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The Importance of Balancing Muscular Endurance and Muscular Strength in Your Workouts

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

When you’re a somewhat-clueless newbie to resistance training, you might grab the initial set of dumbbells you notice and mindlessly perform a few biceps curls or shoulder presses. However, the precise way you’re training your muscles is important. Lifting 3-pound weights while riding a stationary bike, for instance, engages your muscles differently than when you’re performing a single, extremely heavy bench press.

The main distinction: One workout focuses on developing your muscular endurance, while the other relies on your muscular strength. Both, however, are crucial to prioritize in your exercise routine.

Does this make you wonder, “what exactly is muscular endurance, and how does it differ from muscular strength?” Don’t worry: Here, fitness experts explain the distinction between muscular endurance and muscular strength and why they’re equally important. Additionally, they share exercise tips that will assist you in incorporating activities that build both muscular endurance and strength into your schedule.

What Is Muscular Endurance?

You know how, when you attend a spin class, there’s typically an upper-body segment integrated into the workout? It’s usually towards the end of the class, and it lasts approximately five minutes. During that time, you alternate between various exercises — such as biceps curls, overhead presses, and triceps extensions — often without taking breaks. That, in a nutshell, is building muscular endurance.

Specifically, the definition of muscular endurance is “the capacity of the body to function for a prolonged period of time,” says Dyan Tsiumis, C.P.T., an instructor at Openfit and Equinox. The longer you can sustain that activity — whether it’s continuous biceps curls, riding a bike, or running — the greater your muscular endurance. Even something as simple as maintaining good posture while sitting up or walking home on your commute with good stamina is a test of muscular endurance, adds Corinne Croce, D.P.T., a co-founder of Body Evolved and in-house physical therapist for SoulCycle.

During activities that require muscular endurance, your slow-twitch muscle fibers (also known as type I) are recruited, says Dariusz Stankiewicz, C.S.C.S., another co-founder of Body Evolved

When you engage in endurance exercises that train slow-twitch fibers, you enhance the capacity of your muscles to utilize oxygen, thereby assisting you in sustaining performance for a greater duration before experiencing fatigue.

The Significance of Muscular Stamina

Now that you’re no longer questioning, “what is muscular stamina,” you might be eager to understand why it’s so crucial. Whether you’re engaging in day-to-day tasks — such as engaging in activities with your children or completing household chores — or you’re in the middle of a workout, you require muscular stamina to drive yourself to the finish line. When you possess a substantial amount of it, “weariness will not set in as quickly and you will have the ability to endure more while utilizing less energy,” says Croce.

Ways to Enhance Muscular Stamina

Cardiovascular training is typically the preferred method to enhance muscular stamina, but lifting lighter weights for a greater number of repetitions can also increase stamina. Whether it’s a barre class, a session of stair-climbing, or a few laps in the swimming pool, choose an activity that challenges you and keeps you engaged.

Just don’t anticipate this type of training to enlarge your muscles visibly, explains Tsiumis. “There is minimal to no increase in the size or strength of the individual muscles themselves,” she says. “Gradually over time, though [in typical studies, about 12 weeks], there is increased strength in individual muscles and a thickening of the muscles that occurs,” she adds. So instead of focusing on your appearance, pay attention to how your body feels. If you’re capable of running, let’s say, a 10K (6.2 miles) in the same duration it would usually take you to complete six miles on a flat surface, your stamina is on the right path.

What Constitutes Muscular Power?

While stamina is all about how long a muscle can perform, muscular power is about how forcefully it can perform. In more scientific terms, the definition of muscular power is “a measurement of the greatest amount of force that muscles exert during a single maximum effort,” says Michael Piermarini, M.S., a NASM-certified personal trainer and the former fitness director at Orangetheory Fitness. It’s called upon when you need to perform activities such as lifting a heavy box, placing a suitcase in the overhead bin, or carrying a child without sustaining an injury, adds Stankiewicz.

Think of it as running, suggests Tsiumis. “Muscular power is a sprint, and muscular stamina is a marathon,” she says. The more stamina you possess, the more intensely you’ll be able to sustain for a longer distance. But the more power you possess, the greater amount of force and speed you’ll be able to generate to accomplish an action.

During activities that necessitate muscular power, your fast-twitch muscle fibers (also known as type II) are recruited, says Stankiewicz. These muscle fibers consume less or no oxygen, produce power much more rapidly, and become fatigued more easily compared to slow-twitch fibers, Ian Elwood, A.T.C., C.S.C.S., the founder of Mission MVNT, previously informed Shape.

The Significance of Muscle Power

Muscle power not only brings about significant health advantages, but it can also enhance the outcomes of your exercise sessions. By improving strength and muscle mass, resistance training can combat bone loss and aid in preventing injuries, while exercise that promotes strength has been correlated with a decrease in overall and cancer-related mortality rates, according to research. Furthermore, as Piermarini states, “the greater your muscle mass, the more calories your body burns while at rest and throughout the day.”

Enhancing Muscle Power

To boost your muscle power, do not hesitate to tackle the heavier weights. However, you can get the most out of your workouts by focusing on functional movements that engage your entire body. Piermarini suggests, “Functional exercises are those that we perform regularly in our daily lives as human beings.” These are movements that we often do throughout the day, such as squats, lunges, pushes, pulls, rotations, and hinges. Beneficial exercises include squats, reverse and side lunges, push-ups, bench presses, Russian twists, and deadlifts, as they improve strength, coordination, and balance, making everyday activities easier. Just ensure that you wear proper strength training shoes that provide a stable base.

While training, Piermarini advises, “do not get caught up in the belief that more is always better.” Instead, focus on the quality of your movements. A strength session can vary in duration from 15 to 45 minutes. To assess your muscle power, look at your one-repetition maximum (the maximum weight you can lift for one complete repetition) for a specific exercise, such as the chest press or deadlift. Keep track of these statistics to monitor improvements in your muscle power over time.

Incorporating Muscular Endurance and Strength Training into Your Routine

The frequency of training for muscular endurance and strength depends on your goals and areas where you are lacking. As Stankiewicz explains, “We are often genetically predisposed to be more adaptable to one type rather than the other.” Therefore, if you want to achieve a sense of balance, adjust your training schedule to focus on your weaker areas.

The best approach is to incorporate both muscular endurance and strength training into your weekly routine. Generally, it is recommended to have three sessions a week for each (or two if you are new to training).

If you ever find yourself unsure whether you are working on muscular endurance or strength, consider the amount of weight you are lifting and the number of reps you are performing, as the relationship between the two is inversely related, according to Piermarini.

Going for lighter weights and a multitude (meaning, 15 to 20) of reps? That’s stamina. Lifting heavier weight and only a few (meaning, five to eight) reps? That’s power. Regardless of which one you’re concentrating on for the day, you’re bound to have an incredible workout.