• Introduction
  • What is muscular endurance in sports?
  • Physiological factors of muscular endurance in sports
  • Benefits of muscular endurance in sports
  • Here’s how you train for muscular endurance
  • Final thoughts
  • Sources

Introduction

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.

What is muscular endurance in sports?

Muscular endurance describes your muscles’ ability to fight against fatigue locally during a longer exercise. In short, it teaches your muscles to continuously contract efficiently even in high-intensity situations.

While that sounds pretty similar to cardiovascular endurance, they have a few differences that really set them apart. You see, cardiovascular endurance, also known as aerobic fitness or “cardio”, describes your heart’s and lungs’ ability to deliver oxygen to your muscle tissue.

Muscular endurance, on the other hand, refers to the muscle’s ability to contract as efficiently as possible for as long as possible. It is often trained in higher intensity exercises with shorter rest periods between sets. In a way muscle endurance is a combination of strength and endurance. It describes how long you can maintain a high level of muscle activation and still perform without fatigue. Therefore, muscular endurance training has little effect on the strength or size of the muscle. 

"Muscular endurance refers to the muscle’s ability to contract as efficiently as possible for as long as possible."

For example, sprinting 100m describes how much overall power you can produce. However, as the distance grows longer to 200m or 400m, the more important factor is how long you can keep up the same high level of performance. In this case, speed endurance also becomes a vital performance factor.

Muscular endurance training teaches your body how to perform in high-lactate situations. The best way to do this is to pinpoint the intensity in your sport and train at that level.

Physiological factors of muscular endurance in sports

Muscular endurance is a combination of a number of physiological factors. These include, genetics, sex, age, aerobic (VO₂max) and anaerobic capacity, movement economy as well as training background. While all of these components play a crucial part in your muscular endurance, it can still be improved with high-quality training.

Genetics describes the biological attributes that you inherit from your biological parents. From an athletic standpoint, the biggest factors are height, weight and muscle fiber type. For example, endurance athletes benefit from having a greater proportion of slow-twitch muscle fibers (type I) due to their ability to maintain movement for a long time. On the other hand, athletes of high-intensity sports would be better off with more fast-twitch muscle fibers (type IIa & type IIb) due to greater force production during shorter performances. 

Sex is another factor in muscular endurance. This is due to the fact that men tend to have bigger hearts, more hemoglobin and more muscle mass. However, women often have proportionately more fatigue-resistant muscle fibers. This has even been proven in a number of studies where participants performed a specific muscular endurance exercise.

Age is another factor that has an interesting impact on muscular endurance. Studies have shown that muscular strength levels start declining around 5% after the age of 45 due to loss of lean muscle tissue (sarcopenia), which often leads to lowered endurance capability as well. However, this degeneration mostly affects fast-twitch muscle fibers (type IIa & type IIb) rather than slow-twitch ones (type I). Thus, you may end up having proportionately more fatigue-resistant muscle fibers as you grow older.

Training background has an immense effect on muscular endurance in sports. This is due to the fact that our bodies adapt to the way we use them. Therefore, more active individuals often have both better strength and endurance. Furthermore, athletes from endurance sports also have a better aerobic capacity than others, even though they might not be able to match the sheer power output of intense sports athletes.

"Slow-twitch muscle fibers offer less power but better endurance."

Aerobic capacity, also known as maximum oxygen uptake (VO₂max), describes the maximum rate of oxygen you are able to consume during an exercise. Additionally, is often considered to be the main component in endurance performance. This is due to the fact that as the intensity of the exercise grows, your lungs must be able to provide enough oxygen to maintain a steady state. This refers to the maximum effort you can maintain without a significant boost in blood lactate levels. Since any kind of endurance activity relies on providing oxygen to muscle tissues, your hemoglobin (an iron-containing protein in the blood that delivers oxygen) also becomes a significant factor in athletic performance.

Anaerobic capacity describes the total amount of energy that you are able to produce without oxygen, or anaerobically. This type of energy production occurs only during high-intensity exercises, where aerobic (with oxygen) energy system is not able to produce enough energy. This also means that you are exercising above the lactate threshold, where your body starts producing lactate as a side product. It is also one of the main causes of fatigue during physical performance.

