Programming your strength training workouts will be different if you are strength training to increase muscle endurance versus trying to build muscle.
To see results based on your goal, it’s important to know how many reps should you do to increase strength vs how many reps you should do to increase muscular endurance.
In this strength training program guide, we will discuss how to strength train to improve muscle endurance, how to structure resistance training workouts to increase strength, and how many reps for strength vs endurance you should do to best reach your goals.
Let’s get started!
What Is Muscular Endurance?
Before we look at how many reps you should do to increase muscle endurance, let’s review what muscle endurance, or muscular endurance strength training, entails.
When we hear the term “endurance“ in relation to exercise training, most people think about marathon runners, triathletes, or long cardio workouts.
In the realm of fitness and exercise physiology, the term endurance refers to stamina or the ability to continue to persist at a given physical activity without stopping due to fatigue.
However, the previous examples of a long-distance runner or long bouts of cardio exercise performed without stopping refer to aerobic endurance.
Muscle endurance, also known as muscular endurance, refers to the ability of the muscles to continually contract and produce force without fatiguing.
The better your muscular endurance, the more reps of an exercise you can do, or the longer you can perform the exercise.
Someone with good muscular endurance in the core muscles might be able to hold a plank for 2 minutes whereas someone with poor core muscle endurance may only make it 20 seconds.
How Do You Increase Muscular Endurance?
Training for increasing muscular endurance is actually somewhat different than the more common approaches to strength training.
When we think about resistance training objectives, we usually think about increasing the strength of our muscles, which refers to training to increase muscular strength.
This means that you want to train to be able to lift more weight.
Another common strength training goal is to build muscle, which is referred to as hypertrophy training. This means that you want to increase your muscle mass.
In contrast, training to increase muscular endurance means that you are trying to improve the ability of your muscles to continually contract under a load or resistance.
The “load” might be just your own body weight, as with holding a plank, running, or doing push-ups, or it can be any sort of resistance like dumbbells, weights, or resistance bands.
For example, if you want to do resistance training to increase muscular endurance, you might start with the ability to do 20 push-ups and after a 6-week muscle endurance training program, you might be able to perform 75 push-ups in a row without stopping.
In contrast, if your resistance training plan is geared towards increasing strength, you might begin a 6-week strength training plan with the ability to bench press 175 pounds (meaning that your one-repetition maximum, 1RM is 175 pounds).
With a good strength training program to improve bench press strength, you might finish the six-week strength training program with a bench press 1RM of 200 pounds.
Muscular strength and muscular endurance are independent components of your overall physical fitness.
Each of these factors is independently considered to be one of the five health-related components of physical fitness (the other three are aerobic or cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, and body composition).
How Many Reps for Strength vs Endurance?
Because muscular strength and muscular endurance are two separate components of fitness and require different energy systems and capabilities of your muscles, there are differences in strength training programming for strength vs endurance.
It makes sense that if you are trying to increase how much weight you can lift, or your muscular strength, you will want to be lifting heavy weights.
Here, the number of reps that you do may be less important because you are ultimately trying to increase the maximum weight that you could lift for one rep, or perhaps just a handful of reps.
This is in contrast to worrying about being able to do many reps without your muscles fatigued (since the latter encapsulates muscle endurance vs strength).
If you are trying to increase your muscular endurance, or the ability of your muscles to continually reduce force or tension under a load, you will want to do more reps, but the magnitude of the weight or load that you are using may be less important.
These differences in strength training for muscular endurance vs strength are reflected in the general recommendations for how many reps and sets to do to increase strength vs endurance, and the relative loads to use for each goal.
Essentially, you will lift heavier weights for fewer reps to increase strength but lift lighter weights for more reps to increase muscle endurance.
It’s important to note that “heavy weights” and “light weights” are relative to your ability (a percentage of your 1RM), not defined in absolute terms.
Because the guidelines for reps for strength training vs reps for muscle endurance (and reps for hypertrophy) are given in rep ranges, you can then use the strength training continuum to dial in exactly how much weight you should lift for the number of reps for strength training or reps for endurance that you are doing.
The strength training continuum provides a framework for appropriate loads to lift for an exercise given the exact number of reps you use.
How Much Weight And How Many Reps For Strength vs Endurance?
Let’s take a closer look at the recommendations for the reps for strength vs endurance.
Then, we will look at the weight to lift for the number of reps for strength vs endurance training.
The following table provides recommendations for how many reps to do and how much weight to lift for different strength training goals based on the average guidelines from the American Council on Exercise (ACE)1How Many Reps Should You Be Doing? (n.d.). Www.acefitness.org. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/everyone/blog/5867/how-many-reps-should-you-be-doing/ and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.2Sands, W., Wurth, J., & Hewit, J. (2012). The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) BASICS OF STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING MANUAL. https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/116c55d64e1343d2b264e05aaf158a91/basics_of_strength_and_conditioning_manual.pdf
|30 to 90 seconds
|Varies on exercise and ability level
|Up to 30 seconds
|<67% of 1RM
|Hypertrophy (building muscle mass)
|30 to 90 seconds
|67% to 85% of 1RM
|2 to 5 minutes
|>85% of 1RM
|2 to 5 minutes
|85%–100% of 1RM
So, to increase muscle endurance, you want to do at least 15 reps in a set (and at least 3 sets) with loads that are less than 67% of your 1RM. To increase muscular strength, you will do only about 3 to 6 reps per set.
But, you will do up to 4 to 6 sets using significantly heavier weights, at least 85% of your one-rep max for the exercise.
Notice also that the amount of rest in between each set is different for endurance versus strength training; when you are trying to increase endurance, you take less rest in between sets so that your muscles do not have as much time to recover.
For the strength training rep range, we can use the strength training continuum to determine exactly how much weight you should be lifting for the number of reps you choose based on the strength-building rep range recommendations.
According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the following table shows the percentage of your 1RM you should use for the given number of reps of an exercise:3TRAINING LOAD CHART. (n.d.). https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/61d813865e264c6e852cadfe247eae52/nsca_training_load_chart.pdf
|Maximum Number of Reps
|Percent of 1RM Load
To interpret this strength continuum for your workouts, look at the number of reps that you want to do and then determine the relative load that you should use in the column next to your desired number of reps based on your fitness goals.
For example, if you want to do 3 reps of back squats for strength, the recommended load is 93% of your 1RM, whereas if you are doing six reps, you should use 85% of your 1RM.
To learn more about the number of reps and sets you should do to build muscle, check out our guide to hypertrophy reps and sets here.
- 1How Many Reps Should You Be Doing? (n.d.). Www.acefitness.org. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/everyone/blog/5867/how-many-reps-should-you-be-doing/
- 2Sands, W., Wurth, J., & Hewit, J. (2012). The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) BASICS OF STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING MANUAL. https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/116c55d64e1343d2b264e05aaf158a91/basics_of_strength_and_conditioning_manual.pdf
- 3TRAINING LOAD CHART. (n.d.). https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/61d813865e264c6e852cadfe247eae52/nsca_training_load_chart.pdf