Find yourself tiring too quickly during workouts? This type of training will solve that

muscular endurance
Why is muscular endurance so important, really?Delmaine Donson - Getty Images

If you've wondered how to swim, run or cycle for longer; perform more reps of an exercise in the gym, or just find everyday tasks like carrying shopping easier, you might consider working on your muscular endurance. As Adam Sinicki suggests in Functional Training and Beyond, 'In most situations, it is far more useful to be able to exert some strength for a period of time, versus all your strength for ten seconds.'

Muscular endurance is the science behind how your body is able to power through a sustained, repetitive form of exercise for a long period of time - and the benefits this can have on your body in the long term.

Read on for a breakdown of the subject, plus a workout you can do to start building up your own muscular endurance, too, from Zach Schmidt, senior PT at Ultimate Performance.

The expert: Zach Schmidt is senior PT and head of people and engagement at Ultimate Performance.

What is the definition of muscular endurance?

It's your body's ability to keep contracting a muscle or group of muscles, also called exerting force against resistance, repetitively.

The muscles in your body are divided into three groups, based on how quickly they produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the most abundant energy-carrying molecule in your body. According to Schmidt, the first type, Type I, are known as 'slow-twitch' muscles and 'tend to be your smaller muscle groups which are found deeper in the body but have the capacity to work for long periods of time'. They use aerobic respiration (oxygen) to produce ATP. These fibres are fatigue resistant, so help support muscular endurance.

The second type, Type IIA, are your 'fast-twitch' muscles. These are your big muscle groups, which are found closer to the surface of your body, and normally use aerobic respiration to produce ATP, but can switch to anaerobic respiration. 'Type II muscle fibres can reach peak tension in less than half the time, making them very effective for strength and power-related exercises,' Schmidt explains. 'That is why many people tend to focus on these "showy" muscles. However, these muscle fibres tire quickly, and therefore have limited capacity for muscular endurance.' The third, Type IIB, are even faster twitch and more powerful than IIA, and primarily produce ATP anaerobically, but are faster to fatigue.

Muscular endurance is about focusing on working Type I muscles. 'It's the ability of those Type I muscle fibres to increase their output over a long period of time,' Schmidt explains. 'Whereas being able to bench press an extremely heavy weight for one rep requires a lot of strength, being able to run a marathon requires a lot of muscular endurance.'

Why is muscular endurance important?

Improving your muscular endurance comes with many health benefits. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), muscular endurance is important for maintaining good posture for an extended period of time, improving your muscles' aerobic capacity (how well your heart and lungs provide oxygen to your muscles), and facilitating your ability to perform many activities involved in daily life.

What are the benefits of training for muscular endurance?

1.Allows you to participate in sport that requires expending energy for a long time

Muscular endurance isn't just a marathon runner's domain. Granted, you need a good level of muscular endurance to be a successful long distance athlete, but beyond that, it's important for footballers, volleyball players, and any kind of sportsperson exerting themselves for an extended period of time. A study in Frontiers in Psychology found that cross-country skiers who engaged in specific upper-body muscular-endurance training improved performance in double-poling, one of the fundamental classic techniques of cross-country skiing, where the skier propels themselves forward by planting both poles into the ground and pushing down onto them.

'Any sport that requires you to expend energy for a long period of time, particularly those that involve a lot of running and where your lower-body muscles are contracting so often, means you will need good muscular endurance,' says Schmidt.

2. Improves function of everyday tasks

'In almost every daily activity we do, whether it be climbing a flight of stairs, playing with your children in the garden, carrying the shopping, moving heavy objects, even just going out for a moderate or long walk, we need some level of muscular endurance to be able to do those simple things,' Schmidt explains. 'The better your muscular endurance, and the better your aerobic capacity, the better you’ll be able to do those things without getting tired.' A 2016 study confirms this, finding that muscular endurance in older adults, measured by leg strength for 30 reps, was an indicator of potential mobility limitations.

