how to improve muscular endurance

How To Improve Muscular Endurance? Methods, Exercises & Workout Plans

April 14, 2021

Do you want to improve your muscular endurance? Who wouldn't, right? Below you will learn everything you need to know about muscular endurance, including the best exercises and workout plans for improving muscular endurance. 

What is muscular endurance?

Muscular endurance is the ability to repeatedly exert force and remain active over extended periods of time.

Muscular endurance is based on long term measurements of energy.

Although muscular endurance is a physical ability, a big part of it comes down to mental fortitude.

Muscular endurance training requires serious determination, and many people think it is more challenging mentally than training for strength. 

muscular endurance

Why is muscular endurance important?

There are 4 main aspects to general fitness: Muscular Strength, Muscular Endurance, Flexibility, and Balance.

Even though muscular endurance is one of the 4 pillars, many people don’t put much focus on it. A vast majority of people who lift weights train for strength and hypertrophy, so their endurance is not great.

This is a vital mistake as muscular endurance training will improve two of the other pillars of fitness, strength and balance.

Moreover, there are many benefits that come with elevating your muscular endurance.

muscular endurance benefits

Benefits of muscular endurance:

For the general population, muscular endurance training is important because it…

  • Increases your ability to do daily activities: Housework & chores, carrying groceries or your kid, sex.
  • Reduces your risk of injury: If you have poor muscle endurance, your muscles will become weak during activities which could lead to injuries (falling, twisting ankle, etc.)
  • Helps maintain a healthy body weight: With better muscular endurance, you can perform activities for longer which will help you increase your metabolism and burn more fat each day.
  • Builds stronger muscles, joints, bones: Muscle endurance goes hand-in-hand with muscular strength. By increasing muscle endurance, you will be able to get stronger muscles and increase bone density.
  • Improves balance: Poor balance is often caused by a lack of muscular endurance. Once your muscles get tired, your balance will become worse.
  • Increases energy levels (this is its main purpose after all)
  • Helps you sleep better: Studies how endurance training leads to better sleep quality.

All in all, muscular endurance training can help improve many aspects of your life, especially your strength training workouts. Plus, all the benefits you get from muscular endurance will create their own benefits, which really compounds the positive effect muscular endurance has on your existence.

Muscular endurance in sports

exercises to improve muscular endurance

Sports require serious muscular endurance. So, for athletes, improving muscular endurance is essential.

Muscular endurance training is highly emphasized in athletes training regimens.

There are 3 types of muscular endurance that athletes work on:

Power Endurance: The ability to be explosive again and again over long periods of time, with little rest. Think wrestlers, boxers, baseball players, tennis, football.

Short-term Endurance: The ability to exert maximum force for short periods of time, such as sprints for 60 seconds, repeatedly. Think football players, sprinters, soccer players, basketball.

Long Endurance: The ability to remain active with peak performance for long durations. Think basketball players, rowers, marathon runners, cross country runners, boxers.

Many sports require an overlapping ability of all three types of muscular endurance.

Muscular Endurance Test

muscular endurance test

Trainers can assess their clients and athletes with muscular endurance tests before deciding on specifics for a training plan.

These tests are also good for anyone who wants to see how good their muscular endurance is.

Push Up Test:

Perform as many proper push ups as you can until failure/as long as you can.

Sit Up Test:

Perform as many sit ups as you can until failure/as long as you can.

Plank Test:

Perform a strict plank hold for as long as you can.

Wall Squat Test:

Get into a squat position with your back against the wall, and legs at a 90 degree angle. Keep your heels on the ground and see how long you can hold this position. You can also do this test with one foot off the ground…

These are all very popular tests so you should be able to find data online or simply ask your friends to try them too to see how you stack up with other people. 

Slow Twitch Muscle Fibers vs Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers

muscular endurance exercises

If you want to really understand how muscular endurance works, you need to learn about the two muscle fiber types that all of your muscles have.

Slow Twitch Muscle Fibers

Slow twitch muscle fibers are the first to respond to physical activity. They are designed to sustain low force over long durations.

Activities that recruit slow twitch muscle fibers:

  • running, swimming, power walking, cycling - aerobic exercises.
  • lightweight or bodyweight exercises with high repetitions - anaerobic exercises.

Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers

Some activities require maximum exertion, which your slow twitch muscle fibers can’t handle. When this happens, your fast twitch muscle fibers are recruited to take over for the slow twitch muscle fibers. Fast twitch muscle fibers get tired quicker than slow twitch and they require a period of rest.

