The Guide to Muscular Endurance Training for Weightlifting Beasts

I see a plethora of workouts posted online with high reps schemes – and by high I mean above 25. Some workouts boast reps as high as 100, and I sometimes I wonder about the point of these workouts. To be a badass and say you did it, or…?

I’ll get to that in a moment. There’s a lot of confusion about muscular endurance training as it relates to weightlifting – what exactly is it and how is it beneficial to those of us more concerned with size and strength? After all, in the weightlifting world, high reps with low resistance is often seen as ineffective, and well, wimpy. Can you get your beast mode on with endurance training?

If you’ve done high-rep training before you know the answer: it burns. There are several types of endurance; what I’m referring to here is muscular endurancethe ability to produce lower levels of force and maintain them for prolonged periods, as defined by the National Academy of Sports Medicine [1]. This type of training burns more calories than traditional weight lifting, promotes blood circulation, improves sports performance, and encourages healthier movement patterns, thus helping to prevent injury. It’s also what will help you carry groceries, sit at a desk or stand with good posture, or any other activity that requires you to engage your muscles for a prolonged period of time.

Studies have also shown that this training method does increase strength and size, albeit to a lesser degree than using low reps/high resistance [2]. There are optimal rep ranges for different goals – that is already proven. What’s newly shown is that high reps/low intensity do result in some growth and strength and aren’t just useful for endurance training only. (For more discussion on that study, I really like this article).

Does that mean I do endurance training all the time? No, I love heavy lifting! But if I can get a serious burn and results, I’ll do it. That’s where cycling your workouts comes in.

How often should I train for muscular endurance?

The most effective way to weight train is to cycle your workouts in stages, called periodization. As I discuss in my article, Stop Winging It: Using Periodization to Get Buff, one of those stages (Stage 1) should involve lighter loads and higher reps, similar to endurance training. This allows your body to recover from the intensive training period and strengthen the stabilizer muscles necessary for heavier lifting (along with the other benefits I mentioned).

If cycling your strength training routine sounds like too much work, as an alternative you can integrate one endurance week every 4 to 6 weeks. That means a solid week (or two, or three, depending on much recovery you need) of less intense workouts. Or if you seriously enjoy this type of training, add it once a week. Once you allow yourself to train at this different level, you might be surprised at how difficult these workouts can be and by the gains you notice as a result.

How should I train for muscular endurance?

There are plenty of methods for endurance training, which can add variety and new stimulus to your workouts:

  • Traditional muscular endurance training. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, muscular endurance training looks like this:
    • 12 to 25 reps
    • low-to-moderate loads
    • 2 to 3 sets with minimal rest (0 to 90 seconds)
    • 40-70% of 1 repetition maximum

    If you’re cycling your workouts as I suggest above, you can use these parameters during Stage 1.

  • Timed sets, or “rounds.” Mike Mahler talks about forgetting counting reps and focusing more on how many reps you can do. If you’re targeting a certain rep range, he says, you’ll stop when you get to the target, even if you’re capable of doing more. That’s where timed rounds come in. You set a timer for the alloted time period (often one minute) and do as many reps as you can. Rest briefly and repeat for sets. The goal is to work up to more and more reps during the alloted time. To progress, try lengthening the sets, resting less time between sets, or increasing the number of sets. See this article for sample kettle bell workouts.
  • Extreme high-rep workouts. As I said in the beginning, some of the workouts I see appear to be contests for just how long you can go without collapsing. While those contests are fun now and then, they can be a bit risky. (I was runner-up in a wall sit contest a couple of months ago and my hip flexors have been tight and sore ever since!) On the other hand, there are more 100-rep “challenges” than ants on a log. People do them to lose weight, shock their body into a new level of performance, for total body conditioning, or as fun group motivation. Many of these routines work up to 100 reps over a period of weeks, which is definitely doable.No matter why or how you use extremely high rep ranges – whether with body weight or low loads – you will be training for endurance. Please do not do reps this high too frequently (as I discuss here); you can end up with repetitive use injuries. You need a well-rounded training plan that includes strength, power, mass building (if desired), and endurance. If you have a goal of getting to 100 push ups or sit ups, for example, work up slowly over a period of weeks.