3. Maintain good posture

The deeper muscles in the body that help us maintain posture without much effort are usually slow-twitch, Type I muscles (which you train during endurance sessions), says Schmidt. 'They "sense" the position of our body and communicate with the brain to make adjustments', he explains.

If your Type I muscles are not strong enough to support good posture throughout the day, it will force your Type II fibres to take over and act to maintain your body’s position. Over time, that will lead to all sorts of problems, just as SHOULD THIS BE SUCH AS? poor posture, muscular pain, fatigue, and discomfort.

So, if you want to have good posture, it’s important to have a healthy level of muscular endurance. A study in BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation confirms this, revealing that, out of the 42 women between the ages of 20 and 28 with excessive lower-back curvature, the weaker the core muscular endurance, the greater the curvature angle (i.e., how curved your spine is, leading to poor posture).

What is the difference between cardiovascular and muscular endurance?

Cardiovascular or aerobic endurance is the ability for your heart and lungs to deliver oxygen to your working muscles, while muscular endurance is the ability for your muscles to keep working against resistance without fatiguing.

What is the difference between muscular strength and muscular endurance?

Muscular strength is all about how well your Type II muscles can perform 'short, explosive movements'. Muscular endurance is about honing your Type I muscles and 'forcing them to contract for more repetitions and for longer periods of time'.

'Muscular strength refers to the overall volume you can lift for a low number of reps (think a one-rep max PLS LINK OUT TO ONE REP MAX ARTICLE on any lift such as a bench press, or squat, or deadlift) or the speed you can run or swim or cycle over a short distance, whereas muscular endurance is more about how long you perform a particular exercise before reaching muscular fatigue – the point where you just can’t carry on,' Schmidt explains.

However, of course the two are related. A certain level of baseline strength is required to perform exercises for a prolonged period of time, while executing a high number of reps and sets means you'll build strength.

What are the three types of muscular endurance?

There are three types of muscular contraction used when working your muscles in both endurance and strength training.


These occur when a muscle changes length and there is constant tension in the muscle while they're moved through a full range of motion. A concentric contraction involves the muscle shortening, thus generating force, while the eccentric contraction involves the muscle lengthening or elongating in response to a greater opposing force. An example of an isotonic exercise would be a push-up or lunge.


A muscular contraction in which the length of the muscle stays the same and no joint or limb movement occurs, either, such as in planks (see below) or squat holds.


An isokinetic muscle contraction is when the muscle contracts at a constant speed, and the movement speed remains the same throughout the entire range of motion. An example of this would be riding a stationary bike.

Which sports require muscular endurance?

Any sport that requires you to exert a lot of energy for sustained periods of time is going to require muscular endurance: football, swimming, cycling, boxing, running (more than 100m sprints), rugby, basketball, lacrosse, cricket (if you’re a pace bowler), and netball are some examples, says Schmidt.

7 muscular endurance exercises

Muscular endurance training involves lifting lighter weights - even just your bodyweight - but for more repetitions, Schmidt explains: 'Anything from 12-25 reps of any given exercise.'

'Keeping your rest periods shorter – 45-60 seconds – will force your body to recover quicker between sets and increase your stamina, as muscular endurance also encompasses how quickly you can recover. Shorter rest periods help keep your metabolic stress levels and your heart rate high, which will contribute to better cardiovascular capacity.'

Lower-body exercises might appeal more to endurance athletes who want to work slow-twitch muscle fibres in your legs and glutes, such as runners, while upper-body moves might be for endurance swimmers.

How do you improve muscular endurance?

Schmidt's top tip is progressive overload, or increasing the training stress gradually. 'Try to make small, incremental changes to make the workouts more difficult. This could mean increasing the number of reps, decreasing rest periods, incorporating heavier (but not too heavy!) weights,' he says.

'Start with just your bodyweight alone, and gradually increase the weights but without sacrificing form,' Schmidt advises. 'They will continue to challenge your body to adapt to the increasing difficulty, which will continually improve your muscular endurance and stamina, not to mention your respiratory and cardiovascular health.'

