The Pros and Cons of Training for Muscle Endurance

Is Muscle Endurance a Valid Goal?

Weight Training
Weight Training. Oleg Nikishin / Stringer / Getty Images

'Muscle endurance' is the characteristic of muscle to perform work over time. For example, if you can do 20 squats without your muscles binding up, burning and preventing you from continuing, then compared to your training partner who can do 40 squats, you might be said to have lesser muscle endurance, especially of the leg muscles.

Even so, muscle endurance must be related to a target activity. There is no point comparing the muscle endurance of someone doing barbell squats in the gym with a marathon runner.

Each has their own type of muscle endurance for their particular activity.

CrossFit and Other Resistance-Based Endurance Training

When you read that a system like CrossFit Endurance is: "dedicated to improving performance, fitness and endurance sports potential," you should be aware that this type of training is not the type of muscle endurance that will prepare you for events like marathon running or triathlons -- or for military special forces in units like the SAS or Deltas, although there is no doubt that the 'muscle endurance' training of the CrossFit type can substantially add to fitness.

The reason is that largely 'anaerobic' training does not prepare the physiological systems of the body for long-haul endurance events of several hours or more. It is not sufficiently 'aerobic' to develop the energy systems that promote endurance over several hours or more. Once you understand the distinctions between endurance training for specific targets, then you can grasp the deliberations on training for muscle endurance with weights, and when you need to run or do other similar aerobic training for long-haul endurance development.

The American College of Sports Medicine recognizes muscle endurance training and has a position paper called titled Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults. This is a summary of the evidence from a well-qualified group of experts for the effectiveness of various procedures and practices in resistance and weight training programs.

Below is a summary of the ACSM position paper.

Muscle Endurance Summary

Local muscular endurance and high-intensity (or strength) endurance, has been shown to improve during resistance training. Moderate to low weight training with high repetitions has been shown to be most effective for improving absolute muscular endurance in most studies.

Exercise Selection

Unilateral and bilateral (one or two limbs) multiple- and single-joint exercises are recommended for a program targeting improved muscle endurance using various sequencing combinations for novice, intermediate, and advanced training.

Loading and Volume

  • For novice and intermediate training, it is recommended that relatively light loads be used (in the range from 10-15 repetitions).
  • For advanced training, it is recommended that various loading strategies be used for multiple sets per exercise in the range of 10-25 repetitions per set, or more, in a periodized, progressive program leading to higher overall volume.

Rest Periods

It is recommended that short rest periods be used for muscle endurance training, for example, 1-2 min for high-repetition sets (15-20 repetitions or more), less than 1 min for moderate (10-15 repetitions) sets.

For circuit weight training, the rest periods should approximately equal the time taken to get from one exercise station to another.


  • 2-3 days each week is effective in novice individuals when training the entire body.
  • For intermediate training, 3 days/wk is recommended for total-body workouts and 4 days/wk is recommended for upper/lower body split routine workouts.
  • For advanced training, a higher frequency may be used (4-6 days/wk) if muscle group split routines are programmed.

Repetition Velocity

It is recommended that slow velocities be used when a moderate number of repetitions (10-15) are used.

Moderate to fast velocities are more effective with higher repetition numbers than slow-velocity training. If performing a large number of repetitions (15-25 or more), then moderate to faster velocities are recommended.

Is it Worth It?

One point to consider if you are thinking about undertaking muscle endurance training for any particular sport is whether the time spent is not better allocated to incorporating specificity into your muscle endurance training by actually practicing your sport; running hills, swimming intervals, rowing at high-intensity, or whatever it may be.

For a review of weight and resistance training fundamentals, you can read the beginner guide.


Nicholas Ratamess, Brent Alvar, Tammy K. Evetoch Terry J. Housh, W. Ben Kibler, William J. Kraemer, N. Travis Triplett. Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults. Medicine Science in Sports Exercise: March 2009, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 687-708.

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