May 30, 2021 10 min read

When looking to sculpt your body into the perfectly jacked frame of your dreams, you probably rarely think about training for muscular endurance.

You’ve likely heard muscular endurance training results in a slimmer physique and smaller muscle mass. While it’s true training for muscle endurance over a long period of time may not result in huge gains, improving muscular endurance can still be beneficial for marathon runners and weightlifters alike. 

The main difference between your usual strength or physique-based training and a muscular endurance training program lies entirely in the structure of the program and the efficiency of the exercises.

So next time you’re wondering how many reps of deadlifts you should be doing in the gym, first figure out what you wish to achieve. If it’s insane muscular endurance that can last you hours in the gym with little to no fatigue, you’ve come to the right place.

Portrait of muscular young man exercising with jumping rope on black background

What is Muscular Endurance?

Muscular endurance is just what it sounds like: the ability of a muscle to be used over and over for a long period of time. If you’re no stranger to the gym, you have likely heard the term before. 

Achieving muscle endurance typically requires a program that differs greatly from the standard bodybuilding or powerlifting program. However, it’s not just weightlifters that can utilize muscular endurance to boost gym sessions. Many competitive sports also demand a high level of muscular endurance, such as running, swimming, cycling, and rowing. 

While those who wish to get massive gains may stray far away from training for muscular endurance, occasionally training for endurance can have many benefits for both your gym sessions and your overall health. 

Benefits of Muscular Endurance Training

Engaging in muscular endurance activities has a plethora of benefits in addition to the ability to use your muscles over long periods of time. Here are just a few of the amazing benefits of muscular endurance training:

  • Heart health: It is no secret that endurance training, especially of the cardiovascular type, can have massive benefits on heart health. Having a healthy heart is vital for life and will also make those tough gym sessions much easier to endure. 
  • Weight loss: Any physical activity can aid in weight loss, and muscular endurance training is no different. In fact, building muscle is likely to speed up your metabolism, resulting in fat loss far after you’ve finished your gym workout. 
  • Lengthen lifespan: Though not a guarantee, muscular endurance can improve health overall, leading to an overall much healthier and longer life. 
  • Increase the presence of slow-twitch muscle fibers: There are two types of muscle fibers in the body, one which favors muscular strength and the other which favors muscular endurance, known as fast-twitch muscle fibers and slow-twitch muscle fibers respectively. Some people are naturally inclined to have more of one type over the other, so if you find yourself naturally adept at exerting a lot of energy over short periods of time, you may benefit from building more slow-twitch muscle fibers. 
  • Decrease risk of injury: Training of any kind can boost your level of physical fitness, resulting in a body that is more adept at working correctly and efficiently. Overall health and wellness have a great impact on your susceptibility to injury. 

If you’re on the fence about training for muscle endurance, think about your gym sessions. Do you struggle to reach your rep and set goals? Do you find your muscles giving out before your gym session is over? If you’re struggling in the gym, muscular endurance training may just be the solution.  

shirtless male bodybuilder doing push-ups

10 Exercises for Muscular Endurance

Most exercises can be used to train for muscular endurance simply by doing several high repetition sets at lighter weights.

However, bodyweight exercises can be among the best movements for those who are new to muscular endurance training. This is because, over time, even the smallest amount of weight can feel incredibly heavy.

1. Push-ups 

Most of us have been doing push-ups since gym class in first grade. You might think you have the form down, but when you’re looking to train for endurance, form is vital since you’ll have to repeat the movement more than just a few times. To do a push-up: 

  1. Get on the floor in a plank position. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart and be sure your body forms a straight line. Avoid rounded shoulders or a concave back. 
  2. Keeping your elbows close to your sides, begin lowering yourself down while maintaining that straight back. Feel your shoulder blades squeezing together and your core braced. 
  3. Next, begin the ascent, keeping much of the same form in mind from the descent. 

To achieve muscular endurance, most endurance athletes aim for a number of repetitions in the 12-20 range. You’ll also want smaller rest periods between sets to mimic instances in which you’d use the muscles over an extended period of time. Some endurance trainers even aim for failure with each set.

