
- Has long-term anti-inflammatory effects.
A healthy and strong muscle usually leads to a healthy and strong heart.
In the same way, muscular endurance work leads to very evident metabolic improvements.
Strength work is already included in the different clinical practice guidelines for mainly metabolic pathologies, such as type 2 diabetes.
One element that will improve almost immediately when you start working on muscular strength and endurance is insulin sensitivity, or the ease with which your cells respond to the action of the insulin hormone.
Another silent pandemic that is little talked about is osteopenia and osteoporosis.
Although there are dietary and lifestyle habits that have a powerful influence on bone health (tobacco, alcohol, calcium, vitamin D), the greatest potential benefit for our bone is achieved by working on muscular strength and endurance in a sustainable way
How do you do endurance training?
While muscular strength is worked on and improved with progressive overload, with repetitions ideally not exceeding 6-8, long rest times, and relatively high loads (60-90% of the RM), improving muscular endurance requires quite different requirements, which we could summarise as follows:
- A higher repetition range, exceeding 8-10 repetitions.
- Less rest time between sets. We want to train the muscle to work under fatigue, to quickly “wash out” waste metabolites and to perform with short rest periods.
- Less loading, ideally under 60% over our RM for each exercise.
Otherwise, we’ll be focussing more on strength work than muscular endurance.
Exercises to improve muscular endurance
With and without loads
Among the most recommended exercises we can find:
- Squats: a basic exercise for working the quadriceps, hamstrings, core and glutes.
- Deadlifts: ideal for working on overall strength, strengthening the entire posterior muscular chain.
- Bench press: the quintessential upper body strength exercise, and one of the most loved by fitness enthusiasts.
- Bench press: ideal to work on overall strength, strengthening the entire posterior muscle chain.
- Floor push-ups: one of the best bodyweight exercises we can do for the upper body.
- Pull-ups: an excellent calisthenic exercise to work our upper body muscles with an emphasis on the dorsal muscles.
This is a great workout to increase the so-called time under tension (TUT) muscle, a parameter directly related to muscular endurance.
An accessible and effective routine to improve muscular endurance would be as follows:
In total, the work out will hast 20 minutes (1 minute per station).
- Station number 1: Air Squats, optionally holding a weight of between 10-20 kg.
- Station number 2: Push-ups.
- Station number 3: Pull-ups with alternating grip at each turn (supine/prone).
- Station number 4: Push Press with dumbbells (choose the load according to your condition; recommended for men: 15+15kg and girls: 6+6kg).
- Station number 5: Abdominal plank (you can alternate supports to generate a more complete workout).
- Calisthenics: Introductory Guide available at this link.
- We tell you everything about Diet in Endurance Sports. Read now.
- Is it possible to reverse Type 2 Diabetes? We give you our answer.