Deciding between muscle endurance and muscle strength is like deciding if you should rip off an adhesive bandage quickly or slowly. Do you want to do it quickly but intensely? Or, would you rather take your time and feel less discomfort?
The weight lifting exercises that you choose to do in the gym can target one goal, or be both muscular strength and endurance exercises, depending on how many sets and reps you do and the amount of weight you use.
Recognize the Differences
According to a September/October 2016 article published by ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, muscle endurance training involves performing between 10 and 25 repetitions for two to four sets of each exercise. Rest 30 seconds to one minute between sets.
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To train for strength, ACSM recommends doing eight to 12 repetitions per set for one to three sets. Rest for one to two minutes between sets, as the weight used for these exercises is higher.
Muscular Strength and Endurance Exercises
Most resistance exercises can be considered both muscular strength and endurance exercises. A barbell squat, as demonstrated by the American Council on Exercise, for example, is a hybrid lower-body exercise. You can either do low weight and high reps to turn it into a leg endurance exercise, or use heavy weight and low reps to gain strength.
Deadlifts, as demonstrated by ExRx.net, are a similar exercise for the lower body. You can use them for endurance or strength. The bench press is an upper-body exercise that you can use as both strength and endurance. It works your shoulder, chest and tricep muscles.
With a hybrid exercise, it's easy to either up the weight and perform just a few reps or lift lighter weight with a higher number of reps. Exercises that use the barbell, dumbbell or cable machines tend to be the best hybrid exercises because you can easily adjust the weight.
Consider Exercise Design
Some exercises tend to be better for strength training, like the pull-up or chin-up. These exercises are very challenging and the average person can't do up to 25 full reps. A select few people may pump out so many reps that it becomes an endurance exercise, but for most people, it will remain a back strengthening exercise.
Lunges, on the other hand, are more suited for leg endurance than they are strength. To up the weight you use in lunges, you have to hold very heavy dumbbells. Holding dumbbells heavy enough to challenge your strength is sometimes just not possible. Plus, heavily weighted lunges put a lot of strain on your joints.
Train Endurance with Timed Exercises
Exercises that you do for a certain amount of time are also better for muscle endurance. A plank or a wall-sit, for example, is held for a matter of seconds or even minutes. These moves build up muscle endurance because you're never pushing yourself to the brink, rather you're slowly fatiguing your muscles.
Some exercises are in a grey area, depending on the person doing the exercise. Push-ups, for example, can be a strength exercise if you struggle to do more than six total repetitions in a set. However, if you can do 20 reps then they turn into an endurance exercise.
Exercises in the grey area tend to be bodyweight exercises, like the push-up and dip. The squat and step-up are examples for the lower body.