What is endurance and how can you improve it? Your choice of weight might be the key here!

What is Strength and What is Endurance?

Muscular endurance isn’t as clearly defined as strength. Strength is classically measured using a so-called 1RM test (1-rep max). Endurance can on the other hand be seen as how many times you can lift a certain percentage of your 1RM, i.e. being able to do 10 reps on 80% of your 1RM means you have a high muscular endurance, but being able to do 5 reps on 80% of your 1RM means you have worse muscular endurance.

People who are new to weight training tend to believe that muscles are toned by doing many repetitions, probably relatable to the impression that “tiring out” a body part will burn fat locally, which is also incorrect.

Fitness Classes like “Zumba” and “Les Mills”

Another common misconception is that strength is increased with high rep training in fitness classes advertised as making you “get lean, toned muscles”. Fact: high rep training primarily increases your muscular endurance. So no, light weight training does not tone your muscles. This is not to say that you can’t get leaner with high rep training, but this would be due to more calories burnt leading to a bigger deficit and more fat loss all over your body.

Endurance Gained Endurance Lost

Strength increases from high rep training are relatively small, but also take longer to plateau compared to low rep training. Doing >20 reps increases muscular endurance at a given percentage of your 1 RM, and the lighter the weight, the better you improve your endurance. Muscular endurance can quickly be gained, but is also quickly lost if endurance training isn’t persisted.

1. Campos GE et al. Muscular adaptations in response to three different resistance-training regimens: specificity of repetition maximum training zones. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2002 Nov;88(1-2):50-60.

2. Lythe J et al. The Physical And Psychological Response to 13 weeks Of Structured Group-Fitness Exerciese in Un-Trained Individuals. UniSports Center for Sport Performance, University of Auckland (2000). (see also similar study for 18 weeks from 2000)

3. AC Nielsen (1999). An attitude Studie Of The BodyPump Workout.

4. Jens Bangsbo. Fitness Training in Soccer: A Scientific Approach. Reedswain Inc., Mar 1, 2004.


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