How to Build and Improve Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance

Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to sustain repeated contractions against a resistance for a long period of time. It is one of the markup of muscular fitness, along with muscular strength and power.

Types of Muscular Endurance

For strength training, muscular endurance points to the number of repetitions of a single exercise you can do without needing to stop and rest. Examples include how many times you can do a full squat, a sit-up, or a bicep curl with a light-to-moderate weight before loosing form.

The particular type of muscular endurance used during cardiovascular fitness activities such as running, swimming, or cycling is usually called cardiovascular endurance or cardiorespiratory endurance and it differs from the strength training. Endurance training for these types of physical activities builds the energy systems of the body, the muscle fibers, and capillaries that can sustain long periods of exercise, such as running a marathon or cycling a 100-miler.

Training for Muscle Endurance

Use these principles of exercise selection, loading and volume, rest periods, frequency, and repetition velocity to do a novice, intermediate or advanced training for muscle endurance. This training is based on the ACSM position stand on weight training and resistance training.

Resistance training with moderate to low weights and high repetitions has been shown by most studies to be the most effective method to improve local muscular endurance and high-intensity (or strength) endurance.

Choosing Exercises

The exercises you choose should work large muscle groups or multiple muscle groups to fatigue, which stimulates changes in the muscles that will build endurance. A muscle endurance program can use a variety of exercises, including those using one or two limbs or one or two joints. Programs can develop sequencing combinations for novice, intermediate, and advanced training.

Loading and Volume

The evidence shows that loading is multidimensional and different programs can be used:

  • Novice and intermediate training: Relatively light loads should be used in the range from 10 to 15 repetitions.
  • Advanced training: Various loading strategies can be used for multiple sets per exercise in the range of 10 to 25 repetitions per set or more, in a periodized, progressive program leading to higher overall volume.

Rest Periods

Short rest periods should be used for muscle endurance training. For example, one to two minutes for high-repetition sets (15 to 20 repetitions or more), and less than one minute for moderate (10 to 15 repetitions) sets. Circuit training is good for building local muscular endurance, and the rest periods should only fill the time it takes to move from one exercise station to another.


The frequency of training for muscular endurance is similar to that for building larger muscles:

  • Beginners: Two to three days each week when training the entire body.
  • Intermediate training: Three days per week for total-body workouts and four days per week if using split routines for upper and lower body workouts.
  • Advanced training: Use a higher frequency of four to six days per week if the workouts are split by muscle group.


Repetition Velocity

Different speeds of contraction can be used based on the number of repetitions:

  • Intentionally slow velocities can be used when performing a moderate number of repetitions (10 to 15).
  • Moderate to fast velocities are more effective when you train with a larger number of repetitions, such as 15 to 25 or more.

Improving Muscular Endurance

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends using a program of lower intensity strength training to improve muscular endurance. The weight load should be less than 50 percent of the repetition maximum (the maximum weight you could use for one repetition of the exercise). This is a light to moderate intensity load. You perform a relatively high number of repetitions, 15 to 25 per set, for one or two sets.

To improve endurance for cardiorespiratory fitness activities such as running and cycling, progressively increase the time you spend in the activity at a moderate pace. While this will result in muscles that are geared for endurance, it is usually discussed as cardiovascular endurance.

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