1.Bodyweight squats

a) Begin upright with the knees gently flexed.

b) Drive the hips backwards, flex the knees and lower yourself until your hips are at knee level or slightly lower. Your weight should be distributed evenly across your feet; resist the temptation to let your heels leave the ground. Ensure that your knees remain in line with your toes and that they’re not turning inwards or outwards; this puts unnecessary pressure on the joints.

c) Push through your heels to return to upright, squeezing your glutes as you come back to standing.

2. Bodyweight lunge

a) Keeping your back straight, engage your core muscles and place your hands on your hips to stay balanced.

b) Take a big step forward with your right foot and bend your knee until your right thigh is parallel to the floor. Allow your back heel to lift, but don’t let the knee touch the floor.

c) Step back to the starting position, then repeat on the opposite leg.

3. Plank

The plank and its variations are an example of an isometric hold - an exercise that involve tightening or contracting of muscles without them changing length. 'The longer you can hold the muscle in that fixed position, the better your endurance will be', says Schmidt.

a) From a push-up position, bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms.

b) Keeping your body in a straight line, brace your core and hold for 30 seconds. That’s one set.

4. Bent-over row

a) Place your left hand and left knee on a bench. Then draw the dumbbell in your right hand towards your hip, keeping the elbow tucked into your side. To complete the rep, extend the arm back to the starting position. You can also perform bent-over rows with both feet planted on the ground hip-width apart, or in a split stance.

5. Push up

a) Get into a plank position, with your hands under but slightly outside of your shoulders. Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor.

b) As you lower yourself, tuck your elbows, pulling them close to your body so that your upper arms form a 45-degree angle when your torso is in the bottom position of the move. Pause, then push back to the starting position as quickly as possible. Keep your core braced the entire time. Don't let your hips sag.

6. Burpee

a) Crouch down, feet just further than shoulder-width apart and hands on the floor

b) With your body weight in your hands, kick both feet out behind you, resting on the balls of your feet. Jump forward and propel your body up in one swift move, landing in a standing position.

7. Russian kettlebell swing

a) Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and squat down to pick up the kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip.

b) Look ahead, not down, and keep your spine aligned and your knees slightly bent throughout the movement.

c) Drive your pelvis forward to swing the kettlebell out and up to shoulder-height. Allow the weight to drop back down, hingeing at the hips as it swings between your legs.

These exercises would be suitable if you're training to be a long-distance runner, as they improve your endurance, range of motion, and stability, decreasing your risk for injury. You might be interested in improving your upper-body endurance if you're a swimmer targeting your shoulders and lats.

In addition to these exercises, you can consider incorporating the following into your workout:

Testing your muscular endurance

Conduct a simple test to find your base point, from which you can measure all future progress. 'For example, you can see how long you can hold a plank or a wall-sit before you can’t carry on, or how many squats you can do in 60 seconds, or even how many lunges you can perform before you reach muscular failure, and then periodically repeat these tests to see if you’re improving,' Schmidt days.

Schmidt recommends performing this test under the supervision of a personal trainer or medical professional, and advises not to get too hung up on these measures. 'Your body is the best gauge of whether you’re improving your endurance. Most people will ‘feel’ their endurance improving either during exercise or in day-to-day life, so don’t be beholden to ‘tests’.

Muscular endurance workout

Give this muscular-endurance, full-body workout below a go. Schmidt advises starting with bodyweight alone, and gradually adding in weights but without sacrificing form. 'The only exception are the farmer’s walks, where you should try to go as heavy as you can!'

1.5 sets of: pull ups x 15-20

Rest: 60 seconds

2. 5 sets of: squats x 15-20

Rest: 60 seconds

3. 5 sets of: walking lunges x 16 each side

Rest: 60 seconds

4. 4 sets: farmer’s carries x 40m

Rest: 60 seconds

5. 5 sets: plank x 60 seconds

Rest: 45 seconds

6. 5 sets: 6 wall-sits x 60 seconds

Related content

Cut through the noise and get practical, expert advice, home workouts, easy nutrition and more direct to your inbox. Sign up to the WOMEN'S HEALTH NEWSLETTER

You Might Also Like