When it comes to measuring progress in the weight room, muscular endurance tests can give you accurate feedback on the effectiveness of your workouts. This enables you to make adjustments to the repetition ranges and resistance loads of the exercises you’re performing.
The best way to use muscular endurance tests is to do a before and after evaluation.
For example, perform each test, record the results, and get moving. Four to six weeks later, perform the same tests and compare the new results with the original figures.
Tracking your progress is an excellent way to increase motivation and adherence to a fitness program.
“Perhaps the most common reason for muscular endurance testing is to assess the effectiveness of programming,” explains certified personal trainer Lesley Bell, BS, NASM-CPT, NASM-CES, NCSF-CSC.
Beyond testing the effectiveness of a workout routine, Bell notes that muscular endurance assessments also give a tiny glimpse at how well you might be able to perform activities in your daily life, which is, by definition, a measure of your physical fitness.
There are a variety of ways to measure muscular endurance. If you have access to a certified trainer or physical therapist who can supervise the tests, this is the route to go.
But if you’re assessing muscular endurance on your own, here are some tests you can use to measure various muscle groups.
Muscles tested: lower back, hamstrings, hips, and quadriceps
“The squat muscular endurance test measures muscular endurance of the lower body, specifically hips, quadriceps, hamstrings, lower back, and many smaller supporting muscles,” explains Jacquelyn Baston, LMT, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, CYT. And the best part, you don’t need any equipment.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Extend your arms in front of you or place your hands behind your ears to ensure stability and good form. Gaze should be ahead, but slightly down to keep the spine neutral.
- Bend your knees and sink your hips down and back, shifting your weight into your heels. Once your knees reach approximately 90 degrees, return to the standing position.
- Perform as many reps as you can to fatigue and loss of proper form.
- Record the number of reps.
To help with the execution of this movement, Baston says to place a chair behind you and slightly touch the chair with your butt before standing. This will help ensure you are squatting low enough, which is approximately 90 degrees.
Muscles tested: pecs, deltoids, serratus anterior, triceps, abs
The pushup test is one of the best ways to assess upper-body endurance, explains Bell, especially in the muscles of the chest and shoulders.
To do the pushup test, you’ll need a stopwatch or a timer on your phone, and a ball, like a tennis ball. You may also want an exercise mat.
- Get in a high plank position with a ball under your chest.
- Practice one pushup by bending your elbows and touching your chest to the ball underneath you. Make sure to straighten your arms all the way when you push back up to the high plank position.
- Repeat this as many times as possible until your form is compromised.
- Alternatively, perform as many as you can in 60 seconds.
- Record the number of pushups properly performed.
If you can’t achieve one pushup on your toes, Bell says to start in the same high plank position with your back flat and a straight line from the top of your head to your toes.
Without moving anything, drop your knees to the floor and perform the pushup test this way. This will be a more achievable pushup position.
Muscles tested: rectus abdominis, obliques, hip flexors, erector spinae, and transverse abdominis
The core muscles, which include those of the abdominals, hips, and lower back, play a critical role in daily activities. Maintaining strength and endurance in these muscles helps you with movements that require bending, twisting, reaching, and pulling.
To do the plank test, you’ll need an exercise mat and a stopwatch or a timer on your phone.
- Get in a plank position with your upper body off the ground and supported by your elbows and forearms. Your legs should be straight with your weight taken by your toes. Your body should be in a straight line from head to toe.
- As soon as you are in the correct position, start the timer.
- Hold this position for as long as you can or until you are unable to hold your back straight or you lower your hips.
- Record the time.
If you cannot hold a low plank, Bell says you can drop your knees (exactly how you did in the pushup test). For valid results, remember to take very specific notes so that re-testing shows exactly how far you have come.
Also, if you are looking for a more advanced version of the plank test, Baston says to perform the plank with straight arms, keeping your elbows and wrists in alignment with shoulders. This requires more upper-body strength compared to the elbow plank, which requires more core strength.
When it comes to performing these tests safely, consider these points:
- Before beginning any sort of physical assessment, make sure you are physically able to perform the tests safely. If you have any concerns about your ability, ask a certified trainer or physical therapist for assistance.
- If you feel pain, dizziness or nausea, discontinue the assessment.
- As soon as your form is compromised, stop the test. If you’re having difficulty maintaining the correct execution of the move, consider one of the modifications.
Having a goal to work toward can help you stay focused, motivated, and committed to your health and wellness.
Comparative charts are available for each of the muscular endurance tests based on age and gender. But Baston says she’s not a fan of using these charts as they can leave you feeling defeated and discouraged if you do not measure up to the “norm.”
That’s why using your own results to measure progress is key to improving muscular endurance.
With that in mind, once you have baseline results, make sure to include exercises in your overall fitness routine that boost muscular endurance in the major muscles in the body. Additionally, part of your focus needs to be on training in a higher rep range that encourages muscular endurance.
For example, performing strength-training exercises with light weights for a high number of reps will help your muscles develop the mitochondrial density and aerobic efficiency required to support endurance-training efforts.
Strength-training exercises include:
The recommended rep range for muscular endurance is 12 to 15 reps.
Endurance vs. strength
Muscular endurance tests, which assess the muscles ability to resist fatigue, fall under the broader category of muscular fitness assessments, according to the American College of Exercise.
Muscular-strength tests, which measure the maximum amount of force you can produce in a specified number of repetitions, is the other muscular fitness assessment.
Muscular endurance tests are a useful tool to help you assess the ability of a specific muscle or muscle groups to resist fatigue.
Testing for muscular endurance not only helps you assess your current fitness routine and make adjustments to your workouts, but it also gives you a better idea of your body’s ability to perform essential daily living tasks.