Imagine you're dangling off the edge of a cliff, holding on for dear life, and your fingers are slowly slipping. Your forearms are burning, but you grip tighter, counting down the seconds before your muscles give out. That's why training for muscular endurance is important.
To be fair, that's an extreme example. It's more likely that you'll feel that forearm-burning and grip-slipping sensation when you're carrying a heavy bag of groceries up the stairs. By changing the way you lift weights and increasing repetitions, you can resist muscle fatigue and increase your muscular endurance.
How Muscular Endurance Training Works
When you train for muscular endurance, you're building up the muscle differently from when you train for strength. With muscular endurance, you're building up capillaries in the muscle, which help get more blood in and out as you exercise.
That's mostly why muscular endurance exercises give you better endurance. The increased blood flow helps bring nutrients into the muscle to keep it going. It also helps bring waste out of the muscle to promote recovery.
Training for muscle strength and muscle endurance have different effects on your body. According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, getting better at muscular endurance exercises like push-ups and bodyweight squats can make you better at aerobic exercise.
The study shows that the benefits of training for muscular endurance extend beyond your muscles. Training with higher repetitions can improve your fitness and your physique.
Muscular Endurance Spectrum
There are differing levels of muscular endurance. In the realm of weightlifiting, muscular endurance means performing 10 to 25 reps of an exercise. In the world of endurance sports, a marathon is an extreme example of muscular endurance.
The difference between performing 20 squats and running a marathon is vast, which is why muscular endurance is a spectrum. In this article, the focus will be one the weightlifting side of the spectrum, because that's more convenient to train and doesn't take nearly as long as running, rowing or swimming for long distances.
Training for Muscular Endurance
That's where muscle endurance training comes in. With this type of training you'll be lifting weights or doing bodyweight movements that are challenging but easy enough that you can do a lot of reps.
When you do a muscle endurance workout, aim for 10 to 15 repetitions per set per exercise, according to an article from the National Strength and Conditioning Association. The higher you go, the more you're training for muscle endurance and the less you're training for strength.
Once you hit 25 reps on an exercise, it's time to move up in weight. Remember that muscle endurance is a blend of strength and endurance, so you need to keep increasing the weight as you improve. Otherwise, your muscles won't get any stronger.
You can use almost any weightlifting or challenging bodyweight exercise for muscular endurance training. As long as you can stay within the 10-25 repetition range the exercise will work. That means push-ups and pull-ups can work if you can do 10 or more. If you can't, then they're more of a strength exercise.
Cable machine, dumbbell, barbell and kettlebell exercises can also be used for muscular endurance. The bench press, if you use an appropriate amount of weight, would be useful for building upper-body endurance. The squat or kettlebell swing would be useful for lower-body endurance.
Just make sure that you're using an appropriate exercise for the muscle that you want to work. For example, if you want to increase your leg muscle endurance, the bench press wouldn't help because it's primarily an upper-body exercise.