Activities that recruit fast twitch muscle fibers: Power exercises, short sprints.

So, which type of muscle fiber is important for endurance?

Slow twitch muscle fibers are the ones with endurance-boosting ability.

When focusing on endurance training, you are training your slow twitch muscle fibers. Fast twitch muscle fibers are for short bursts of strength and power, while slow twitch is endurance (or stamina).

i..e  - Slow Twitch: Running 5 miles or Doing 50 bodyweight squats.

i.e. - Fast Twitch: Doing a max lift at the gym or a 100 meter sprint.

By doing endurance activities that train your slow twitch muscle fibers, you will be improving your muscles oxygen capacity, which makes it so you can perform longer before tiring out.

Can you isolate slow twitch muscle fibers?

The two can not be isolated during an exercise, but certain training methods will emphasize one more than the other.

Sprints for example will train your fast twitch muscle fibers, but if you do longer duration sprints, like 60 seconds instead of 10 seconds, you can improve your slow twitch muscle fibers as well, making you able to sprint more times in one session rather than just making you faster at sprinting.

Facts about Muscle Fibers:

  • Your muscles have an equal amount of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers, on average.
  • Muscular endurance training is the strengthening of slow-twitch muscle fibers
  • Slow twitch muscle fibers won’t grow like fast twitch muscle fibers, but they can to a certain extent which is enough to make a big difference in your endurance ability.
muscular endurance examples


There are two main ways to go about improving muscle endurance - aerobic endurance training and anaerobic endurance training.

Anaerobic endurance involves the exertion of force, consistently and repeatedly, over short periods of time (i.e. bodyweight squats for around 60 seconds), while aerobic endurance involves the ability to exert a steady sub-maximal force over a longer period of time (i.e. a 40 minute run).

Aerobic Exercise:

aerobic endurance

Aerobic = with oxygen.

Aerobic exercises include running, swimming, cycling, rowing etc. These exercises should be done at a steady and not too fast pace so your heart can supply enough oxygen to the muscles.

It is cardiovascular fitness but it also trains your muscles to not get fatigued aerobically. 

If you change the pace and run quicker, then slow, uphill, then downhill, you will be doing a method call “Fartlek Training” or “Speed Play” which adds an element of “anaerobic” to your aerobic training.

For aerobic training, you want to try not to rest at all for the duration of the workout.

Anaerobic Exercise:
muscular endurance training

Anaerobic = without oxygen.

Anaerobic exercises include weightlifting, sprints, bodyweight training, etc. Anaerobic exercises are performed in short, fast bursts where the heart can’t supply enough oxygen to the muscles. Anaerobic training will improve your muscle’s ability to maintain exertion without enough oxygen, which is when lactic acid is produced. 

This is the true meaning of muscular endurance - to repeatedly produce force at low to moderate intensities for extended periods of time.

There are many different training methods for anaerobic exercises, such as circuit training, interval training, weight training with low weight and high reps, and more. We will get into those a little further below.

For anaerobic endurance training, you want to keep your work to rest ratio about 1:1. So if you do a 1 minute set, rest for 1 minute then go again…

Muscular Endurance vs Aerobic Endurance:

Aerobic endurance and muscular (anaerobic) endurance train your muscles for endurance in different ways. Anaerobic exercise is good for short term endurance against resistance at a higher intensity, while aerobic endurance is good for long term endurance at a lower intensity (it helps you keep a good supply of oxygen for the muscles to keep going).

Both are vitally important in sports, especially sports like football, basketball, soccer, boxing and mma. 

So, if you want all-around improvements in muscular endurance, you will want to have a good mix of both anaerobic and aerobic exercise.

Upper Body vs Lower Body Aerobic Endurance:

If all you do is running for aerobic endurance, your lower body aerobic endurance will be good, but your upper body aerobic endurance will not be on par with your lower body aerobic endurance. This is why mixing up your aerobic exercises - swimming, rowing, cycling, running - is good.

As we know swimming, rowing, cycling and running is best for aerobic endurance (long endurance), so we will now talk about the best exercises specifically for muscular endurance as it relates to anaerobic training. 

Best Exercises For Muscular Endurance

muscular endurance activities

If you want to improve short-term and power muscular endurance (vital for athletes like football players and basketball players), then you need to focus on compound movements that work large muscle groups and perform sets for longer durations. 

