• Introduction
  • The basics of muscular endurance
  • Muscle fiber distribution
  • Energy sources
  • Technique and movement efficiency
  • Age and gender
  • How to improve muscular endurance through training?
  • Benefits of muscular endurance
  • Final thoughts
  • Sources
  • Aerobic respiration: producing energy (ATP) with the presence of oxygen.
  • Anaerobic respiration: producing energy (ATP) without the presence of oxygen.
  • Cardiorespiratory endurance: how well the heart, lungs, and muscles perform during moderate to high-intensity physical activity.
  • Lactate: a byproduct of anaerobic respiration which can be used to generate more ATP.
  • Maximum oxygen uptake: The maximum amount of oxygen a person can use during intense exercise.
  • Muscular endurance: the muscle's ability to consistently and repetitively exert force over a period of time.


Muscular endurance is one of the main building blocks in athletic performance. And, together with cardiovascular endurance, it creates a foundation on which future sports-specific training can build upon. While muscular endurance is often strictly connected to endurance sports, it does have its advantages in high-intensity sports as well. After all, your muscles need to work continuously in most physical activities anyway.

This article explains the basic mechanics of muscular endurance and why it is so important for physical performance. You can also check out our muscular endurance training post if you are looking to creating your own workout routine. There are even a few free training samples for you to try out.

The basics of muscular endurance

Endurance can be roughly divided into two components; cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance. 

Cardiovascular endurance relies on the cardiorespiratory system’s (circulatory system & respiratory system) ability to deliver oxygen-rich blood to muscle tissues, where it can be used to for energy production. The benefit of aerobic (with oxygen) energy production is that it generates vast amounts of energy, albeit at a relatively slow rate. Thus, making it one of the main components in longer activities at low-to-medium intensity. This is also why maximal oxygen uptake (VO₂max) is considered one of the best measurements of aerobic fitness. After all, it describes the maximal amount of oxygen used during incremental exercise.

Muscular endurance describes the ability to maintain contracting a muscle, or group of muscles, against resistance for an extended period of time. 

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Muscular Endurance

Ability to maintain contracting a muscle, or group of muscles, against resistance for an extended period of timeRelies on several physiological factors, available energy sources & movement efficiencyForms a basis for more advanced trainingBenefits for performing daily tasks & maintaining activity

Muscle fiber distribution

The proportions of type I and type II muscle fibers have a strong effect on how your body performs over long distance activities. An average person has roughly the same amount of both muscle fiber types, although some elite athletes may have up to 70-80% of a specific fiber type. This is significant because they both have different metabolic properties and responses to training. Generally speaking, slow-twitch fibers (type I) are more suited for prolonged exercises where prolonged contraction and energy efficiency are of the essence. Fast-twitch fibers (type IIa & type IIb) are more suited for activities that require stronger force production. Type I fibers are also smaller in size and contain a higher number of mitochondria (powerhouse of the cell) and myoglobin (an iron and oxygen-binding protein found in the cardiac and skeletal muscle tissue). These further increases their ability to resist fatigue.

Energy sources

The main sources of fuel in the body are glucose, stored muscle glycogen, and free fatty acids. The availability of these energy substrates and how the muscles use them can have an enormous impact on muscular endurance. Because muscles have limited amounts of stored energy, they must use metabolic pathways like substrate-level phosphorylation (aerobic and anaerobic) and oxidative phosphorylation (aerobic) to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The latter relies on sufficient oxygen delivery to contracting muscles. This allows you to oxidize glucose and fat for fuel.

Technique and movement efficiency

Technique and movement efficiency also have a significant impact on muscular endurance. More specifically, how many motor units (a motor neuron and all the muscle fibers it innervates) are activated during exercise, as well as how efficiently they are recruited via the central nervous system (see: rate coding & motor unit synchronization). 

During prolonged intense exercises, the accumulation of blood lactate also hinders cross-bridge formation and the excitation-contraction coupling. These disturb the muscle’s mechanical properties, which results in a decrease in overall performance (lower force production, peak force and velocity). This makes movement economy a crucial component in your athletic performance.

Technique is also highly sport-specific. For example, long-distance runners must have an optimal stride cadence (the number of strides taken per second) and stride length (the distance traveled on each stride) for the best performance. Placing your foot under your center of gravity while maintaining as long of a stride as possible also prevents potential adverse effects such as understriding and overstriding. These factors maximize flight time while reducing ground contact time and friction (ground force efficiency). All of which are essential for running mechanics and movement economy.

