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What is the definition of muscle endurance? 

Muscular endurance is the ability of your muscles (or group of muscles) to continually exert force against resistance or a given movement. Whether you’re running, cycling, swimming, or lifting weights, your level of muscular endurance will determine how long and how hard you can perform multiple repetitions of an exercise over a period of time. Muscular endurance also applies to your muscles’ ability to recover. The faster your muscles recover during rest periods, the sooner you can perform further repetitions.  


Why improve your muscular endurance? 

For daily functional activities such as climbing stairs and lifting heavy objects, building strength and muscle endurance will improve your ability to perform them, maintain good posture and stability and prevent injuries. Since muscular endurance is mutually beneficial to aerobic endurance (the heart is a muscle after all), by increasing your strength and conditioning, you’ll improve your overall level of health. 

For sport and exercise, a greater level of muscular endurance will increase your athletic performance in endurance-based sports and enable you to perform at a higher capacity for longer and you’ll experience less fatigue during exertion. 

man running with sunrise

12 benefits of improving muscular endurance 

  • It improves athletic performance 
  • It helps to improve aerobic endurance 
  • It makes performing daily tasks easier 
  • It helps to prevent injuries  
  • It keeps your heart healthy 
  • It maintains your posture and general stability 
  • It helps with weight loss and bodyweight maintenance 
  • It improves your body composition 
  • It keeps your muscles and bones healthy and strong 
  • It improves your confidence and self-image 
  • It improves your mood and sleep quality 
  • It helps to prevent health-related conditions 


How to increase your muscular endurance 

Muscular endurance training should not be confused with strength training. While a key benefit of muscular endurance training is strength, training the right way for muscular endurance ensures you’ll gain strength while keeping your muscles lean and maintain good range of motion, which is important if you’re training for a specific endurance-based sport or event. 

Sport science has come a long way, and we now know that simply running or cycling or swimming for longer distances is unlikely to improve performance alone, and that some form of strength training is important for muscular endurance. The stronger and more efficient your muscles, the more energy they have, the less oxygen and blood they need, and less demand is placed on your heart, which ultimately results in greater endurance. 

You have two main types of muscle fibres, fast-twitch and slow-twitch. Fast-twitch fibres are used more during powerful anaerobic activities such as sprinting, whereas slow-twitch fibres, which play a larger role in muscular endurance, are far more resistant to fatigue and can be trained to work more efficiently in this state.  

Increase the number of repetitions you can perform without your muscle failing and you’ll improve your muscular endurance. The more reps you can achieve (usually not less than 15 repetitions with a moderate amount of resistance and shorter rest periods) the greater your endurance. In contrast, specifically training for strength and size is typically achieved by lifting heavy weights at a rep range of around 8-12 with longer rest periods.  


Types of training to increase your muscular endurance 

Resistance comes in many forms, which means you can still increase your muscular endurance without equipment or access to a gym. Time under tension is an important part of this type of training and it requires physical ability as well as determination and mental fortitude. 

Weight training 

Weight training with free weights or machines are an ideal way to train for upper body and lower body muscular endurance. Use a weight around 50% of your 1RM and aim for high reps (between 15-25) with minimal rest periods (30-60 seconds). You can either isolate muscle groups or opt for complex exercises that engage multiple muscle groups such as deadlifts. A good way to progress or elevate your program further is to use dropsets (lowering the weight after failure in order to perform more reps) or supersets (performing two exercises for the same or different muscle group back-to-back). 


Circuit training 

One of the best and most effective fitness training methods for improving both muscular and aerobic endurance, circuit training consists of a number of exercises performed with equipment or bodyweight at low to moderate resistance in a circuit for short durations and rotated through with little or no rest between stations. Circuit training can easily be made sport-specific, and each exercise should be performed with high reps for muscular endurance. 


Bodyweight training 

Using your bodyweight, otherwise known as calisthenics, is an incredibly effective way to add resistance for increasing muscular endurance and is the most portable and convenient method of training as it requires no equipment. It’s also easy to tailor to fitness levels and progressed accordingly, and there are numerous exercises to choose from to create a demanding program. Exercises can be performed to time or reps either as standalone sets, in supersets, or in a circuit. Age-old classics include pushups, squats, lunges, dips, abdominal crunches, burpees and star jumps. 


Isometric or holding exercises 

Isometric exercises increase muscular strength, stamina and stability as they activate many muscle fibres in a single static contraction. Isometric contractions occur when muscle tension increases but remains at a constant length, filling muscle tissue with blood and creating metabolic stress. They are ideally suited to those with existing injuries and people over a certain age because there is no joint movement, and they can be used to complement isotonic (concentric and eccentric movements) muscle endurance training programs. Tension is developed by either holding a weight or bodyweight in a single static position for a period of time, and include such exercises as wall sits, plank, squat, glute bridge and dead hang (hanging from a bar).

Written By

Nick Burt

In a previous life Nick played American football professionally before becoming a secondary school teacher. Nowadays he works as a freelance copywriter where amongst other things he gets to write about his first love – sports. In his spare time, he lifts weights, plays and coaches baseball (which he calls his retirement sport), and travels with his wife to as many countries as he can.