2. Lunges 

Lunges are great for building lower body endurance. They are also highly variable, so you can change them to fit your personal goals. For conventional lunges: 

  1. Assume a split stance with one foot in front of you, making sure you’re grounded and stable. 
  2. Prepare for the descent by engaging your core and checking in with posture. Some people also like to place their hands on their hips for extra stability. 
  3. Start the movement by bending both knees until they make 90-degree angles. The front knee will point out while the back knee will point down. Maintain a forward gaze for optimum posture. 
  4. Next, push yourself back up to the starting position. For the next rep, you can take a step forward with the alternate leg or repeat the movement with the same leg. 

Stick to the 12-20 or more rep range over several sets for achieving muscular endurance with lunges.

3. Sit-ups 

Sit-ups have long been an abdominal-building favorite. If you find your core endurance lacking, incorporating high-rep sit-ups will probably do the trick. The form to do a set-up is quite simple: 

  1. Lay down with your back to the floor and knees bent. 
  2. Place your arms behind your head. 
  3. Engage your core and use your abdominal muscles to lift your upper body off the ground while keeping your lower body planted. Be sure not to use your hands to help lift your head up as this can cause injury. 
  4. Follow through the movement until your entire upper body is upright. Most people make the mistake of stopping midway, but this would not be a proper push-up. 
  5. Lower yourself back down in a slow and controlled manner to reap the maximum benefits sit-ups have to offer. 

Set-ups can easily be done until failure, but aim for at least 20 reps for abdominal endurance.

4. Pull-ups 

If you’re looking to build upper-body endurance, pull-ups can be an amazing tool. If a bodyweight pull-up is too difficult for you, many gyms have pull-up machines with an assist feature that can help you get started. Here is how to properly do a pull-up:

  1. Grab the bar using an overhand grip at a width that is just beyond your shoulders. Some people prefer an underhand grip, but for beginners, an overhand grip is preferred. 
  2. Before you do the pull-up, you may find it helpful to lift your legs off the floor and cross them behind you. 
  3. Engage your core and begin pulling your weight up, bending your elbows. For a full repetition, your chin should be over the bar. 
  4. Maintain good, squeezed shoulders throughout and eliminate unnecessary movement. Lower yourself back down slowly to avoid injury, keeping your core engaged. 

Unassisted pull-ups can be very challenging to do and it is likely you’ll reach failure before hitting the 12-20 rep range. Even if you can successfully do a pull-up, using the assist feature may be best for getting in the right amount of repetitions for muscular endurance.

5. Plank 

Planks are an exercise that requires balance and control. Hold them over a long period of time and you can build some amazing muscular endurance. Doing a plank is hard, but the form is simple:

  1. Get on the floor facing down. A yoga mat may be best for comfort. 
  2. Place your hands shoulder-width apart and your toes to the mat. 
  3. Engage your core and lift yourself up as if you’re doing a push-up. Only your toes and hands should be touching the mat now. 
  4. Hold yourself here as long as possible, maintaining a stabilized body and a neutral spine. 

You may be more familiar with a forearm plank, in which case you simply substitute balancing your weight on your hands for your forearms. Both forms of planking will yield benefits. A weight plate can be added to your back for incorporating some resistance training, though remember for muscular endurance you’ll be doing this exercise for long periods of time.

6. Squats 

Squats are a favorite among bodybuilders and powerlifters, so you may think they have no place in a muscular endurance-building program. However, at bodyweight or lower weights, squats are great for lower body and core endurance. Here is how to perform a bodyweight squat: 

  1. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, be sure you feel balanced and stable. 
  2. Engage your core and lower yourself down by bending the knees. Maintain a straight back and squeezed shoulders. 
  3. End the descent at parallel, if possible, and use your lower body to drive yourself back up to the starting position. Be sure to maintain good posture. It can be helpful to think of puffing out your chest in order to avoid rounded shoulders. 
  4. Finish by bringing your hips in slightly at the top of the move, but do not hyperextend or you will risk injury. 

You can, of course, add weight if bodyweight squats prove to be too easy by holding a kettlebell or squatting with a barbell. Of course, aim for the high repetition range of 12-20 reps per set.