Technique is also an important component in muscular endurance. This is due to the fact that no matter how much force you can produce, it is useless if your energy is wasted on inefficient muscle work. What matters more is your movement economy, or movement efficiency, which describes your nervous system’s ability to recruit muscles with as little effort as possible during prolonged exercises. Technique is also highly sport-specific. For example, long-distance runners must have the correct step frequency and stride length for the best performance. What may be even more important is your contact time, which describes the time your feet spend on the ground during each step. Thus, spending less time on the ground will not only make each step more powerful, but also more efficient. This effect is also known as ground force efficiency.

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In a way muscle endurance is a combination of strength and endurance. It describes how long you can maintain a high level of muscle activation and still perform without fatigue. 

Benefits of muscular endurance in sports

Good muscular endurance can be very beneficial for both your overall wellness as well as your physical performance. It can improve heart health, increase bone strength, lower blood pressure, as well as promote a healthy body composition. Focusing purely on athletic performance, muscular endurance provides a huge benefit for nearly every exercise that you perform more than once. Every step, jump or throw you do on the field can be made more energy efficient, leaving you with more possibilities to perform at the highest level even during the last seconds of a competition. Basically, the better your muscular endurance is, the longer you’ll be able to perform multiple repetitions of a single exercise. Muscular endurance is also one of the main building blocks of physical fitness, and it can also help build your strength for more advanced sports-specific training methods. Muscular endurance exercises are also a great way to getting back into shape after an injury!

"Having good muscular endurance especially important in sports like running, wrestling, ice skating, rowing and cross-country skiing."

The biggest benefit of muscular endurance in sports may be its ability to maintain performance even during the most intense activities. As you may already know, most high-intensity activities rely on anaerobic energy production (without oxygen), which produces lactate as a side product. Therefore, your body adapts to these situations by improving your muscle’s ability to buffer lactate and continue performing as well as possible. With this in mind, every sport that relies on short bursts of energy can be improved through muscular endurance exercises. For example, running, wrestling, ice skating, rowing and cross-country skiing are just a few sports where muscular endurance plays a big part.

Here’s how you train for muscular endurance

In order to train your muscular endurance, you have to perform exercises at a relatively high heart rate, or above your aerobic threshold. This sort of training consists of medium intensity exercises that use smaller weights of 20-50% of your maximum. And since your focus is to train the muscles to work efficiently in a continuous fashion, it requires a higher number of repetitions in each set (10-20) with very short breaks (20-45s) in between.

Since the whole idea behind muscular endurance training is to focus on specific muscle groups and their ability to fight against fatigue, you must train at the same level of intensity as you experience in your sport. Often times these exercises are performed using bigger muscles and muscle groups simultaneously, which challenges your muscular endurance and cardiovascular endurance simultaneously. After all, your cardiorespiratory system (heart, lungs and veins) must ensure that muscles get enough oxygen during exercise. 

Another huge benefit of muscular endurance is the fact that it utilizes smaller resistance and more repetitions. This makes it suitable for a huge variety of people regardless of their age or fitness level. It even works as a stepping stone for more advanced sports-specific strength and power training.

We’ve also made a more thorough post about muscular endurance training filled with valuable information. If you want to know how to create your own training program or take a look at out our selection of free samples, feel free to check it out.

Final thoughts

Whether you are an athlete or a recreational sports enthusiast, there’s no denying that muscular endurance can play a big part in your physical performance. In fact, good muscular endurance can have a significant effect for your overall wellness regardless of your age. This is also the reason why there is an ever growing need for more active lifestyle in our increasingly passive and ageing communities.

If you want to improve your muscular endurance, you also need plan your workout routine accordingly. However, the best part about muscular endurance training is that it’s both relatively simple and inexpensive to do. You also don’t need a long background in sports which means you can start training with little or no extra planning at all. As well as being a safe and effective workout method, muscular endurance training even helps you build a foundation for more advanced sports specific training.

However, if you’re looking to improving your performance, training is not the only thing you need to consider. You also need to maintain a balance between sufficient rest and proper nutrition if you want to keep progressing in a safe and effective way.

But before you go, here’s a quick recap or muscular endurance:

  • Creates a basis for strength, power and sports-specific training
  • Enhances anaerobic endurance & lactate buffering
  • Good for beginners
  • Good for sports that rely on short spurts
  • Good for posture
  • Good for weight management and toning
  • More weight than cardiovascular endurance training but less than strength training
  • Each set contains of 12-15 repetitions

Did you learn anything new about cardiovascular endurance in sports? Let us know in the comments!

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