Muscle Strength vs. Endurance-What is the Difference?
Updated: Jul 16, 2021
I am sure that you have heard the term muscular strength and muscular endurance in regards to health and fitness exercises, programs, and information. Often it can seem that these two terms are interchangeable, however these two terms actually mean two different things.
Knowing the difference between the two is important for fitness and health professionals, particularly when it comes to assessing and meeting their clients/patients individual strength needs.
It is also important for you to know the difference between muscular strength and endurance when you are working on your own health and fitness, so that you can supercharge your results.
Muscular strength refers to the amount of force that you can put out when performing a movement or an exercise. For example, when doing a biceps curl, you have to bend your elbow while holding a weight in your hand. The more force that you can generate with your biceps muscle, the heavier weight you can lift and the stronger your biceps muscle is.
Muscular endurance is the ability to sustain the generation of an amount of force over time. Using the biceps curl example, how many times you can lift a given weight, would indicate the degree of your muscular endurance. Therefore, the more reps you can do (with proper form) of a certain weight the greater muscular endurance your biceps muscle has.
To simplify it-you can think of muscular strength as how much weight/resistance you can use and muscular endurance as how long you can sustain working with that weight/resistance.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
1. Certain muscle groups need greater strength and others need greater endurance in order to function properly.
Larger, lifting muscles biceps and quadriceps need to be able to generate good force so that we can movement around and pick up things. However postural muscles, muscles around the neck, low back and shoulder blades need to have excellent endurance.
These muscles are not built to lift heavy objects, rather they hold up our skeleton and need to be able to do so all day (or at least as long as we are out of bed).
Lifting muscles need to generate larger forces but are designed to do so only a few times (picking something up off the floor) while postural muscles generate lower forces but need to be able to sustain this hour after hour without fatiguing.
2. It is very difficult to build strength of the lifting muscles if the postural muscles have poor endurance.
The postural muscles provide the support or “scaffolding” of the skeleton so that it can maintain proper and the most efficient positions while lifting something of weight. If the postural muscles do not have good enough endurance to hold up the body, then the body loses its base of support and is unable to lift heavier weight.
Therefore, it is important to have good endurance of your postural muscles before increasing the weight you are using while exercising.
3. Some muscles need both muscular strength and muscular endurance to function well.
Muscles such as the glutes, calves, and core muscles need to be able to generate good force (strength) but also be able to continue to do so for longer periods of time (endurance).
An exercise example of this would be a side plank. Your core muscles (among others) has to be generate enough force to allow you to lift your hips off of the floor (strength) and then be able to hold this position for a specific period of time (endurance).
A life skill example would be walking. The glutes (among others) need to be strong enough to extend your leg under body weight behind you when taking a step (strength) and need to be able to keep doing this for as long as you want to walk (endurance).
It does you no good if your glutes are strong enough to take five steps, but then fatigue and need a rest period to recover. You would not get very far in your day!
When working with a health or fitness professional, they will evaluate where you may need to focus your efforts and what muscle groups may need what type of training.
When working out on your own, remember:
Before you try to increase your weight or resistance of a given exercise, make sure that you can perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions to ensure that your muscular endurance is ready for the increase of muscular strength challenge.
If you have difficulty getting to the next strength level in a given exercise, drop back and focus on reps at a lower weight/resistance and build your endurance up first and that may be just the thing you need to get you to the next level.
As always, the most critical component of each exercise is form, form, form. You must be able to keep proper form before trying to increase either your muscular strength or muscular endurance.
Stay Well & Feel Good,
Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.
Hi! I am Dr. Kim MacDonald. I am a physical therapist who specializes in empowering my patients to optimize how they move their bodies and improve their ability to do the things they love regardless of age, experience, or capabilities.
My experience in the health care field allows me to teach the tools you need to ensure that you are working safely to improve your pain and maximize your physical potential.
If you would like to know more about how you can help yourself be healthier and live a more active lifestyle, join me here