Muscular endurance training adds variety to your workout and lets you get your beast on too. It also delivers results! So enjoy and let me know how you like it.

If you liked this article, please share! See you next time.

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Comments

  1. Always always great learning posts!!!! I kinda do my own thing that most likely would not work for most people but does for me – I do break some rules BUT always proper form…. BUT I have lots of years on my bod so… This is great for people that are new, been at it for a while or even longer or a long time! Many really never learned this! Your post at Coach Calorie was great!

    Thx as always Suzanne!
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted..Gratitude Monday & Just GratitudeMy Profile

  2. Ha, now I see why you were asking me about the workout I posted last week!
    Definitely, 40 reps is way above the rep range I usually train in. My favourite is 8-10. Lift heavy, go home sooner! But I also like to ‘shock’ my body occasionally; really see what it can do and work through the burn.
    Great explanation for using a variety of rep ranges in your training!
    Tamara recently posted..Why I’m taking a break from protein barsMy Profile

    • Well you figure it’s wicked good to do something wildly different now and then. Take Tabata – surely the reps are quite high by the end!

  3. I’m not going to lie, like many people mentioned on facebook I too originally read the tittle of this post wrong. 🙂 I could have sworn there was an “r” there…

    I really like your point about the 100 rep challenges too. I had a hell of a time getting to 100 push-ups using push-ups alone, and even sort of put the whole idea on pause for awhile. Then one day I bought a bench at a garage sale at a steal, and BAM laundry day/chest workouts were born. The woman I bought the bench from was ecstatic to see it go, but I’m sure her husband wasn’t when he got home, hell I stole his clothes hanger. Anyway, in a matter of weeks I was benching more than I ever have, and surprise, surprise I hit a 100 push-ups the first time I ever tried. Looks like heavy wins again!

    I’ve seen many a workout promoted by various reputable fitness magazines that seem to border on overtraining. I mean one was suggesting like 10 sets of 10 for deadlifts. What are your thoughts on something like this?

    Best wishes!

    -Matt
    Matt recently posted..Is Your Commute Driving You Nuts?My Profile

    • I can’t even speculate why people saw “breasts” instead of “beasts” on Facebook! It’s kind of like the day I tweeted that I felt “buff” and several people thought I said “butt.” LOL!

      You make a good point, Matt, in that one of the most underrated techniques for increasing push ups is actually becoming stronger in your lifts first! Another effective method is progressing your push ups to harder variations. Doing more and more push ups is an endurance test… which is fine too I suppose.

      There are SO many programs touted out there. I can’t really say whether it’d cause overtraining just by seeing the rep/set scheme. Clearly that much volume better have low loads and be used sparingly or someone’s gonna kill themselves! What we have to ask ourselves is, “What is my goal here? And what will doing 10×10 accomplish?” It’s fine to “mix it up” with variety, but most effective to choose a program based on science and stick with it.

  4. i do like to cycle in lighter days myself for the many reasons you listed, although i don’t do it often, mostly just to mix things up.

    for effective muscle growth, you should aim for a particular muscle to have a total time under tension of between 80-120 seconds (total in your sets for that muscle group). so higher reps in sets can be good for building muscle and strength.

    it all just depends on your personal goals in the end i suppose.

  5. Great article. I have just started on weight training for strength, but it gives a good perspective to see that endurance is also vital, periodically to change up your routine.

    Will add this into my routine when it starts to get “routine” and let you know how it all goes!

    Cheers

    Trav
    http://mybodybuildingroutine.com/2012/10/16/weight-training/
    BodyBuilderTrav recently posted..My workout songsMy Profile

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