Muscular Endurance: What It Is and Why It Matters

Muscular endurance: group of people working out together

Muscular Endurance: What It Is and Why It Matters

Whether you’re a long-distance athlete, bodybuilder, mom, or ordinary Joe, you need a certain amount of muscular endurance. It provides important functional support for daily physical activity, even if you simply want to carry your groceries up a flight of stairs or play with your kids. 

Let’s explore what muscular endurance is and why you need it. We’ll also look at some ways to improve muscular endurance so you can live your best life, whether on the track, in the gym, or in your backyard.

What Is Muscular Endurance?

Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle to hold a contraction or to repeatedly perform a particular set of movements over an extended period of time.

For example, if you’re going for a long ride, running a long-distance endurance race, packing up your house to move, or rocking your child to sleep, your muscles are performing the same repetitive movements many times over. That requires stamina. When you build your muscular endurance, your body more easily performs these kinds of movements time after time.

Strength vs. Endurance

There’s a difference between building muscular strength and improving muscular endurance. Muscular strength helps you exert more force — or lift more weight — with a given muscle, whereas muscular endurance helps you do more repetitions of a movement to exercise that muscle.

Athletes need both these types of strength, as well as cardiorespiratory endurance (or cardiovascular endurance). The cardiorespiratory element refers to how efficiently your lungs and heart get oxygen to your muscles to keep you going during exercise. Aerobic exercise helps to build this capacity.

Benefits of Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance: man doing a trail run

For athletes or anyone focused on physical fitness, studies show that muscular endurance exercises increase the aerobic capacity of muscles, help to optimize performance, and reduce the risk of injury.

Muscular endurance training also has other benefits, even for non-athletes, like improving your posture and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

How To Improve Muscular Endurance

To improve muscular endurance, you need to increase the amount of time a specific muscle or group of muscles is contracted — and you need to do this to failure; in other words, until you can’t complete that last rep.

There are a couple of different ways to approach this:

  1. You can increase the number of repetitions you do of any given exercise. For example, if you normally do 3 sets of 12 reps during your workout, try changing that to 2 sets of 20 reps with a short rest period in between. Note that if you’re using weights as part of your exercise program, you also need to reduce the amount of weight you’re lifting, or you’ll tire before you can complete your extra reps. Lighter weights will allow you to keep going for longer.
  2. You can increase the length of time you hold a contraction — this is known as isometric hold time. So instead of squatting for 1 minute, you could hold the position for 2 minutes.

To continue building muscle endurance, your training program needs to keep challenging your muscles. So once a particular exercise routine becomes easy, increase the reps or amount of time you hold a position, or reduce your rest time between sets to keep stretching your body’s limits. 

Aim to do your muscular endurance exercises two to three times a week, giving each muscle group at least 24 hours to rest between workouts.

Best Types of Exercise to Improve Muscle Endurance

Muscular endurance: woman doing an ab workout

When you do any type of exercise, you’re working with one of two types of muscle fibers: fast-twitch or slow-twitch.

Fast-twitch muscle fibers help you perform high-intensity movements — like sprinting or lifting very heavy weights — for a short time only. Slow-twitch muscle fibers are activated when you perform less intense movements over longer periods, such as running a marathon or competing in a long-distance cycle race.

When your goal is to improve your muscular endurance, your focus should be on exercises that build your slow-twitch muscle fibers.

Best Workouts to Build Muscular Endurance

Woman working out at home

There are many different types of training that help you build muscular endurance in both your lower body and upper body.

If you’re at the gym or have the equipment at home, weight training is very effective. Weightlifting exercises, like bench presses, bicep curls with dumbbells, or leg presses, help with building strength as well as muscular endurance.

Circuit training or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) also work well as they combine resistance training with cardio, helping to build cardiovascular endurance too.

Alternatively, you can do strength training simply using your own body weight, for example:

  • Push-ups
  • Body-weight squats
  • Plank
  • Lunges
  • Crunches or sit-ups

If you’re a beginner, it’s a good idea to invest in at least a session or two with a personal trainer or Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) — otherwise known as a physical therapist — to make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly. 

You can seriously injure yourself if you don’t warm up well, you’re not using proper form, or you push yourself too hard. This is why it’s important to consult with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

The Role of Protein in Endurance Training

Man drinking his protein shake

Whether you’re focused on building muscular endurance or strength, don’t forget the critical role of protein.

By its very nature, an intense workout causes damage to your muscles. To maintain muscle mass, your body then needs to repair that damage. That process requires protein — specifically the essential amino acids that make up the building blocks of protein.

Protein also helps produce the energy you need to keep moving those muscles when you’re doing intensive exercise over a longer period of time. After a certain point, you will have used up all the readily available glucose in your system. If you keep going, your body then starts to break down your muscle to access the glycogen stored there. And the last thing you want when you’re trying to build muscular endurance is to lose muscle mass.

To encourage the muscle protein synthesis that helps preserve your muscle mass, especially when you’re doing endurance exercise, keep your body fueled with a high-quality supplement like Ingredient Optimized ioWhey Protein or ioPea Protein.

Ingredient Optimized products promote increased muscle mass, strength, and recovery. They’re also independently proven to be more bioavailable than non-optimized supplements. That means your body gets the most out of your supplement, so you can focus on building strength and improving muscular endurance.

Muscular Endurance Improves Performance, Function, and Wellness

Muscular endurance refers to how well a muscle can hold a particular contraction or perform a set of movements over an extended period of time. While it’s crucial for athletes, especially endurance athletes, it’s also important for anyone who wants to improve their general fitness, health, and well-being.

To improve muscular endurance, increase the number of reps you do or the length of time you hold a contraction. Resistance training is very effective here, either using weights or your own body weight.

Support your body through endurance training by performing the exercises correctly and making sure your nutritional needs are met with a high-quality protein supplement. Then you’ll know you’re optimizing the results of all that effort you’re putting in.