7. Rucking

Rucking is a form of exercise that involves both strength training and cardiovascular endurance training. There isn’t really a step-by-step method for rucking, but in order to properly ruck, you must: 

  1. Be carrying weight, typically confined to a backpack. This weight should be sitting high on your back in order to avoid injury. 
  2. Walk with this weight. The rate at which you choose to walk is up to you, but rucking typically calls for a pace at which you are getting your heart rate at least somewhat elevated. 
  3. Utilize proper posture, which will likely be improved by rucking overtime. 

Rucking can be a great option for people who cannot run as it yields many of the same benefits while being less strenuous for your body. Because rucking is a relatively uncommon method of fitness, there are no guidelines for how long you should ruck. However, runners typically aim for sessions that last at least 30 minutes several times a week, so this can potentially be applied to rucking, as well.

8. Running

If you lift and steer clear of cardio, now may be the time to look into cardio as an endurance builder. Not only does running build great cardiovascular endurance, but it also builds strength endurance as you are working several muscle groups in your body. For running:

  1. Be sure to have good posture as this will maximize benefits and minimize the potential for injury. 
  2. Engage your core the entire time. Most people think of running as a lower-body sport, but running really utilizes your entire body. 

Running for endurance takes practice but can yield some serious cardiorespiratory endurance, which can seamlessly translate to your weight training sessions. Don’t set pace goals that are too fast to endure over long-distance runs. Long-distance runs are categorized as anything over a 3k

Muscular young man in blue cap in swimming pool

10. Swimming

If you aren’t into running, swimming may be a good alternative. Swimming is among the best workouts for your entire body and can result in some serious muscular endurance as well as an amazing physique. Swimming properly can be difficult to achieve without professional help, but here are some things to keep in mind when swimming that may help:

  1. Maintain clean movements and avoid flailing. Extra movements will not only make more work for your body but they will also make it harder for you to efficiently glide through the water. 
  2. “Dig” through the water with your hands. This will allow for longer propulsions. 
  3. Keep your gaze down. This will help with propulsion dynamics as well as keeping good body alignment. 

There are a plethora of additional tips for swimming efficiently for muscular endurance, but these should get you started. If you’re new to swimming, start out slow and aim for reasonable times in the pool. Overtime, shoot for swimming for at least 30 minutes to an hour for muscular endurance.

10. Deadlifts

We’d be straight up lying if we didn’t include deadlifts in this list. You might be wondering how lifting weights can build muscular endurance, but as previously stated, it’s really the structure of the training rather than the exercise itself that promotes muscular endurance. For conventional deadlifts with a barbell: 

  1. Prepare the barbell by placing it on the floor. 
  2. Place your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly underneath the bar so your toes are easily seen on the other side. 
  3. Grab the barbell just outside of your leg on either side using an overhand grip. To reach the barbell, be sure to hinge at the hips and bend your knees slightly. 
  4. Maintain a neutral back by squeezing your shoulders and keeping your chest out. Your gaze should remain forward. 
  5. Engage your core and begin the lift, dragging the weight up your body. 
  6. Pull through the lift being careful not to hyperextend at the top. 
  7. On the way back down, utilize a slow and controlled movement. 

For muscular endurance, the weight for this movement should be quite low. It might seem very easy at first, especially if you are typically training for muscular strength or hypertrophy. However, when aiming for a number of reps in the 12-20 or more range, you’ll need a manageable weight. You can easily substitute the barbell for dumbbells for variation. 

Getting The Most Out of Your Sets: Training for Muscular Endurance

Training for endurance can not only help you last for longer periods in the gym but can also help cut down on excess fat, which is the first step in creating separated and defined muscles. Incorporate some of the above bodyweight exercises into your current exercise program to target muscle groups. Typically, a mixture of these exercises, a type of training called circuit training, can yield the most results.

Whether you’re an endurance athlete or just find yourself struggling through sets at the gym, endurance training can be one of the most beneficial training methods depending on your goals. You can also utilize high-quality pre-workout supplements if you find yourself especially unfocused and weak mid-workout.


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