Muscular endurance refers to a muscle’s ability to work over a period of time. Some exercises and tips can help you improve it, such as increasing the number of reps you perform.

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Muscular endurance refers to the ability of a given muscle to exert force against a load, consistently and repetitively, over a period of time. Exerting force is also known as a contraction.

Muscular endurance plays a big role in many athletic endeavors. For example, a runner does the same movement over and over again. To avoid injury or extreme fatigue, their muscles need to have an advanced level of endurance.

That said, it’s not just athletes that benefit from good muscular endurance. Many other instances require your muscles to function well for a long time, such as walking up and down stairs carrying groceries.

Keep reading to learn more about why muscular endurance is important and five exercises to help improve yours.

Muscular endurance has been associated with several health benefits. For example:

  • A 2014 study found that greater levels of muscular endurance were associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and blood pressure, as well as lower levels of triglycerides and serum blood sugar.
  • A 2015 review suggests that improved muscular endurance may improve muscle blood circulation and mitochondria, which helps power your cells.
  • A 2016 study noted that muscular endurance may be a good indicator of muscle health and your risk of mobility restrictions.
  • A 2017 review found that higher levels of muscular endurance were associated with a lower risk of musculoskeletal injuries.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) also suggests that muscular endurance could help improve your:

Improving muscular endurance involves increasing the total time a muscle is contracted during an exercise.

According to the National Strength and Condition Association (NSCA), the typical approach is to:

  • lower the weight to 70% or less of your 1 rep max
  • increase the number of sets to 3 or more
  • increase the number of repetitions (reps) to 10–25 per set
  • shorten rest periods to 30 seconds or less

So, if you normally bench press for 3 sets of 8–10 reps with 155 pounds (lbs), then you may change to 4 sets of 15–25 reps at 100 lbs. As your muscular endurance improves, you can gradually increase the weight while maintaining the same amount of reps.

Muscular endurance training uses a different approach than strength training, which may look like:

  • 6 reps per set
  • a load of up to 85% of your 1 rep max
  • 2–5 minutes rest between sets

It’s important to note that the optimal number of sets, reps, and rest may widely vary for each individual.

For example, in a 2017 study that aimed to test and improve the muscular endurance of cross-country skiers, the participants performed 4 sets of 30 reps with a 90-second rest between sets. This rest period is longer than 30 seconds. However, after 6 weeks, all participants showed a significant improvement in their muscle endurance.

Another option is to increase the amount of time you hold a contraction, known as isometric contractions.

A 2014 study found maximum improvements in abdominal endurance when holding a plank for as long as possible (or until failure) five or more times per week.

Isometric contractions may also be a good option to improve your muscle endurance if you’re recovering from an injury. They put less stress on the structures surrounding the working muscles.

Below are examples of five exercises that can help you improve your muscular endurance. They require no equipment, and you can do them at home.

To see improvement, you’ll want to work on these exercises 2–3 times per week, on non-consecutive days.

Remember, the goal is to perform these exercises to failure so that you improve your muscular endurance over time. That said, be sure to maintain proper form to reduce the risk of injury.

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  • Kneel on all fours, then place your forearms down on the ground. Step one leg back at a time until you’re in a straight line from head to heel, keeping your spine neutral.
  • Engage your abs to support the lower back. Imagine lifting your chest away from your elbows but without a rounded spine.
  • Hold for as long as you can, aiming for at least 30–45 seconds, then relax. That completes one rep.
  • Aim to do at least 3 sets with 30–60 seconds of rest between each.

Tips: If you start to lose form (either your hips sag low or your buttocks start to lift), then it’s a good time to rest before performing another rep.

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  • Stand upright with your feet placed apart in a position slightly wider than shoulder-width, with your toes pointed straight ahead.
  • Bend your legs and sit back until your buttocks reach the height of your knees. Your thighs should be close to parallel with the floor, and your knees should track over your toes to prevent injury.
  • Push yourself upright, squeezing through your glutes on the way up.
  • Perform 2–4 sets of 25 reps. Adjust this rep number if you feel you can do more squats at the end of each set.

Tips: Maintain good form by keeping your head up, chest lifted, and shoulders back. Don’t let your torso become parallel with the ground.

There are many squat variations that you can try to help target different parts of your legs.

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  • Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • With your right leg, take a large step forward, then lower your body down so that your back knee either touches or comes close to touching the ground.
  • Push down through your front foot and stand back up.
  • Repeat the same motion with your left leg.
  • Perform 2–4 sets of 30 walking lunges (15 on each leg, per set).

Tips: Keep your trunk upright as you perform this. As you lower your body, your lead knee should track in line with your shoelaces and your shoulders should be behind your toes.

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  • Begin in a full plank position with your hands slightly outside shoulder width and directly under your shoulders. Hold your body up with your toes and with your hands (not your forearms, as with the plank described above). Keep your spine in neutral, and try not to let your hips sag.
  • Lower yourself down by bending your elbows at a 45-degree angle, aiming your chest to the ground.
  • Promptly push down on your palms, and raise your body back to a plank position.
  • Perform 5 sets of 15 reps (adjust as needed).

Tip: If this movement is too advanced for you, start with your weight on your knees instead of your toes, or begin with a wall pushup.

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  • Lie flat on your back, with your legs bent and your feet flat on the ground. Place your hands lightly behind your head to support your neck, with your elbows out to the sides.
  • Engage your abs and curl your torso up, lifting your upper back and shoulders off the ground. Keep your elbows out to the sides rather than curling them around your head. Resist the urge to use momentum, rather than your muscles, to bring your body up. Keep a golf ball-sized space between your chin and chest.
  • Guide your body down in a controlled motion to maximize your muscle use.
  • Perform 5 sets of 25 reps.

Tips: Don’t pull your neck or head with your hands. The work should come from your abs.

Talk with a doctor

It’s always a good idea to talk with a doctor before starting any exercise program, especially if you haven’t exercised in a while.

You may also want to consult a physical therapist or certified personal trainer if you’re new to working out. They can give you guidance on other exercises that might work well for you and make suggestions for ways to prevent injury while working out.

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What are examples of muscular endurance?

Muscular endurance includes increasing the amount of sets and reps while decreasing rest periods. If you usually squat for 3 sets of 6–8 reps with 150 lbs and a 120-second rest, then you could change to 4 sets of 15–25 reps at 90 lbs with a 45-second rest.

Why do you do muscular endurance?

There are many benefits to muscular endurance training, including:

  • decreasing your risk of some health conditions
  • improving blood circulation
  • increasing mobility and posture
  • decreasing your risk of injuries

Muscular endurance is an important part of general health. It’s important for function and for decreasing your risk of injury and certain chronic conditions.

Muscular endurance training involves increasing the amount of time a muscle is under contraction. This can be done with increased reps or isometric hold times.

If it’s a departure from your typical exercise routine, give muscular endurance training a try and see what the increased challenge can do for you.