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August 04, 2021 9 min read

If you were to scroll through all of the different strength training programs available today, odds are 99% of them would be all about building muscle mass. But have you ever considered a training program for improving muscular endurance?

​Unfortunately, most resistance training programs neglect the all-important factor of muscle endurance. It is unfortunate because having muscular endurance has many health benefits and can make you an overall better lifter.

To help get you on track to improving your muscular endurance, we're sharing our complete guide to building muscle endurance. If you follow this guide, you will learn how to lift for extended periods AND still gain muscle mass in the process.

Here is everything you need to know about improving your muscular endurance!

What is Muscular Endurance, and How Do You Improve It?

Muscular endurance refers to the number of repetitions of a single exercise you can do with proper form and without stopping or taking a break. Think of it like cardiovascular endurance, in which you test how long you can do cardio exercise for without having to stop. Muscular endurance is not the same thing as muscular strength.

Sports training for endurance, man hits hammer.

Endurance refers to how many reps of an exercise you can do, while muscle strength refers to the amount of weight you can lift for a single exercise. Also, someone can have a lot of muscle endurance but very little muscle strength. On the flip side, someone can have a lot of muscle strength but little endurance. In a perfect world, a lifter would be able to lift the heaviest weights and for a solid number of reps.

Muscular endurance is muscle group-specific, meaning that not every group of muscles has the same level of endurance. For example, a lifter may have more endurance in their biceps than they do their triceps. Therefore, they can do more repetitions of bicep curls than they can tricep dips or tricep extensions.

How to Improve Muscular Endurance

Most exercise programs emphasize weight training for building muscle mass but have little to say about muscular endurance. However, you can build muscle and improve your muscular endurance with muscle endurance training. How does muscular endurance training work? To increase muscular endurance, you need to regularly practice muscular endurance exercises until failure.

What are muscular endurance exercises?

Technically, any strength training exercise, whether a squat or bench press, is an endurance exercise. What makes it specifically endurance training is doing the exercise for as many reps as you can so that your body's energy systems and muscle fibers can become accustomed to doing the exercise for long periods.

For example, perhaps you normally do three sets of biceps curls for six reps each using 70% of your one-rep max load. You can turn that into endurance training by doing three sets of fifteen or more reps and using only 50% of your one-rep max load.  Over time, as your endurance increases, doing fifteen reps with 50% of your max load will feel like cake and you will be able to increase your load.

Moreover, the way to improve muscular endurance is to train your regular exercises with lighter weights and for more reps. Over time, you will be able to do more reps of each exercise with an increased load for an extended period of time.

Slow-Twitch vs. Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibers

You probably already know a thing or two about body composition. But did you know that your body has two different types of muscle fibers? Not only that, but those different muscle fibers are targeted by different types of exercise and can impact your physical fitness levels.

If you didn't know before, you can't say that anymore! But, understanding the difference between the two types of fibers could be the difference between achieving or failing at building muscular endurance.

The two types of muscle fibers are:

  1. Slow-twitch
  2. Fast-twitch

First off, slow-twitch muscle fibers have a high concentration of mitochondria and myoglobin and are surrounded by tons of capillaries. As a result, they receive more oxygen from the blood which gives them more energy. With more energy, they are able to withstand physical activity for longer periods of time without completely breaking down.

Second, fast-twitch muscle fibers are much larger than slow-twitch fibers and don't receive nearly as much oxygen as the slow-twitch fibers. With more surface area but less energy, they are able to exude great force and power in short bursts of energy.  However, they break down much faster in a workout than slow-twitch fibers.

As you can probably tell, endurance training taps into your slow-twitch fibers more than your fast-twitch fibers. The way to tap into those slow-twitch fibers is to practice muscular endurance training, with low resistance and many repetitions.

What are the Benefits of Having Muscular Endurance?

If you're already doing well with your current training program, why would you switch to a new type of training that emphasizes endurance? There are many benefits to training for endurance.

Some of the top ones include improving:

  • Body functionality
  • Posture and body stability
  • Aerobic capacities
  • Overall health and wellness

First off, having high muscular endurance is great for everyday functional activities. For example, carrying heaving items to and from work or moving items around your home all require muscle activation for long periods of time. Therefore, you will benefit from your muscular endurance training both inside and outside of the gym.

Second, muscular endurance improves your posture and overall body stability. Slow-twitch fibers are in charge of activating your stabilizer muscles, the ones that hold your body upright in good posture. And, slow-twitch fibers can stay activated for long periods, which allows your postural muscles to stay contracted for many hours at a time.

The longer the postural muscles stay activated, the more time your body is in good posture. And, the more time your body has good posture for, the less likely you are to get injured or experience body aches and pains.  Moreover, you build slow-twitch fibers through endurance training and improve your posture as a result.

Third, as we just mentioned, muscular endurance increases the concentration of slow-twitch fibers in the body. The more slow-twitch fibers there are, the more oxygen-rich your muscles become. With more oxygen, your body has more energy to sustain aerobic activities for long periods.

Therefore, you can do cardio exercises or low-resistance strengthening exercises without tiring as quickly. Lastly, increasing your muscular endurance has several health benefits, including:

  • Reducing blood pressure
  • Stabilizing insulin levels
  • Stabilizing blood sugar levels
  • Increasing metabolism

Having a high metabolism is particularly great for health. High metabolisms help you burn extra calories while at rest. Therefore, if you are trying to lose weight and lose a little extra body fat, boosting your metabolism through muscular endurance training could help you reach your goals faster!  The more calories you burn in a day, the more fat you will burn. 

