Strength vs. Endurance Exercises

You might not know it, but you use muscular strength and muscular endurance every day. Muscular strength allows you to carry heavy grocery bags, while muscular endurance lets you rake all the leaves in your yard without tiring. Almost all sports require both strength and endurance. Exercises for strength focus on lifting heavy weights for fewer reps, while building endurance involves lifting lighter weights for more reps.

Strength vs. Endurance Exercises Credit: william87/iStock/GettyImages

Building Strength

Building muscular strength enables you to lift heavy boxes on moving day, and it also translates to better sports performance. For example, strength plays a crucial role in rowing, wrestling, football and basketball. Strong, powerful legs let you run faster and jump higher, and a strong core and upper body help you swing a baseball bat, shoot a basketball and throw a football.

Training Protocol

Training for strength means training your muscles to exert maximal force for a brief period of time. Exercises are typically done with heavy weights for a low number of reps -- usually between one and eight. Weightlifters interested in strength often refer to their one-rep max, which is the heaviest amount of weight they can lift for one repetition.

Above the 8-rep mark, you get into hypertrophy, or muscle-building, territory. People often confuse muscle strength and muscle mass, but they are not the same thing. That's not to say that people focusing on strength won't build mass or vice-versa. But if your goal is strength, don't go over 10 reps per set.

Strength Exercises

The big four strength exercises are the squat, deadlift, bench press and barbell row. These moves target all the major muscle groups. Doing these four lifts with the right amount of weight and for the correct number of reps and sets is all you need to make your whole body stronger.

Focus on using proper form, and lifting as much weight as you can for three to five sets of five to eight reps. You should be having a tough time completing the last rep of each set. Rest two to three minutes between sets.

Building Endurance

Endurance is a muscle's ability to perform repetitive motions for long periods of time. Runners need muscular endurance in their legs to keep pounding the pavement, as do cyclists peddling for miles and miles. Swimmers need to kick with their legs and stroke with their arms for both short and long distances.

Read more: The Overload Principle of Strength Training

Endurance Training Protocol

Endurance exercises mimic real-life applications, training the muscles to efficiently perform repetitively over longer periods of time. Exercises are done with lighter weights or body weight for higher numbers of reps -- generally over 12 and as many as 50. There is little rest between sets.

Endurance Exercises

Any exercise can be done to train endurance, but it should be one you can do with good form for at least 12 reps. For example, body weight push-ups are excellent upper body muscular endurance exercises, but only if you're able to do more than 11 reps. If you're only able to do four reps, you're training for strength.

Other exercises for building endurance include box jumps, thrusters, walking lunges, body weight squats, plank holds, pull-ups, sit-ups and rows.

Finding the right weight for endurance exercises is trial and error. You want to lift enough weight that it's challenging, but not so much that you're eking out your 12th rep. Do back-to-back sets of each exercise with little rest in between, or do supersets or circuits, switching between exercises each set.


Recovery is a crucial part of any program whether your goal is strength or endurance. However, because of the demands on the body, you need considerably more rest in between strength workouts than you do in between endurance workouts. Plan on at least 48 to 72 hours between heavy lifting sessions. Endurance sessions, depending on intensity, can be done every other day.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Sets and Reps for Strength Training

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