When most people think of muscular endurance they think of things like running and cycling. The fact is, muscular endurance is important to almost any activity that requires any use of physical strength and is one of the more important aspects of physical fitness and performance.
There are many ways you can improve your muscular endurance, but not all of them will give you lasting results. If you want to make some serious gains there are several principles you must follow to achieve maximum benefit to your muscles!
Muscular Endurance Tip #1 – Get Stronger
I can’t stress this enough to both athletes and the general fitness population: strength matters! Not only does it matter, but it should be one of the first steps towards achieving most goals. The fact is that many people underestimate how important strength is to other physical aspects such as improving muscular endurance.
One of my favorite analogies to demonstrate this point comes from strength coach and author, Brett Jones. He compares absolute strength to the size of a glass. The bigger the glass the more “stuff” you can put in it (e.g. sports, activities, fitness, etc.). If you have a thimble of strength you won’t be able to do much and progress will be a battle. If you have a barrel of strength everything else becomes easy!
Greater strength will not only make objects (such as your body) feel lighter but allow you to control them much longer with less effort. Depending on where your strength level is, which is usually too low, improving absolute strength will have a profound impact on your endurance!
Muscular Endurance Tip #2 – Move Better
Another important concept to understand is that if you want to move more, you must first move well. The reasoning here is twofold. If you move well you will not only expend less energy but you will also risk less injury.
When talking about increasing muscular endurance what most people really want is to make longer duration activities feel easier. To use running as an example: if it is easier to run longer, you will run much farther. Our bodies operate as a system and with better gait, posture, and movement everything works, well, better.
On the other hand, poor movement causes fatigue to set in much quicker by what I will call ‘energy leaks.’ Not only that, but it significantly increases the risk of injury and chronic pain from poor mechanics. Much of this is caused by bad posture and muscle imbalances that 9 times out of 10 are caused by sitting too much.
Muscular Endurance Tip #3 – Progressive Overload
This means systematically increasing your work load whether it is volume, resistance, length, or distance. This is a very important concept as doing the same thing over and over for extended periods of time will eventually yield no additional benefit. Without progressive overload you will be spinning your wheels and moving nowhere fast!
The goal here is progress, not perfection, so take your time and slowly move up to continuously make improvements in your endurance. Runners, for example, will slowly build up their pace or distance before a race. To increase strength-endurance you must work to increase the weights that you use in order to reap the benefits.
Muscular Endurance Tip #4 – Vary Resistance / Effort
It is okay to go heavier on some days and lighter on other days if you are training more frequently. Going hard 7 days a week is a surefire way to hit a plateau and prevent any chance you have to effectively increase your endurance.
As coach Dan John says, “If it is important, do it every day. Just make sure you vary the intensity.”
For runners, that might mean taking some days to go a bit lighter and work on your stride. When I say easy, I mean easy. Some days just shouldn’t feel like you worked your butt off. For strength training, it is okay to do things like squat every day. Just don’t squat as much as you can every day or every set unless you want two strands of spaghetti for legs for the next week. Go bodyweight sometimes or do lighter goblet squats. Have some ‘fun’ days!
Muscular Endurance Tip #5 – Increase Training Density & Volume
Here, training density refers to the amount of work that you do in a given period of time such as during a workout. Volume is the amount of time you spend training either in a workout or over the course of a week, month, etc. The way to increase both density and volume in a workout is to increase the overall number of sets and/or increase the repetitions in each set.
One way I have found to easily increase and track training density and volume is to use timed sets. What you want to do is choose an exercise or a superset (two exercises back to back) and complete as many rounds as you can in a given amount of time, say 5 minutes. The next time you train, the goal is to complete more rounds in the same amount of time.
This is also a great way to notice improvements in your endurance as well!
Muscular Endurance Tip #6 – Take Deload Weeks
A surefire way to hinder your attempts to gain muscular endurance is to overtrain by not taking enough time to recover weekly or between sessions. More does not always equal better when it comes to training.
One way that I help my clients and athletes avoid overtraining is by taking deload weeks every 4-6 weeks or so depending on their training program. For most trainees it is a good idea to take a deload, or ‘light,’ week once a month if you are training hard. This will allow you to go hard for a couple weeks to make some serious gains and then rest for a week or so to allow your body to fully recover.
These recovery periods will ensure that you don’t hit a plateau and are able to continue making progress!