Best Bodyweight Muscular Endurance Exercises:

  • Squats
  • Push Ups
  • Inverted Rows/Pull Ups
  • Dips
  • Handstands
  • Pike Push Ups
  • Lunges

Best Free Weight Muscular Endurance Exercises:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Bench Press
  • Military Press
  • Rows

For core exercises, both compound isometric exercises (i.e. Planks and Side Planks) and isotonic exercises (v-ups, leg raises, sit ups) are great.

If you want to improve muscular endurance, isolation exercises are not very effective (moreover, they are not efficient). Compound exercises are all you need in terms of strength and endurance. 

Multiplanar Exercises!

Ideally, exercises that incorporate multiple ranges of motion are the best. Certain training tools lend themselves to multiplanar training.


Aim for a minimum of 30 seconds, but 45-60+ seconds is best for muscular endurance training. 

Best Training Tools For Muscular Endurance (and weight load)

why is muscular endurance important

While bodyweight exercises are great for improving muscular endurance, free weight equipment is also highly effective at lower weight loads. 

Barbells, Dumbbells, Resistance Bands, Steel Maces, Kettlebells, Battle Ropes, Medicine Balls, Sandbags are all great equipment for training muscular endurance. 


For Bodyweight Exercises - 20+ reps
For Free Weight Exercises - 15+ reps (using about 50-60% of your 1RM)

You want to focus on maximum tension and time under tension with each set. You should be fatiguing your muscles with each set. 

8 Training methods for muscular endurance:

What’s the best training method for improving muscular endurance?

Here are some of the best training methods for muscular endurance.

1. Continuous (or Cardio) Training

Cardio training is a great way to improve your aerobic muscular endurance.

The best cardio is running (outside), cycling, rowing, and swimming.

Swimming is really great as it works your entire body rather than cycling and running which is mostly training your lower body’s slow twitch muscle fibers.

Cardio is best when done for 30+ minutes.

2. Circuit Training

Circuit training involves a series of exercises done in order.

Circuit training is a form of repetition endurance, so you will perform a movement with a weight that’s light enough to allow you to do the exercises for a longer duration (60+ seconds).

Circuit training using weights or bodyweight exercises is an effective way to boost muscular endurance.

For example:

Push ups: 1 minute
Bodyweight squats: 1 minute
Dumbbell shoulder press: 1 minute
Barbell rows: 1 minute

Then rest a few minutes and repeat.


Push ups: 1 minute
Rest 1 minute
Bodyweight squats: 1 minute
Rest 1 minute
Dumbbell shoulder press: 1 minute
Rest 1 minute
Barbell rows: 1 minute
Rest 1 minute then repeat

Circuit training for muscular endurance won’t require maximum exertion but it will be mentally tough as you need to sustain the repetitions for long durations. When training for strength, you will be doing an exercise for 10-20 seconds compared to muscular endurance resistance training which has you working for 1+ minutes.

3. Interval training

Interval training involves alternating between high intensity exercise and rest/active rest. It will improve speed and muscular endurance.

High Intensity Interval training is great because it is a good mix of strength training and endurance training. You will not get bulky doing HIIT workouts, but you will maintain lean muscle mass.

Related: 18 Best HIIT Exercises for Beginners


As many reps as possible bodyweight workouts are effective for training muscular endurance as you will be pushing yourself to the limits in a way that allows you to do continuous reps for longer periods of time.

5. Isometric Training

Isometrics are another effective method to build both strength and endurance.  It is also known as tension endurance. It’s a big part of a rock climber’s training regimen.

Isometric exercises involve holding a position (i.e. plank) for a set time without moving your joints.

Isometrics will work both your slow and fast twitch muscle fibers.

We did a whole article on isometric exercises that you can read over so you know exactly what to do and the benefits that come with isometric training.

6. Complex Training

A complex workout is a series of exercises, each done for a set number of reps, one after the other, without resting until you finish the last exercise.

Complex training involves one training tool, which is challenging but light enough to not have to put it down for around 2-5 minutes of continuous exercises.

An example of a complex using a barbell with plates (approximately 135lbs total weight, for a man with good conditioning):

Squats x 8 reps
Overhead presses x 8 reps
Stiff-legged deadlifts x 8 reps
Bent over rows x 8 reps
Then rest.

If you are doing a complex workout, 20-30 minutes of work with little rest as possible is ideal.

This is another method that will boost both strength and endurance.

7. Weight Training

When it comes to weight training for muscular endurance, you must use low weights - around 50% of your max lift is good - and do high reps.

