Assessing Strength & Muscular Endurance

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

In this lesson, we assess both strength and muscular endurance. We review both resources and accompanying techniques for the assessments, including self-monitoring. We also discuss the safety of specific exercises and equipment.

Strength and Muscular Endurance

Who doesn't remember those glorious days spent in P.E. playing crab soccer, dodgeball, and kickball? These days, a lot of adults still enjoy these games with leagues of their own. Sports require both strength and muscular endurance to perform certain maneuvers and compete well. Furthermore, strength and muscle endurance are two components of physical fitness that can be tested and clearly measured to monitor improvement, often through self-assessments. Also, to ensure safety, learn how to assess the various types of exercises and equipment used.

Crab Soccer

Reasons to Test

When we were all tested in school during the dreaded Presidential Fitness Test, the school was trying to monitor our physical development to make sure we were growing properly and to help prevent the onset of health problems. As adults, we are tested for employment in physically demanding fields, such as the military or firefighting. We may also be tested to monitor our health and fitness to help keep diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases in check.

Muscle Endurance Definition and Ways to Test

Muscle Endurance is the ability of the muscle to repeat contractions over a period of time. There are three basic ways to test for muscle endurance.

  • Dynamic Repetition: You can do as many repetitions of an exercise as possible for one minute.
  • Static Repetitive: You can bang out as many reps of an exercise as possible until muscle failure occurs.
  • Static Timed: You can hold a flexed position, as in the flexed arm hang in which the athlete suspends from a bar, for a maximum time.

Perhaps the gold standard for testing muscular endurance is the old, but reliable, pushup test. Place the hands shoulder width apart and the back straight, while facing the floor with the head up. The body is raised by straightening the arms, and then, the body is lowered again until the chin touches the floor for a count of one. Avoid touching the stomach to the ground. Count the number of repetitions completed, without stopping, until the athlete gives up or cannot do two consecutive reps with good form.


Strength Definition and Ways to Test

Strength is the maximal force that a muscle can apply. The test for strength is usually straightforward and involves you doing one repetition at maximum weight. There are two basic types of strength tests.

The first is dynamic (isotonic) and the second is static (isometric). In the first, a body part, or parts, actually moves against resistance. In the second, the muscle doesn't actually move but simply exerts tension against a fixed resistance. The one-repetition maximum (1-RM) is most commonly used in what is called a field test to gauge strength. The four most common exercises used to test the 1-RM are the bench press, incline press, leg press, and the squat.

The cable tensiometer is an odd, older looking device that measures muscle strength. The cable is anchored perpendicular to the muscle, and then the device reads the tension that is on the cable. Another similar device is the dynamometer, which uses a spring that the athlete compresses and then a needle on a gauge is read. It is good for measuring the back, grip strength, and legs.


Sources of Error and Genetic Factors

It should be duly noted that errors can occur when assessing strength and muscle endurance. This could be the fault of either the athlete or the tester. For example, the tester could be using a faulty piece of equipment, or he could become distracted and read the gauge incorrectly. The athlete could miscount his repetitions (of pushups for example) or use improper form, which could be cutting corners. There could also be an imbalance between the small muscles and the large muscles, which can handle different amounts of weight.

We would be remiss not to discuss one major factor in assessing strength and muscular endurance - the genetic factor. There is a certain percentage of physical abilities that simply can't be controlled by the athlete, because he is born that way. These factors include anaerobic endurance, cardiovascular endurance, both muscle size and strength, limb length, and even neurological capabilities. There is even a concept distinguishing the slow-twitch (ST) muscle fibers of a marathon runner versus the fast-twitch (FT) muscle fibers of a sprinter. While just about everybody has both, some athletes have a higher percentage of one or the other.

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