Why is it that some of the most successful athletes on Earth look like they’ve never stepped foot into a gym? While huge muscles provide the power needed to perform work, even those with bulging biceps find it difficult to perform work over time. Muscular endurance can be a far more valuable fitness trait than pure strength, especially for those who play sports that require sustained effort for the duration of a game. The best way to build muscular endurance is simple: lower the intensity and increase the frequency.
How to Properly Build Muscular Endurance
More Is Better
One of the great appeals of weight training for muscular strength is the little amount of gym time. Squat, deadlift, and bench three times a week, then you’re done. Muscular endurance requires more commitment to your workout, however. Like cardio workouts, there’s no minimum for success: the more frequently you push your muscles, the more your body will be able to power through. Those who work out two or three days a week might have lukewarm muscular endurance, but adding just one more workout a week begins to ramp up the demands on your body. In addition to frequency, add more sets or reps in a workout, or change it up by adding a new routine like hot yoga.
But Less Is Better Too
You can’t develop much muscular endurance by squatting 300 pounds. Instead, lower the weight of a workout by half in order to put the stress on the twitch muscle fibers (those that first fire in a workout) rather than on the muscular cell mass. This allows your body to develop these fibers and reduces the stress on any given workout. With less weight and more reps, muscular mass mainly stays the same (unlike heavy weight training) but becomes more efficient. This results in more endurance during an activity or just the usual work day. Endurance workouts should aim for five to fifteen reps per set (twice as much as muscular strength exercises); increase or decrease the weights as needed to hit this benchmark.
If all of the weight racks at the gym are occupied, don’t be discouraged. There are ways to ramp up your muscular endurance without having to use barbells. Pick up a medicine ball and use it to extend arms and legs, with the weight acting as the central focus of the workout. One way to challenge yourself is to use static contractions: extend yourself as far as possible and hold the pose for as long as possible. Challenge yourself to improve in small amounts (by either weight or time) and be careful not to overdo it.