Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle to repeatedly apply force against resistance. Doing multiple repetitions of an exercise is a form of muscular endurance, just like running and swimming.
If your muscles have to contract more than once in a similar pattern, you are using muscular endurance. Many factors, including genetics, contribute to muscular endurance. If you are not genetically predisposed to muscular endurance, you can train to improve it.
Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle to exert force against resistance over time.
Types of Muscle Fibers
Your muscles are made up of different muscle fibers. The two main types are fast twitch and slow twitch, according to ACE Fitness. Slow-twitch fibers play the biggest role in muscular endurance. They do not generate much force but are much more resistant to fatigue than fast-twitch muscles. Fast-twitch muscles start working when the force is too great for slow-twitch muscles. They take action to make short-term vigorous movements.
Exercise statistics show that people naturally dominate slow or fast twitches. If you’re slow-twitch dominant, you’re probably better at endurance sports. If you’re fast-twitch dominant, you’re probably better off at Olympic weightlifting or soccer. Genetics aside, you can tweak your training program to increase the ratio of slow-twitch muscle fibers.
The Role of Power
It was thought that endurance athletes should stay away from the gym to avoid gaining weight. Endurance runners ran harder in hopes of improving performance. We now know that strength training is important for muscular endurance.
Harvard Health says the stronger a muscle, the easier it is to complete a particular task—for example, pushing a runner forward. The less work the muscle has to do, the more energy it takes to cover the distance. Strong, efficient muscles also don’t require a lot of blood and oxygen, so they put less strain on the heart, resulting in greater endurance.
Any training program should be periodized, that is, it has different phases. Because you need strength for endurance, you should add a strength phase to your program. To build strength, use a heavier weight for lower reps—six-max—and lift at a higher intensity. Take longer rest breaks of two to four minutes between sets to allow muscle recovery.
To train your slow-twitch muscles, lift lighter weights for a larger number of repetitions –– eight or more. Also, use a slower pace, like two seconds up, two seconds down. Take 30-second or shorter rest breaks between sets to get your muscles used to working in a state of fatigue.
Endurance Optimizing Diet
The fibers in your muscles that cause fatigue can fail due to a lack of energy. Glycogen, or sugar, is essential for both peak and sustained muscle effort. A low-carb diet can make it difficult to maintain muscular endurance.
If your goal is optimal muscular endurance, you should eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and complex carbohydrates from whole grains, says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You also need lean protein and healthy fats. Additional carbohydrates and protein after a workout can help you recover faster and increase muscular endurance.
Proper hydration is the key to optimal muscular endurance. Make sure you drink enough water based on your body size, activity level, sweat output, and the climate you live in.