Muscular endurance refers to the ability of a given muscle to exert force, consistently and repetitively, over a period of time. It plays a big role in almost every athletic endeavor. You might think of muscular endurance as stamina.
Long-distance running is a sport that requires muscular endurance. During a race, a marathon runner’s body performs the same movement and stride, over and over again. This requires their muscles to have an advanced level of endurance to avoid injury or extreme fatigue.
But you don’t need to train for a marathon to improve your muscular endurance. For the average person, it can be as simple as doing pushups until failure. This means doing one movement repetitively, with good form, until you can’t perform it anymore.
And you don’t have to be an athlete to benefit from increasing your muscular endurance. As with other types of exercise, muscular endurance training can increase your energy levels, help you sleep better, and improve your overall health. It can even improve your mood.
Below are examples of five top exercises that can help you improve your muscular endurance. They require no equipment and you can do them at home.
- To start, lie flat on your stomach (hips touching the ground) with your legs flat and upper body propped up by your forearms.
- Tightening your lower back and shoulder muscles, raise your hips off the ground.
- Hold for as long as you can (aim for intervals of 30 to 45 seconds) and then relax. That completes one repetition (rep).
- Perform 5 reps of your longest hold possible.
- At the end of the 5th rep, your arms should be quivering. This is a good indication that you’re pushing your limits.
Body weight squats
- Start by standing upright with your feet placed in a position slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and your toes pointed straight ahead.
- Bend your legs and drop your buttocks down to the height of your knees. Your legs should form a 90-degree angle when you’re at the bottom of the movement.
- With your weight on your heels, push yourself back upright, squeezing through your glutes (buttock muscles) on the way up.
- Perform 5 sets of 25 repetitions. Adjust this rep number if you feel you can do more at the end of each set.
- Maintain good form by keeping your chest out and shoulders back. Don’t let your torso become parallel with the ground.
- Try a variation on this traditional squat by widening your stance and pointing your toes outward. This move will target the inside of your thighs.
- Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- With your right leg, take a large step forward, then drop your body down so that your back leg touches the ground.
- Push down through your front heel and stand back upright.
- Repeat the same motion with your left leg.
- Perform 5 sets of 30 lunges (15 on each leg, per set).
Tip: Resist the urge to drop your torso. Keep your abdomen upright.
- Start by lying flat on your stomach.
- Push yourself off the ground into a plank position. Hold your body up with your toes and with your hands (not your forearms, as with the plank described above).
- Lower yourself back down, letting your chest touch the ground.
- Promptly push down on your palms and raise your body back to a plank position.
- Perform 5 sets of 15 repetitions (adjust as needed).
Tip: If this movement is too advanced for you, start with your weight on your knees instead of your toes.
- Start by lying flat on your back, with your legs bent and your feet flat on the ground. Place your hands beneath your neck, with your elbows out to the sides.
- Clench your stomach muscles and bring your torso up so that it’s flush with your thighs. Resist the urge to use momentum, rather than your muscles, to bring your body up.
- Guide your body down in a controlled motion to maximize your muscle use.
- Perform 5 sets of 25 repetitions.
Tip: When doing situps, use a yoga mat to keep your tailbone from rubbing uncomfortably on the ground.
You’ll likely get the most noticeable results from these or other exercises if you follow a daily, exercise-until-failure approach to working out. However, don’t work the same muscle group two days in a row. Be sure to alternate days. Rest is as important as exercise for muscle development.
Set aside 20 to 30 minutes a day in which you can work out. Keep in mind that a long workout (60 minutes or longer) is not necessary to get better results. It’s all about the intensity at which you train.
It’s also important to note that you can improve your muscular endurance and overall fitness level by developing simple habits you can do every day to challenge yourself. These can include:
- Skipping the elevator. Take the stairs. If you have two healthy and capable legs, use them!
- Walking to work if possible. If this isn’t possible, challenge yourself to walk to get lunch instead of driving. Those extra steps will add up over time. This habit is especially important if your line of work requires you to sit behind a desk.
- Investing in a standing desk. Standing burns more calories than sitting, improves your posture, and generally encourages a more active work environment.
Talk to your doctor
It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program, especially if you haven’t exercised in a while. They can give you guidance on other exercises that might work well for you, as well as make suggestions for ways to prevent injury while working out.