Muscular endurance is your muscles' ability to perform repetitive motions — lengthening and contracting — over long periods of time without getting tired. The underlying purpose of muscular endurance is to improve performance in your sport and exercise activities.
By improving your muscular endurance, you improve your muscles' capabilities to support your daily activities, as well as your performance in sports and exercise.
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Endurance is a measure of the amount of time an activity can be performed, so muscular endurance is when your muscles can perform repetitive actions for a given period of time. Muscle endurance is important for daily tasks such as walking and carrying items.
Why Is Muscular Endurance Important?
Increasing your muscular endurance will make everyday chores and tasks easier. Training muscular endurance will increase your stamina — you'll have more energy to go from your job to playing with your kids, for example.
You will find that performing repetitious physical activity — such as gardening, raking leaves and washing your car — will become less fatiguing, too. Emphasizing the importance of endurance in your training will also limit injuries sustained from physical exertion and from the overuse of active muscles throughout the day.
Types of Muscular Endurance in Sports and Exercise
Muscular endurance will benefit your athletic and recreational activities. Developing muscular endurance will allow you to perform activities for longer before fatigue sets in.
If you ever wanted to run a little farther, hike an incline a little longer or jump for that rebound in the last minutes of a basketball game but could not due to muscular fatigue, boosting your muscular endurance will help. After muscular endurance training, your muscles will be able to sustain a load — such as your body weight or a back pack — for longer periods, and they will do so more efficiently.
The type of muscular endurance that you need to develop depends on which sport you participate in. In many cases, athletes need to build more than one type of muscular endurance, according to Sports Fitness Advisor, which offers evidence-based training plans for a variety of sports.
- Power endurance: Baseball players, sprinters, wrestlers, tennis players and freestyle swimmers all must producer powerful movements and repeat them time and again for success. Having power endurance means the athlete can create that necessary power with each movement. With training, power endurance can be converted into explosive power, which helps the athlete resist fatigue during these repetitive efforts.
- Short-term muscular endurance: Sports that require short, intense bursts of activity require an athlete to have short-term muscular endurance. These sports include sprinting, football and soccer. With training, short-term endurance lets the players deal with fatigue and lactic acid build-up in the muscles.
- Long-term muscular endurance: Marathoners, rowers, basketball players and other endurance-sport athletes with games or races that last more than a couple of minutes at a time need long-term muscular endurance. When building this type of endurance, light loads are used so the player can continue to endure for a significant period of time.
How to Train Muscular Endurance
There is a particular way to train your muscles to go the distance rather than training them to exert short-term brute force. Resistance exercises, such as body-weight exercises, weightlifting or plyometrics, should be performed for higher repetitions — typically 12 or more per exercise with light to moderate weight, according to the Mayo Clinic. Take shorter rest breaks in between sets to get your muscles used to prolonged stress.
Building endurance takes a more significant commitment than building strength, as it requires you to push your muscles over and over to build that endurance. However, boosting your strength is vital to improving muscular endurance.
To work on both, do circuit-training workouts three to four times a week. These back-to-back style of workout tax your muscles, both in strength and in endurance. An example of a circuit workout might be:
One minute of a move might sound easy; however, you must do these back-to-back without any resting period — that means 9 straight minutes of pushing your muscles before you can take a break. This builds both strength and muscular endurance.
How Your Body Adapts to Endurance Exercise
You probably remember that first run you attempted after a long layoff from exercise. Your breathing rate skyrocketed and your legs felt like lead after just 10 minutes of running.
However, after several weeks of consistent running you were able to maintain your pace for 30 minutes pretty comfortably, and your legs felt strong. What you experienced were the physiological changes your muscles underwent to adapt to endurance exercise.
Here are a few examples of these muscle adaptations:
- Endurance training increases the aerobic capacity of type IIa and IIb muscle fibers in particular, resulting in more fibers with fast-contracting, fatigue-resistant properties — enabling you to run longer distances, according to a landmark November 2001 article in the Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Journal.
- Endurance training increases the number of capillaries per area of muscle, increasing oxygen supply to the muscle. Oxygen supply to the muscles is critical for maintaining endurance, as muscles fatigue very rapidly without sufficient oxygen supply, according to a May 2012 review in Nitric Oxide.
- Endurance training enables your body to use proportionally more fat at a given exercise intensity, sparing muscle glycogen (your muscles' fuel source) and allowing you to exercise longer, according to a December 2015 review in Nutrition & Metabolism.
- Endurance exercise training increases myoglobin (a protein that carries and stores oxygen in muscle cells) content, likely increasing the oxygen reserve in the muscle, according to the Nitric Oxide review.
- Endurance exercise increases the amount of mitochondria (energy powerhouses of muscle cells) per area of muscle, increasing the amount of usable energy — which skeletal muscle fibers with the greatest endurance rely on — according to the Nitric Oxide review.
Benefits of Muscle Endurance Activities
Consider your interests when choosing your muscular endurance activities. If you enjoy what you're doing, you're more likely to stick with it. Any type of exercise can target endurance, with the correct parameters in place. Start with activities like walking to increase muscular endurance in your legs. Your heart and lungs will also get a workout.
What are the benefits of muscular endurance activities? Performing muscular endurance activities goes further than just improving the health of your muscles. Muscular endurance training has beneficial effects on bone and joint health, too. These effects may decrease the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Additionally, when your muscles can perform tasks without becoming easily fatigued, you're less likely to injure yourself. Muscular fatigue is a major factor in accidents that cause muscle strains and bone fractures.
Muscular endurance benefits also include boosted metabolism, helping you burn calories to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if that's your goal.
- ExRx.net: "Aerobic Exercise Guidelines for Specific Goals"
- Sports Fitness Advisor: "Muscular Endurance Training"
- Mayo Clinic: "Strength training: Get stronger, leaner, healthier"
- Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Journal: "Human Skeletal Muscle Fiber Type Classifications"
- Nitric Oxide: "Myoglobin and Mitochondria: A relationship bound by Oxygen and Nitric Oxide"
- Nutrition & Metabolism: "Glycogen availability and skeletal muscle adaptations with endurance and resistance exercise"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Osteoporosis"