Of course, similar technique-related performance factors can be found in other sports as well (e.g. swimming and stroke cadence, speed skating and glide/push cadence, etc.).

Age and gender

In addition to the physiological and technical factors mentioned above, your age and gender also have a significant impact on local muscle endurance.

On average, maximal oxygen uptake declines ~5-10% per decade after the age of 30 depending on your physical activivity. This leads to a lower cardiac output (amount of blood the heart pumps) as well as reduced maximum heart rate while exercising. Studies have also shown that muscular strength declines at a rate of ~3-5% every decade after the age of 30. This is due to an age-related loss in muscle mass, known as sarcopenia. This is a result of reduced muscle fiber size (atrophy) and number (hypoplasia), which contribute to increased obesity, reduced quality of life, osteoporosis, and metabolic health. Interestingly, this slow degeneration mostly affects fast-twitch muscle fibers, whereas slow-twitch fibers maintain their functionality relatively well with age.

Gender is another factor that has a strong impact on muscular endurance. Males have a naturally higher maximal oxygen uptake (VO₂max) than women. This is due to having larger hearts, more muscle mass, higher levels of hemoglobin and less body fat. As a result, men have consistently outperformed their female counterparts in various sports by approximately 10-12% depending on the event. However, women usually have proportionally more fatigue-resistant type I muscle fibers than men. Some studies have also hinted that females may be able to burn fat for fuel more efficiently. This may be a result of estrogen’s (female sex hormone) effect on the metabolism.

Local muscle endurance describes your ability to maintain a high level of muscle activation and perform without fatigue. 

How to improve muscular endurance through training?

It is important to remember that local muscle endurance is always muscle specific. This means that muscles or muscle group must be trained separately to have a desired training outcome. 

Muscular endurance training often consists of weight training at medium intensity. In most situations, muscular endurance is trained at the gym with the resistance is set at around 20-50% of one-repetition maximum (1RM). Since the focus is to improve the muscle’s ability to contract both continuously and efficiently, each sessions consists of 3-5 sets of 10-20 repetitions, with very short breaks (20-45s) in between.

Often times these exercises utilize bigger muscles and/or muscle groups, which challenges both muscular endurance and cardiovascular endurance simultaneously. After all, your cardiorespiratory system (circulatory system & respiratory system) must ensure that muscles receive enough oxygen during physical activity. Thus, you will always train both endurance components simultaneously to some degree. 

The smaller resistance and higher number of repetitions also makes this type of training suitable for a huge variety of people regardless of their age or fitness level. Although low intensity/high volume training has little effect on the strength or size of the muscle, muscular endurance training works well as a stepping stone for more advanced strength and power training methods.

Benefits of muscular endurance in sports

Good muscular endurance can provide several effects on your athletic performance and overall wellness. Not only does it promote good heart health and mental wellbeing, it is closely related to better overall quality of life. Here is a full chart of all the benefits it can offer:



Athletic performance

Good muscular endurance is related to better aerobic capacity, lactate buffering, and overall performance in several sports.

Heart health

Good endurance fitness promotes cardiovascular function and lowers cholesterol & blood pressure.

Body composition

Physical activity and good muscular endurance promote a healthy body composition. 

Injury prevention

Strengthens bones, muscles and other connective tissues. Results in reduced injury risk.

Cognitive function

Studies have even stated that physical activity improves sleep, memory, and mental processing – it has also been linked to better school results among children.

Local muscle endurance is considered to be an integral building block for other types of training. With these benefits in mind, it is highly recommended that you incorporate muscular endurance exercises into your training program. They can be especially useful for beginners and everyone starting a new seasonal periodized program.

Final thoughts

No matter how old you are or what shape you are in, endurance is one of the most important factors for your overall health. Not only does it offer a myriad of cardiovascular and mental benefits, it also builds a foundation for physical activity. 

Low-to-moderate intensity exercises are not just for improving your physical performance either. In fact, it can even be used for rehabilitation after an injury. And the best part is that this type of training does not need huge financial investment. 

If you are serious about improving your endurance and enhancing your overall wellness, you must find a balance between exercise, diet, and sufficient recovery. Doing so ensures your progression and improves overall fitness and quality of life.

Did you learn anything new about muscular endurance in sports? Let us know in the comments.


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