Activities for Building Strength & Muscular Endurance

Instructor: Jeremy Battista
Workout fads come and go. New ways to lose weight and gain strength are always being touted as the latest, greatest thing. Most are gimmicky and expensive. There are many things that you can do at home or with limited gym equipment to build strength and muscular endurance.

What Are Muscular Strength and Muscular Endurance?

Muscular strength and endurance might sound similar, and they are, but to achieve them both you have to work on slightly differing mentalities. Muscular strength is being able to exert the maximum amount of weight or force that you can in a short span of time. Muscular strength would be the classic gym stereotype of someone lifting a heavy weight 6-10 repetitions each time.

Muscular endurance on the other hand, is the ability to repeatedly do something for a longer period of time. Take our stereotypical gym scenario from before, and make it 15-30 repetitions for an exercise. Endurance taxes your muscles because of the extended time and repetition. Think smaller weight, more repetitions. Muscular strength taxes your muscles because of the heavy weight involved. Think heavy weight, low repetitions.

Now for those not necessarily up-to-date on their gym lingo, a rep, or repetition, is how many times you perform an exercise. A set is how many times you repeat that particular number of reps. If someone was bench pressing, they might lift 185 lbs. for 10 repetitions, but they may do this as a set 4 different times, taking a short break between each set.

Both muscular strength and muscular endurance are essential for being physically fit. A fit individual is one that has achieved success in both endurance and strength. In some cases people train in one area, but not the other. As with most things in life, the key is balance.

Extreme examples of each of these could be if you turn on the TV, say ESPN, and watch a powerlifting/strongman competition. You generally see very large, barrel chested men lifting huge boulders or lifting cars. Very strong individuals lifting ridiculous amounts of weight in a short span of time, for very few reps. This is an example of muscular strength.

Right after watching that competition, the Crossfit games come on. Now you are seeing individuals still lifting weight, but not lifting cars or boulders. You see people doing handstand push-ups and pull-ups and cleans, etc. They are not simply doing them for 5 reps and finishing. You see these movements being done for 20, 30, 50 reps each, multiple sets. That would be our extreme example of muscular endurance.

Activities for Building Strength

As a basic and generic template, activities for someone to build muscular strength would involve heavier weights and lower reps. One of the quickest ways to build strength is to utilize more complex moves that work every muscle at once. A bench press is a great strength builder, but there are better alternatives. Complex movements such as a clean and press, squats, and deadlifts all hit the major and minor muscle groups in one exercise. In short, Olympic lifts are the name of the game when working to build strength quickly. Not that our other classic gym exercises are not good. Bench press, shoulder press, pull-ups, push-ups, curls, etc. are all very good movements and if utilized correctly, will result in massive gains.

Here is an extreme case of Arthur Saxon, an early 20th century strongman, performing.
Strength Training

To work on muscular strength, you can use any of the above movements that I mentioned. Choose a weight that is heavy but not so heavy that you hurt yourself. Shoot to work at least 3-4 sets (minimum) resting 60 - 90 seconds between sets. Repetitions in a set should be no more than 10, but really closer to 4-8 reps. Remember, you need a weight that you can only do 4-8 times, so it needs to be fairly heavy. Just because you can lift a huge weight one time, doesn't necessarily mean that it is a good workout for strength. It is fine to find out what you can do just once, but to make gains in strength, you need to be able to do it more than just once. A minimum of 4 repetitions is fairly consistently recommended among athletes and personal trainers.

The above applies if you have access to weights and weight lifting equipment. If not, you will have to alter your workout accordingly. Think outside of the box and try to lift your body or objects around the house or outside. For example, you can simply do push-ups without any equipment. If it is very easy to do a push-up, take it very slow, maybe a 1-2 count down and up. Pull-ups can be accomplished on any sort of a straight bar. Cinder blocks, rocks, tires, the only limiting factor is your mind. Body weight exercises are a great start for a beginner as often people find it challenging to do a movement even with just their body weight. Squats, push-ups, pull-ups, handstands (against a wall if need be, followed by a push up) will help your body increase its strength.

Activities for Building Endurance

As with muscular strength, let me start with a generic template for endurance. High repetitions with lower weights is a great starting point. If you have access to a gym, just as before for muscular strength, feel free to complete any of the normal gym exercises. Instead of 3-4 sets of 4-8 reps, shoot instead for at least 4-5 sets of 15-20 reps. If you can squeeze out more reps, great. A good starting point is the 15-20 range. Going above will add to the endurance. Weight isn't as big of a factor here as keeping your muscles going until exhaustion.

Slightly different from strength training we have muscular endurance. This is Rich Froning, a Crossfit and endurance athlete.
Rich Froning

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