Again, there are many more benefits to increasing muscle endurance, aside from the obvious being able to lift for longer periods of time. Regardless of who you are, your current fitness level, or fitness goals, you can benefit from increasing your muscular endurance!

How To Measure Your Current Muscular Endurance Level

Do you have a lot of muscular endurance? If you don't know the answer to this question, you're not alone. While most workout programs emphasize growing muscular strength, few focus on growing muscular endurance.

As a result, most people have little to no idea if they have a lot of endurance or not. However, we're here to help you determine whether or not you have muscular endurance in a few simple steps. Here is how to do it:

Step 1

Put together a list of different bodyweight exercises, such as push-ups, sit-ups, lunges, and squats. Make sure that the exercises include both upper body and lower body muscle groups. Then, see how many repetitions of each exercise you can do with proper form before having to stop. Write down your results so that you don't forget how many reps of each you did!

​Step 2

Compare your results for each exercise against averages or another standard. Unfortunately, there is no universal standard for how many reps of different exercises you should be able to do. However, there are some online resources that can give you an idea of where others are at.

For example, you can see standard bodyweight squat averages here.

Or, you can look at the US Military's physical fitness standards here.

Take a look at how many reps of each exercise you can do to see how you compare to others.  This should give you a general idea of whether you lag or thrive in endurance!

Step 3

Train for muscular endurance! Now that you know how your endurance levels compare against others, you can train to increase your endurance on your muscle groups that need it most. Still not sure how to get started? Follow our complete training guide below to get going on building more endurance!

Here is How To Practice Muscular Endurance Training

Ready to give muscular endurance training a try? We've got all the information you need to get started today! The best part is that you don't need to radically change your existing workout program. In fact, all of your current strength training exercises can stay in your routine.

However, you do need to restructure the way that you do those exercises to make them more friendly for building endurance. Before going any further, there are some key points that need to be made about endurance training, including:

  1. Make sure to drop your one-rep max load to 50% or less
  2. Do as many reps of each exercise as you can with good form for two to three sets
  3. Only take short rest periods
  4. Train at least two to three times per week for endurance specifically

First off, as we mentioned above, you must lower your one-rep max load to about 50% when doing muscular endurance training. The goal is to activate the slow-twitch muscle fibers rather than the fast-twitch fibers. Lowering your load allows you to do more reps of an exercise, and doing more reps activates the slow-twitch fibers.

Second, having muscular endurance means that you are able to do high repetitions of different exercises. Therefore, you should do as many reps as you can of each exercise when training for muscular endurance. However, do not do so many that you start to break form. Only do as many as you can with good form.

If you have done many more reps beyond what you would usually do and still don't feel tired, check to make sure you are using the right form! Third, only take short rest periods in between your sets. We suggest only taking a 2-minute break at the longest. The longer the break you take, the less your slow-twitch muscle fibers will be challenged.

Lastly, if you want to see real progress in your endurance levels, then train for endurance specifically at least two to three times per week. If you want to see results faster, then up that number to four to five days per week. However, you don't necessarily need to do more endurance-oriented workouts to improve endurance.

Rather, try to make your endurance workouts as high-quality as possible. The higher quality your workouts are, the less often you need to do them to see results. Once you take these four key points into consideration, you can apply them to your existing workout program.

Then, you will be on your way to upping your muscular endurance! If you want to try a totally new training program designed specifically to increase muscular endurance, then check out our example program below!

Sample Muscular Endurance Training Program

If you want to give a completely new workout routine for muscular endurance training a try, we got you covered! We are sharing a complete muscular endurance training routine, designed specifically to help you build endurance in each of your muscle groups. This training program incorporates the key points above to give you the best workout. The way that it does that is by:

  1. Using circuit training
  2. Doing high-intensity intervals of resistance exercises
  3. Using compound exercises for a full-body workout

First off, circuit training is perhaps the best training method for building muscular endurance. It is a method in which you cycle through doing different exercises with only short breaks in between the exercises. It is the ideal method for building strength while still lighting up those slow-twitch muscle fibers.

Second, cycling between high-intensity resistance training exercises with light loads will keep the slow-twitch fibers activated. The higher the intensity, the more those fibers will grow.

Lastly, compound exercises that utilize several muscles at a time allow you to grow endurance in multiple muscles at once. For example, bodyweight exercises like pull-ups target the back, chest, and biceps all at once. Therefore, you can make your workouts more efficient with compound exercises.

Now, here is an example of a circuit training, full-body workout program for building muscular endurance. Do each circuit 4 times, then move on to the next one! Only break for one to two minutes in between each circuit.  If you want to make the exercises a little more challenging, you can do them while holding a kettlebell or dumbbell for extra resistance.

male athlete does plank exercise

Circuit 1

  1. 30 seconds of squats
  2. 10 second break

Circuit 2

  1. 30 seconds of lunges
  2. 10 second break

Circuit 3

  1. 30 seconds of push-ups
  2. 10 second break

Circuit 4

  1. 30 seconds of pull-ups
  2. 10 second break

Circuit 5

  1. 30 seconds of planks
  2. 10 second break

You can repeat this circuit workout several times throughout the week with different exercises each time! That way, you will put yourself on the fast track to building endurance without hitting the boredom wall.

Final Thoughts on Muscle Endurance

In your pursuit to gain more muscle mass, do not neglect building muscular endurance! Having one without the other is like hitting upper-body days without ever doing a leg day. The greater your endurance, the overall better and more well-rounded lifter you will become. Don't hesitate to start building more muscular endurance!

Bonus tip: One of the best circuit training methods is Tabata. We highly suggest giving Tabata a try to help increase your muscular endurance! For more on Tabata, check out our complete guide to Tabata training!