This is one of the most popular ways to train muscular endurance.

Here is a good weight training workout plan to improve both muscular strength and muscular endurance:

Day 1 - Upper body (endurance)
Day 2 - Lower body (endurance)
Day 3 - Rest
Day 4 - Upper body (strength)
Day 5 - Lower body (strength)
Day 6 - Cardio Endurance
Day 7 - Rest

If you are doing a 5 day split (chest, back, legs, etc.), you can simply combine endurance and strength into one workout. So basically, some exercises or sets within your workout are focusing on strength and some on endurance.

You could do a pyramid structure to accomplish this:

Set 1 x 25
Set 2 x 20
Set 3 x 15
Set 4 x 10
Set 5 x 8

Remember, compound exercises are the way to go, so to save time, throw any isolation exercises out of the workout.

Related: Reverse Pyramid Training Guide

8. Bodyweight Training

Bodyweight exercises are also good for endurance training for those who have enough strength to handle their bodyweight fairly easily. If you are able to perform very high reps of a bodyweight exercise like bodyweight squats or push ups, then you will be working your muscular endurance tremendously well when doing so.

Related: 25 Minute Full Body Bodyweight Workout

muscular endurance workout

Optimal Workout Plan for Muscular Endurance Training

For most people, and for most athletes, we don’t just want to focus on endurance training, we want to also build muscular strength as strength and endurance go hand-in-hand. You need strength to have endurance.

So, here are a few different workout plans that you could do to get the best of both worlds.

Workout Plan 1:

Monday: Aerobic Endurance Training (Cardio)
Tuesday: Lower Body Weight Training (Strength)
Wednesday: Upper Body Weight Training (Strength)
Thursday: Rest
Friday: Aerobic Endurance Training (Cardio)
Saturday: Lower Body Weight Training (Endurance)
Sunday: Upper Body Weight Training (Endurance)

Do this for 6-8 weeks.

Workout Plan 2:

Monday: Upper Body Weight Training (Strength)
Tuesday: Lower Body Weight Training (Strength)
Wednesday: Aerobic Endurance Training (change up your cardio of choice each week)
Thursday: Circuit Training (Endurance)
Friday: 20 minute HIIT session
Saturday: Aerobic Endurance Training
Sunday: Rest

This is an intense workout plan, made mostly for those who are very dedicated to training/fitness.

Workout Plan 3 - Beginner:

For this beginner workout plan, we are going to mix in endurance and strength training on the same day. Remember, control the weight and reps to target both muscular strength and endurance.

Monday: Chest/Back (Endurance and Strength)
Tuesday: Legs (Endurance and Strength)
Wednesday: Arms/Abs (Endurance and Strength)
Thursday: Rest
Friday: Aerobic Endurance Training
Saturday: 10-20 minute HIIT or complex training
Sunday: Rest


Day 1: Chest/Back (Endurance and Strength)
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: Legs (Endurance and Strength)
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Arms/Abs (Endurance and Strength)
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Aerobic Endurance Training
Day 8: Rest

Stick to a workout plan for at least 6-8 weeks, but no longer than 12 weeks. Increase difficulty slightly each week. This could mean adding reps, weight, or working time, or decreasing rest time during anaerobic training, and adding more time to your aerobic training.

Related: 3 Body Types Explained: Diet, Workout & Tips

how to increase muscle endurance

Our Favorite Endurance Training Tools for Home Workouts:

Kettlebells & Steel Maces - Our Two Favorite Tools

We really love Kettlebells and Steel Maces because they allow you to work through multiple planes of motion, involving multiple muscle groups, which is ideal for not only endurance, but burning more calories (having a lower bodyweight leads to better endurance!).

Here is a steel mace exercise to give you an idea of what we mean:

Related: 6 Week Steel Mace Workout Plan for Endurance and Shredding Fat


muscular endurance exercise

The steel mace is by far our favorite endurance training tool. It’s fun, there are so many different exercises, and you can work your full body.

Plus, there are many other benefits of training with a steel mace.

Top 9 Benefits of Steel Mace Training

Where to buy a Steel Mace?

Get Your Steel Mace: 7-30lbs Steel Maces

Resistance bands are also great for endurance training as you can train through all planes of motions and at many different angles. Plus, they are easier on the joints and they combine well with other fitness tools. For example, doing a banded squat with a barbell can make it so you have tension through the whole movement curve, which is what you want for endurance training - maximum time under tension!

Related: Top 24 Resistance Band Exercise

What is muscular endurance

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