Developing Strength & Muscle 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 review ways to develop both strength and muscle endurance. We discuss principles and processes for achieving these skills and physiological goals along with crucial safety practices as well.

Strength and Muscle Endurance

Have you ever marveled at the strength and near flawless physique of the great bodybuilder Frank Zane? Or have you watched as the athletes on American Ninja Warrior display incredible muscle endurance as they meander through difficult obstacle courses?

Before we discuss methods of improving strength and muscle endurance it is imperative that we first define the two terms. Muscle endurance is NOT to be confused with endurance. Endurance is a general term for the ability to perform a distance workout for a long period of time. A popular fitness blog defines Muscle strength as ''the ability to exert a maximal amount of force for a short period of time''. The same blog defines Muscle endurance as ''the ability of a muscle or a muscle group to repeat a submaximal resistance.''

High Repetitions Versus Low Repetitions

The accepted wisdom is that lifting light weight for high repetitions will yield endurance while lifting heavy weights for low repetitions will yield strength. Lifting medium weights for medium repetitions will give the athlete a combination somewhere in between strength and endurance. However, it is not quite that simple. Every person is different and no two athletes will achieve the same results.


Strength can be developed in a variety of ways but the two most common ways are by lifting free weights or by using weightlifting machines. Another way to develop strength is by running sprints.

Free Weights

Most experts believe when it comes to developing strength free weights are second to none. Free weights are dumbbells and barbells used without mechanical assistance. Free weights are fairly inexpensive and offer the lifter maximum versatility along with the most range of movement, provided correct form is followed to both yield gains and avoid injury. The athlete can stabilize the whole body because he is standing most of the time whereas with machines the lifter is often sitting. Finally, free weights simulate real life lifting situations - such as lifting a large rock - better than machines.

free weights
free weights

Weightlifting Machines

Many athletes prefer to use the weightlifting machines at their gymnasiums instead of free weights. These are devices that use gravity along with simple physics to convey resistance to the lifter. There are also many home gyms available that have become popular. While most experts feel free weights are superior to machines, the latter have their benefits as well. One of the major benefits of machines is that there is less chance that the athlete will use incorrect form. With free weights there is a large margin for error, and the lifter can actually more easily injure the body with incorrect form or posture. With machines the lifter is 'locked in' so to speak and has a more limited range of movement.


Who hasn't marveled at the incredible physiques of Usain Bolt and other Summer Olympic sprinters? Sprinting is a short run at maximum speed; Olympic sprinting events include the 100 and 200 meter events. Part of the reason for sprinters' athletic builds is that short bursts of energy such as sprinting can actually build up muscle in the body. Of course many sprinters lift weights as well, to complement their running routines. However, it is a fascinating study to compare the body types of runners from sprinters to middle distance to long distance marathon runners.

Muscle Endurance

While muscle endurance can be developed by using free weights or machines, most of the time the athlete achieves the results by simply doing exercises using her or his own body weight. These body weight exercises are the exercises that one may consider 'old school' such as push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and chin-ups.

Types of muscular endurance

Interestingly enough, muscle endurance can actually be broken down into power, short-term, and long-term muscular endurance. Power endurance applies to martial artists and other athletes who get little rest between strenuous movements. Short-term would apply to events under two minutes such as an 800-meter running race while long-term would apply to running a marathon.

Martial Arts

Besides doing push-ups and sit-ups, another way for the athlete to train is to practice martial arts. Martial arts are skills that developed as methods of attack or self-defense, such as boxing or karate. Martial artists tend to have both a high level of strength and muscle endurance combined. In the popular mixed martial arts competitions if a fight goes the full five rounds of five minutes per round the athletes must not only display strength but also the endurance to perform countless punches, kicks, holds, and takedowns. In a fifteen round boxing match of three minutes per round, the athletes must not only punch and block but also must move around the ring with deft footwork.

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